Written by J. Bennett Guess
The Rev. Sandra R. Gourdet of the UCC/Disciples Common Global Ministries was one of more than 70 participants in the Ecumenical Summit on Zimbabwe, held July 12-20, 2008, in Johannesburg, South Africa. She was the only North American partner in the "Overcoming our Fear" gathering.
At the conference, participants "saw tangible evidence of state-sponsored violence and intimidation against the people of Zimbabwe before, during and after the March and June elections," said Gourdet, who is the UCC/Disciples Africa office executive. "The chilling stories were proof of the resilience and strength of the people of Zimbabwe. It was a humbling experience for those outside of Zimbabwe to be in the presence of such strength and courage."
"Throughout the summit, we worked to ensure that we maintain an open ear and heart to the cries of the people and not the political division," Gourdet added in a report sent to the Common Global Ministries offices. "We were very aware of the two political factions [the government of Robert Mugabi and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change headed by Morgan Tsvangirai], but our concern was for the suffering people of Zimbabwe and our response as Christians to their fears and needs."
A summit statement was adopted by participants July 17 and delivered July 20 to the office of President Thabo Mbeki, the African Union mediator between the political factions in Zimbabwe. The statement cites the endemic fear that is "a result of state-sponsored intimidation and political violence," and calls for the "will of the [Zimbabwean] people" to be "respected and honoured."
"The political crisis in Zimbabwe and its humanitarian consequences represent a threat to the entire region that demands urgent and co-ordinated action," reads the statement in part.
The statement closes with a commitment by attendees to pray for an end to the Mugabi regime and to extend hospitality to those who have been displaced. It also calls on governments of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to refuse to recognize the Mugabi government in Zimbabwe, impose economic sactions, and ensure that displaced Zimbabweans are granted refugee status and treated with respect and dignity.
"We have had a long and close relationship with our partners in Zimbabwe, both the United Church of Christ of Zimbabwe and the United Congregational Churches of Southern Africa," said the Rev. Cally Rogers-Witte, executive minister of the UCC's Wider Church Ministries and co-executive of the UCC/Disciples Common Global Ministries. "The Rev. Sandra Gourdet was herself once a missionary in Zimbabwe (as well as in the Congo and Haiti). We were very grateful for Sandra to have been invited to participate as the only North American partner in this consultation on the churches’ response to the current economic and political difficulties in Zimbabwe. We ask our church members to keep the good people of Zimbabwe in their daily prayers."
Media reports indicate that negotiations between Zimbabwe's two factions began July 22 in neighboring South Africa.
Gourdet was invited by two of the four host organizations -- the United Congregational Church of Southern Africa and the Council for World Missions. The other host organizations were the Uniting Presbyterian Church in Southern Africa and the South African Council of Churches.