Zimbabwe is blighted by a fearsome 240% inflation rate, one of the world’s highest. The nation’s pastors, although dedicated to the calling of Christ’s work, are struggling to eat or pay bills just like their impoverished congregants.
“We can’t dance in front of the pulpit and hide our poverty. I don’t feel bad for leaving my congregation,” said Tinaye Tangwena, 45, a former evangelical pastor who served congregations for 15 years in Zimbabwe. He now lives in Watford, England, 7,600 miles away from his home in Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe is a former colony of the UK, where there is strong demand for care workers, ambulance drivers, social workers, doctors and nurses partly due to the UK leaving the European Union and the staff burnout in England hospitals over the last two years. In Zimbabwe, where electricity is short, salaries for civil servants can be as low as $100 a month and emergency medication in public hospitals is usually absent.
Seeing their congregations flee poverty, pastors also are immigrating, dumping the pulpit for nursing home care work in England.
Thus, dire poverty and the lure of a better life are driving thousands of Zimbabwe’s nurses and care workers to decamp to the UK. Seeing their congregations flee poverty, pastors also are immigrating, dumping the pulpit for nursing home care work in England.
“I’m not shy to quit being a pastor, immigrate and become an elderly care worker in the UK,” said Silas Gatsheni, a Baptist pastor from Zimbabwe who has just arrived to work in a nursing home in Liverpool. “I know 10 Zimbabwe pastors who have arrived here in England to become care home workers in 2022. As the Bible says, it’s an exodus.”
Baptist News Global has reported in the past on escalating emigration from Zimbabwe as difficulties mount in the country. Average salaries for care workers in the UK generally come to $28,000 a year. This is a fortune for Zimbabwe emigres like Gatsheni. So, despite having a relatively small population of 15 million people, Zimbabwe has become one of the top five countries of origin whose nationals are getting work visas to the UK.
“Ministering, leading Christ’s followers as a pastor must not become financial slavery,” said Dana Sakadzo, a Pentecostal pastor in the UK who also left behind 10 years of ministry and his congregation to become a janitor in a nursing home in Glasgow, Scotland.
Sakadzo breaks down the math of survival. Pastors in many Zimbabwe churches don’t get formal salaries; they get by on congregations’ generosity and tithes because in Zimbabwe there’s a societal attitude that being a pastor is a “calling” and not a salaried profession. For a few pastors who get formal salaries in elite churches in cities, wages are as pitiful as $300 a month. In the rural areas, pastors live in even more precarious situations and are paid not in cash but by gifts such as live chickens.
“I used to care for people’s spiritual needs in Zimbabwe, now I care for their health in the UK.”
“Back in Zimbabwe, we couldn’t make proper breakfast or pay electricity on a pastor’s salaries or tithes,” said Sakadzo, who trained as a nurse in Zimbabwe before quitting to become a pastor in the early 2000s. “I used to care for people’s spiritual needs in Zimbabwe, now I care for their health in the UK.”
In Zimbabwe, most pastors already held professional qualifications such as mechanics, nursing and teacher diplomas well before they became pastors, said Dean Moloi, a trained nurse, who served as a pastor in Zimbabwe 10 years. “It’s terrible back home, and the congregation would go for three months without paying me a salary.”
He reverted to his midwife qualifications and has now found work in Leicester, England, at a public hospital.
But some of these pastors believe they haven’t left the ministry. In addition to serving the medical and social needs of clients, they have opportunities to start churches.
“I don’t see pastors’ immigration as a complete loss to Zimbabwe. Here in the UK, we get a chance to open new congregations and serve the Zimbabwe diaspora,” said Gatsheni, who works in a nursing home.