THEY wear white, congregate outside to sing and pray and, to the dismay of Zimbabwe’s health authorities, members of the Apostolic Church are blocking vaccination attempts.
The Guardian reports that since the government partially reopened religious gatherings in August, members of the “white church” are once again gathering in large numbers and spreading the message that “small stones and holy water,” rather than vaccines, will ensure their limbs are not infected with Covid.
While the Catholic Church, evangelical groups and Adventists have recommended vaccinations, those of the apostolic church is highly resistant to show jabs.
With millions of followers across southern Africa, the position of the church could undermine attempts Zimbabwe to vaccinate 60 percent of the population by December.
Says Gramaridge Musendekwa of the Vadzidzi Apostolic Church:
We believe in God and science is entirely subject to the will of God. I grew up thanks to the prayers of my parents and I pass them on to my children. My family will not take the vaccine because we are protected by prayers.
I think we shouldn’t have to be vaccinated. For us who grew up without drugs, vaccinations are an insult to our faith and our religion. The authorities can certainly do whatever they want without involving us.
After spending hours in a shrine decorated with red and white flags, Miriam Mushayabasa, 34, a mother of three, believes she does not need a vaccine.
Our preacher made it clear to us that if we use these little stones and the holy water he prayed for, nothing will happen to our families. Since the start of Covid-19 last March, my family and I have never suffered from this disease, we are stronger than ever.
My children are strong, so I have nothing to fear. I have always believed in prayers and this is how I chose to go through this pandemic.
The apostolic position threatens the success of vaccination programs in southern Africa, according to a study published in the Journal of Religion and Health in 2017, which directly linked it to the increase in measles epidemics from 2009 to 2010.
Over 85 percent of Zimbabweans identify as Christians and 37 percent belong to the apostolic church.
So far, only 15 percent of Zimbabwe’s population have been vaccinated since vaccinations began in February. It is one of 15 African countries to have achieved the World Health Organization’s goal of 10% citizens by September.
Regular shipments of vaccines arrive from China, but the government says misinformation and general mistrust have slowed the vaccination program.
Aaron Chakaipa, 40, reflecting the fears of his fellow apostles, said:
I have heard that if you get vaccinated you will no longer be fertile. I’m really scared to take it. I believe that an individual should make a personal decision and not be pressured into getting the vaccine. Telling people to stay away from church if they are not vaccinated is to force the vaccination, which is not correct.
However, Andby Makururu, bishop and founder of the Apostolic Church of Africa Johane Fifth in the eastern province of Manicaland is encourage its members to be vaccinated.
We are transforming the indigenous church to adapt it to world standards. Johane Fifth Africa is on a vaccination campaign.
In all of our sermons, we encourage members to get immunized because the Holy Spirit does not heal all of these illnesses. So I encourage the apostolic sect to go to hospitals and seek treatment, I also receive regular care and examinations.
He says the cults that deny the benefits of vaccines are disconnected.
Our children are getting vaccinated. Those who are still late are lagging behind, but we are moving forward with our time.
Meanwhile, Tonga’s most populous island, Tongatapu, has implemented a nighttime curfew and closed non-essential businesses in a seven-day shutdown after confirming its first case of Covid-19 . It was brought from New Zealand by a Mormon missionary.
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