Born into a poor rural background in Inhambane, Mozambique in 1861, Bernard Mizeki was originally called Mamiyeri Mitseka Gwambe.
He could never have known the signficiance his life and death would have across southern Africa. His simple yet powerful story of embodying love in his community has had huge impact for thousands of Christians and still does today.
Bernard moved to Cape Town when he was about 12 years old and worked as a labourer in the slums. Through the work of the Cowley Father’s Mission and attending night classes at the Anglican school, he became a Christian. He also mastered English, French, Dutch and at least eight local African languages. In time he would be invaluable when the Anglican church began translating its sacred texts into African languages.
After graduating from the school, he accompanied Bishop Knight-Bruce to Mashonaland, (now Zimbabwe), to work there as a lay catechist. In 1891 the bishop assigned him to Nhowe where he built a mission-complex, becoming an integral part of the local community, learning Shona and cultivating deep friendships with the local people. He eventually opened a school and it was said that he won the hearts of many of the Mashona through his love for their children.
In 1896 he married Mutwa, a Christian convert from the village but later that year there was an uprising, the Matabeleland rebellion. Missionary workers were being told to leave to find safety but Bernard, with the absence of his Bishop refused to desert his converts.
On the night of 18 June 1896, he was dragged from his home and stabbed. Mutwa found him still alive and went for help. Before she could return, she and others reported seeing a great white light all over that place, and a loud noise “like many wings of great birds”. He died from his wounds.
The ultimate calling of love is what Jesus was required to do – to lay down his life. This was the end of Bernard’s #StoriesofLoveComing but the beginning of a whole new movement of something else.
Bernard Mizeki’s work among the Shona bore much fruit. After long years of earlier mission work in Mashonaland by white missionaries, the first Shona convert to be baptised was one of the young men whom Bernard had taught: John Kapuya. John was baptised only a month after Bernard’s death, on 18 July 1896.
Today there are hundreds of Bernard Mizeki Guilds, mens groups in Anglican churches across southern Africa who meet together to proclaim Jesus in their communities, read the Bible, ecourage each other.
Bernard could never have known how his simple act of following Jesus in the Shona people could have such significance even 100 years on.
Today on the first Sunday of Advent we shall pray the prayer of the Bernard Mizeki Guild;
Lord of all nations
by the conversion of Bernard Mizeki
You raised up from the people of Africa
a missionary faithful even unto death:
Fill us your people with love
in the face of hatred and fear
and make us ready to live or die
for the name of Jesus;
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit
One God, now and for ever