The Universities’ Mission to Central Africa (UMCA) was founded in the late 1850s, after the return of Dr David Livingstone from the region in 1857. This “high church” Anglican society drew its missionaries initially from the universities of Oxford, Cambridge, Durham and Dublin. Under its motto “A servant of servants”, from its main centres of Zanzibar and Nyasaland (now Malawi), the UMCA began from an early date opposing the slave trade and promoting the education of the indigenous people and the training and ordination of African priests.
In 1965 the UMCA merged with the much older Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts to form the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel.
Rusitu Mission station is located in the Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe in Chimanimani (formerly Melsetter), approximately 5 miles from the boarder of Mozambique and 75 miles south of Mutare (formerly Umtali).
In 1897, three missionaries sent by the South Africa General Mission, Harry Raney, John Coupland and Dudley Kidd set out on a lengthy and hazardous journey from the coast up into the Chimanimani area. Shortly after they arrived at Rusitu, Copeland died of malaria.
Harry Raney went on to be one of the early leaders of the mission. He was joined by Douglas Wood who served between 1900-04 and produced the first ChiNdau grammar and wrote the first hymns in that language in 1903. In that same year the first local man was converted, and the settlement grew significantly as a result of Africans from across the border with Portuguese East Africa coming to live near the mission.
In 1902 Rev. John Edgar Hatch (1871-1945), an American who had been a chaplain during the Boer War, came to work with the mission at the Melsetter station. In 1907 he married another American missionary named Julia Flora Winter from the Silinda mission station. She had arrived in the field in 1904, and worked as a translation assistant. A year after the marriage, Julia gave birth to a baby boy, Lawrence. Tragically, just two weeks after giving birth, Julia died of black water fever, a serious complication of malaria. She was just 35 years old.
The widowed Hatch moved to Rusitu in 1911 and married his second wife, Catherine Mackenzie (1875-1959). Together they continued to bring up Lawrence. It was this couple who were holding the fort at Rusitu on their own when Rees and Elizabeth (Lizzie) Howells arrived in the middle of 1915 to support them.
For fifteen months from October, 1915, the Revival continued in Gazaland, centred on the mission stations at Rusitu and Silinda. But then in 1917, Rees and Lizzie were invited to a gathering of missionaries with the South Africa General Mission in Durban. Rees expected to be one of many contributors, but was asked to speak each day for the entire period of three weeks. Eventually, an invitation was extended to the Howells to go on an extended tour of all the outstations of the mission. The journey took them over 11,000 miles, visiting five countries — Swaziland, Pondoland, Bomvanaland, Tembuland and Zululand. They would continue to travel with the Revival until 1920, when they returned home.
By 1930, Clyde and Hattie Dotson from the United States and Miss. Elmina Doner from Canada had joined the mission. At that time, Rusitu Mission consisted of five brick buildings: two missionary homes, dorms for girls and boys and a clinic. Mr. Dotson became head of the mission shortly thereafter.
In 1949, after a disagreement between Mr. Dotson and some of his Rusitu colleagues, the Dotsons resigned and became independent missionaries associated with the Southern Baptists Convention.
The Rusitu Bible School was opened in 1952. A teacher training school was opened nearby at Biriiri in 1956. By 1959, there were 11 missionaries at Rusitu (and 6 at Biriiri). Twenty-nine “outschools” were staffed with 100 full-time teachers and the clinic had become the Rusitu Mission Hospital providing pre-natal and post-natal care. The training school became a fully-fledged secondary school in 1967.
Currently, Rusitu Mission (UBC), including a high school, the Rusitu Bible College, church (destroyed in the 1980s and since rebuilt), and the Rusitu Mission Hospital, is owned and operated by the United Baptist Church of Zimbabwe.
The Lundi Mission was founded in 1939 by Reverend Ralph and Ethel Jacobs of the Free Methodist Church. Lundi is located near Masvingo (formally Fort Victoria) in southeastern Zimbabwe.
In 1928, Rev. Jacobs, then in Portuguese East Africa, received a letter from Chief Sengwe. The chief asked Jacobs to come and give his people the gospel after some of his men had returned from church services in Johannesburg. It was not until 1939 that the Jacobs began mission work at Lundi with plans for extending the work to the Sengwe area.
Daisy Frederick began a Central Primary School at Lundi in 1941. The school was upgraded in 1965 to include the first two years of high school. The last two years of high school instruction were added in 1972. As of 1975, the school had 208 students, most of which were boarding students. Lundi Bible School, “after much difficulty and many hindrances,” was opened in 1957. The first graduating class of the three-year program was in 1964. Lundi Bible School later changed its name to the Wesley Bible School, which is now located in Masvingo. A mission clinic was opened in approximately 1947.
FMC missionaries serving at Lundi include Rev. Ralph and Mrs. Ethel Jacobs (mission founder – 1939-55); Daisy Frederick (1940-46); Rev. Eldon and Mrs. Florence Sayre (1946-76); Ruth E. Smith (1946-64); Rev. Tillman and Mrs. Gwen Houser (1948-81); Rev. Philip and Mrs. Carmena Capp (1958-76); Robert and Kitty Magee (1963-73) and Barbara Russell (1966-75).
The Mashoko Christian Hospital was originally established by the New Zealand Church of Christ Missionaries in the 1930’s.
In 1956, John and Marge Pemberton, along with Dennis and Lucy Pruett, missionaries with the American Christian Churches/Churches of Christ, responded to a personal appeal from the Southern Rhodesian, Prime Minister Garfield Todd. While Dennis concluded medical training as a missionary-physician, John and Marge moved to the south-eastern region of the Southern Rhodesia to begin the Mashoko mission, the first of many mission works, eventually organizing it as the Southern Rhodesia Churches of Christ Mission.
In 1957, the Foreign Mission Union of the New Churches of Christ transferred responsibility for the Mashoko Mission to the U.S. Christian Churches/Churches of Christ. In 1958, with significant government grants, John and Marge established the Mashoko Christian Hospital, a one-hundred-thirty-bed facility that also included an outpatient clinic and a training school for African medical personnel. In 1959, the white congregation at Bulawayo severed its relationship with the United Christian Missionary Society and aligned itself with the new Mission.
The Southern Rhodesia Churches of Christ Mission grew steadily and by 1960 had incorporated the original Bulawayo mission and had been renamed Central Africa Mission.
The Stone-Campbell Movement; a global history – ed. by D. Newell Williams, Douglas A. Foster, Paul M. Blowers
Christianity and Traditional Religions of Zimbabwe – Paradzayi David Mubvumbi, PhD