SEKE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Yvonne Binda stands in front of the church congregation, wears all pristine white robes, and tells us not to believe what we’ve heard about the COVID-19 vaccine.
“Vaccines have nothing to do with Satanism,” she says. The congregation, a member of the Christian Apostolic Church in Zimbabwe, southern Africa, has not been moved. But when Vaccine activist and member of the Apostolic Church, Binda, promises soap, a bucket, and a mask, he hears an enthusiastic cry of “Amen!”.
The apostolic group, which instills traditional beliefs in Pentecostal doctrine, is Zimbabwe’s most skeptical of the COVID-19 vaccine and already has a strong distrust of modern medicine. Many believers believe in prayer, holy water, and anointed stones to avoid or cure illness.
Congregation Binda, addressed in the rural areas of Seke, sang about being protected by the Holy Spirit, but at least admits soap and masks as a defense against the coronavirus. Binda is trying to convince them to get vaccinated — and it’s a difficult sale.
Congregation leader Kudzanayi Mudzoki had to work hard to persuade the flock just to hear Binda talk about the vaccine.
“They usually run away, some hide in bushes,” he said.
There is little detailed research on the Apostolic Church of Zimbabwe, but according to a UNICEF study, Zimbabwe is the largest religious sect with about 2.5 million followers in a country of 15 million people. Conservative groups adhere to the doctrine that requires believers to avoid medicine and medical care and instead seek healing through their faith.
Conversely, another religious Zimbabwean, Tawanda Mukwenga, welcomed his preventive contact as a means of allowing him to worship properly. Mukwenga recently attended a mass at the Roman Catholic Cathedral in Harare, the capital. This is the first Sunday Mass in 10 months after the church was closed by a pandemic and the service was forced online. Zimbabwe has reopened the place of worship, but worshipers need to be vaccinated to enter.
“It turned out to be a wise idea to get vaccinated,” said Mukwenga, who is delighted to celebrate Mass again at the cathedral.
According to the National Bureau of Statistics, more than 80% of Zimbabweans are Christians, but the difference in attitude between Seke Apostolic members and Mukwenga convinces hesitant religious citizens to be vaccinated. It means that there is no one-size-fits-all solution for.
Obligations (no vaccine, no admission rules) are a way for some, but the apostles and other anti-vaccine Pentecostal groups have a subtle approach, partly because they are deeply suspicious of the vaccine.
The apostles generally do not have formal church grounds or members, but wear long white robes worn for service and worship in outdoor shrublands and hillsides in widespread locations throughout the country. To do.
As a result, crackdowns on rallies are much more difficult and almost impossible to enforce.
Binda is one of about 1,000 members of various religious groups recruited by the Zimbabwean government and UNICEF to attempt to gently change their attitudes towards vaccines from within their churches.
“We must panic them,” Binda said of her fellow Apostolic Church members. “Smallly they finally accept.”
However, it is rarely a quick conversion.
“We accept that the Holy Spirit may not be enough to deal with the virus,” said Mudzoki, the leader of the Seke apostolate. “We are seriously considering the vaccine because others have vaccinated it, but our members have always been wary of injections.
“So for now, I need soap, a bucket, a disinfectant, and a mask,” he said. “These help protect us.”
The Church is taking steps to address hesitation in other parts of Africa. The United Methodist Church, based in the United States, plans to use a mass messaging platform to send text messages to the mobile phones of approximately 32,000 followers in Côte d’Ivoire, Congo, Liberia and Nigeria. The first purpose is to disinformation.
“There is a fair amount of message centered around reaffirming to people that vaccines are safe and tested,” said Ashley Gish of United Methodist Communications. “The ingredients are safe for humans and don’t make you magnetic — it was a huge thing we’ve heard from many.”
According to Gish, her church will send more than 650,000 messages with “pre-vaccination prejudice.” However, the program was rolled out over the course of a “COVID sensitization” for several months, and the church did not require believers to be vaccinated immediately, Gish said.
It may be best to work slowly and steadily to deal with religious hesitation, but in Africa, where vaccination rates are the lowest in the world, the situation is urgent. Zimbabwe is fully vaccinated in 15% of its population, far superior to many other African countries, but still far behind the United States and Europe.
Therefore, Binda and her fellow campaign participants are adaptable if it means changing attitudes a bit faster.
One of the problems they encountered is stigma. Some church members are willing to be vaccinated, but they are afraid of being banished by their peers and leaders. This phenomenon has led to activists advising the government not to bring mobile clinics to remote apostolic groups like Seke, fearing that public vaccination shows would do more harm than good. rice field.
Instead, vaccine activists who usually claim openness may encourage secrecy.
Alexander Chipfund, a member of the Apostolic Succession and a vaccine activist who works with Binda, told Seke’s followers that there was a way to avoid stigma.
“Go to the hospital, get the vaccine and be quiet about it,” he told them. “That’s your secret.”
The Associated Press writer Holly Meyer of Nashville, Tennessee contributed to this report.
The Associated Press’s religious coverage is supported by Lilly Endowment through The Conversation US. AP is solely responsible for this content.
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“Not Satanism”: Zimbabwean Church Leader Preaches Vaccine | WGN Radio 720
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