As a child born out of wedlock in rural Zimbabwe Lucia never knew her father, was abandoned by her mother at an early age, was despised by her family, kept outside in a box like an animal, treated as a servant, beaten and sexually abused.
At the age of 13, with a deep longing for a loving father, she accepted Jesus at a Scripture Union meeting at school and encountered her heavenly Father who later gave her a vision of one day helping children from bad backgrounds.
Meanwhile in 1981 a high school boy, Tatenda Gunguwo came to Christ and gave himself to prayer and the reading of the Word.
“I was so hungry and passionate for God that I just began to see the hand of God in miracles,” he said.
He moved to Harare where he became the student vice chairman and then chairman of Scripture Union for his final years of school.
As a young man working in a hospital he saw HIV-positive children being abandoned and sensed a calling to care for orphans and vulnerable children. Other experiences stirred a passion in him for the despised and rejected.
Although he lived in one room he still took in six orphaned boys and soon had to start looking for a bigger home.
When Lucia and Tatenda married in 1996 he was caring for boys aged 12 or older but she had a burden for young children and soon they were running an orphanage.
From those small beginnings, the couple have planted (and currently oversee) over 585 churches, have cared for more than 6 000 orphans, and established schools, a clinic, feeding programmes, a safe house for women rescued from human trafficking and a family counselling ministry.
Tatenda said they initially planted most of their churches through funerals of victims of HIV/Aids. He said in Zimbabwe mourners traditionally start gathering four to five days before the funeral.
“We would just go there [to a funeral] and start serving, then by the second day we have built relationships and we begin to preach and make altar calls. And by the time we had buried, many people would ask if we could start a church in their area,” he said.
He said most of their Eternal Word Ministries family of churches are in rural areas of Zimbabwe and poor townships, where people gather in schools, homes and under trees.
“The rural churches are going strong because in those areas we are the only Pentecostal Bible-teaching churches,” he said.
He said they now have a few plots of land where they are working towards erecting church buildings.
Eternal Word Ministries have also planted a number of churches around South Africa and Mozambique and are currently busy establishing churches in Malawi — a process that has been slowed down by the Covid-19 outbreak.
He said 23 of the orphans they have raised through their Voice Of Peace non-profit organisation, which cares for orphans and vulnerable children in Zimbabwe, are currently pastoring churches. Others have completed university degrees and are working in Zimbabwe and beyond.
Some of the children they are caring for reached them in desperate circumstances. In 2015 Tatenda was woken up by their gardener early one morning with the news that a badly-burned newborn baby had been abandoned at the orphanage gate. He rushed the child to hospital and today, the boy, John, is doing well and is living with adoptive parents.
God told Tatenda, that through the teaching of the Word, He would transform and change these people into men and women who would be “names among names” in the communities from which they came.
Today Voice Of Peace have five orphan homes, which are under renovation so that they can increase their intake. They also have two plots where they plan to build orphan villages.
They have a safe house where they accommodate girls who they have rescued from human traffickers. Since 2007 they have rescued more than 200 girls of whom about 140 have been rehabilitated. Unfortunately, some have “fallen through the net”, he said.
“We also have three academic schools from Grade R up to Form 6 that we are running for orphaned and vulnerable children. We also have three more plots where we plan to build schools,” he said.
For the past four years they have also been “raising sound leaders” through an evening Bible school that runs three times a week. The school has been growing well, drawing students from their and other churches.
“The lockdown slowed us down but we had a good number of students this year,” said Tatenda.
Voice Of Hope also has a clinic, mainly to serve its orphans and vulnerable children.
“But we also treat people from the community. We also do mobile medical outreaches to less privileged communities.”
Lucia also led a “women’s revival” that began when she started running meetings for people living with HIV and Aids. She began with 15 women but this grew into conferences of four to five thousand women.
These women’s gatherings led to the planting of further churches in recent years and to a popular and fruitful radio programme on raising godly families which she hosted three days a week from 4am to 6am.
In addition to caring for thousands of orphans the couple have four children of their own and, as an adult, Lucia has established a good relationship with her mother who abandoned her as a child.
“For the past few years Lucia has been counseling children who mostly have been raped, and also has been running a counselling centre for families facing trouble and for children who face pregnancy and have no one to turn to,” he said.
He said Lucia, who had no time to pursue tertiary education in the early years of their marriage because of their ministry load has also “gone back to studying for a number of degrees” and has won national awards in recognition for her philanthropic work in the community.
Indeed Lucia’s list of academic achievements including masters degrees in social science, science and arts, is impressive — as is her long list of awards.
Of course, like other ministries across the world, Tatenda and Lucia have been deeply affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown.
In a recent newsletter to sponsors, Tatenda notes that Zimbabwe has not been spared by the pandemic which struck after the country was rocked by a deadly cyclone and a cholera outbreak. It also arrived on top of government repression, economic meltdown with more than 90% unemployment, dysfunctional health services and indefinite strikes.
In a country where most people are informal traders who don’t eat their only meal of the day at night if they don’t go out and sell in the morning, lockdown is a disaster. Most of them are HIV-positive and need antiretroviral drugs which are in short supply, he says. Without social grants and with supportive NPOs taking a battering their situation is desperate.
“This has been also compounded by a malaria outbreak in the Eastern District of Mashonaland East and severe drought throughout the country,” he adds.
But Tatenda says that after a period of introspection the Lord enabled him to hear His still small voice saying: ”Be still and know that I am God.”
He ends his newsletter by thanking God and their ministry supporters for “their generosity and large heart for standing with us in providing food for orphans, widows, the elderly, the sick and vulnerable.”
He said that although he had sensed a calling to ministry while he was still at school he could never have imagined what the Lord would do later through him and Lucia.
Asked what advice he had for people who carry big God dreams, he said: “Stay humble and teachable; love people unconditionally.”
Anybody who would like to support Voice Of Peace can do so using the following banking details:
Beneficiary Name; Voice of Peace
Account number; 21573815483
Branch; NGO Centre
Currency : USD
Bank Name; First Capital Bank
Swift Code; BARCWHX
Bank Physical Address; 2 Premium Close
Mt Pleasant Business Park
Correspondent Bank Details
Crown Agents Bank
Swift Code CRASGB2L