While the likes of United Family International founder Emmanuel Makandiwa and Spirit Embassy’s Uebert Angel have taken Harare by storm, smaller cities in Zimbabwe are abuzz with the same gospel and flair. Gweru was recently brought to a standstill when Pastor Richard Chiwara of Champions Ministries was getting married.

Stretching for what could be a kilometre, the pastor’s wedding convoy slowly made its way to the venue. Led by a solitary horse, which Chiwara rode himself, a chariot carrying the bride was advancing. A limousine with brides­maids and several top-of-the-range Mer­cedes-Benz and BMW vehicles were moving forward.

Entrance to the upmarket venue, which is a Chinese eatery that boasts world-class conference facilities, was by invita­tion only. 

“Some call me reverend, papa, Man of God, prophet. But, honestly, I prefer just being called Pastor Richard, nothing more,” said the pastor in a soft tone.

He continued, “I was born on October 30 1972, gave my life to Jesus in 1986 and I have never looked back ever since. Being a pastor was never my intention, it was a calling. But it took me time to respond to the calling because I had never given myself time to ask why certain things were happening in my life.”

A holder of degrees in accounting, pastoral leadership and business studies, Chiwara is currently studying towards a doctorate in pastoral lead­ership.

Followed by thousands of people, Pas­tor Richard says, “I am not in the league of those other pas­tors we hear about who swindle people of their hard-earned monies. I do not move around with bodyguards nor live a lavish lifestyle” and add “the only celebrity I know is God.”

Formed just five years ago, Chiwara’s Champions Ministries now boasts thousands of followers in and around the Midlands’s capital of Gweru. “Within weeks of holding church serv­ices in a classroom at a local primary school, we had to find a hall, which also became small. Because there are no big enough indoor venues here in Gweru, we ended up resorting to just hiring tents,” explained Pas­tor Richard.

However, the Man of God says the road has not always been smooth. “I went to several churches from when I was a young man in Pastor Tom and Bonnie Deuschle’s Rhema Church now Hear the Word to Pentecostal Assemblies in Zimbabwe, Alliance Church in Zimbabwe and Living for Christ Ministries before launching my own church,” he said.

Pastor Richard says it took him too long to realise that God had a purpose for him, something different from what he had envis­aged for himself. “When God has a purpose for you, you won’t rest until you have fulfilled it. You just keep on moving even when you have no idea where you are headed. But the funny thing is when you get there you just feel it.”

“There are times when you just have all the material things you need, but you are not sat­isfied. However, when you find God, life just changes — things begin to make sense and you can feel that you are finally whole,” he said.

Pastor Richard, who refuses to be called either a prophet or healer, claims to have helped a lot of people get well. He says his first miracle occurred on a visit to Shu­rugwi (Midlands Province) in 2009. “I came across a woman who was paral­ysed at a homestead we were visiting and I just felt this urge to lay my hands on the woman and pray. So I asked everyone to join me in prayer and the woman stood up and walked. It was unbelievable, but we triumphed and it was the beginning of much bigger miracles,” said Pastor Richard.

He says a Shurugwi woman, Assah Ntini, also told him that “if you worship Him in truth, He is going to use you in a mighty way.”

“That woman is no prophet but when she saw me she just prophesied. And I believe her prophesy is slowly coming to pass.”

“Today I still remember how Pastor Israel [from Kwekwe], Dr David Texel [from Holland], Pastor Kamusoro [from Mutare], the Catholic Centre, Upon the Rock Church and many other.. God-sent institutions and individuals.. helped create Champions Ministries.”