"Flee. Save your life!" With words such as these, Bernard Mizeki was warned that he had better leave Mashona. In 1896, Rhodesia's blacks were in rebellion against their white conquerors. Although he was black too, Bernard was in danger from fellow blacks because he taught a foreign faith--the Gospel of Christ. And he had angered local witchdoctors by cutting down some sacred trees. It did not matter to them that he had the permission of supreme chief Mangwende. As far as they were concerned, he had gained too much influence and they seethed with resentment.
But Bernard refused to run. He worked only for Jesus, he asserted, and could not leave the converts who lived on his mission station. This bold reply won him a crown of martyrdom.
Bernard was born sometime in the second half of the nineteenth century in Mozambique, which was then controlled by the Portuguese. His parents named him Mamiyeli Mitseki Gwambe. He must have been plucky even as a boy, for he was not much older than twelve when he left home for Capetown, South Africa to get work and an education. For ten years, he lived in the slums, working by day and studying in the evening. Appalled at the wretched, drunken lives around him, he firmly refused alcohol.
The school Mamiyeli Mitseki Gwambe attended was run by the Society of St. John, an Anglican order. He became a Christian. On March 9, 1886, he was baptized and took the name Bernard. He was about 25 years old.
For five years he studied and worked as a layman church leader. He learned about a dozen languages and helped translate Anglican texts into African tongues. Bishop Knight-Bruce assigned Bernard to a post in Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe). Bernard threw himself wholeheartedly into efforts to convert the villagers to Christ.
One of his key endeavors was a school. By showing love to his pupils, he won the hearts of their parents. Perhaps because he had seen first-hand the damage done by the clash of white culture with black, Bernard adapted Christianity to the Mashona culture as much as he could without watering down the gospel. This was possible in part because the Mashona already believed in just one god. In a short time, he won many converts.
But on Sunday, June 14, 1896, a witch-doctor convinced the Christian converts to stay away from morning church service. They returned that evening. But time was running out for Bernard. On this day, June 18, 1896 he heard a loud knocking at his door. His enemies had come for him. They dragged him outside and drove a spear through his body.
Bernard's wife and a helper bathed his wounds and went to fetch blankets for the dying man. From a distance they saw a blinding light and heard a rushing sound. When they returned, Bernard's body was gone. Had his killers returned and buried him among some nearby rocks? Or had angels carried him away? The site of his death has become a focus of Christian devotion and Africa's greatest Christian feast is held each year near the date of his death.
- Goss, Barbara. "Bernard Mizeki." http://www14.brinkster.com/branchingout/ rhodesiantapestry/marandellas.html
- Kiefer, James. "Bernard Mizeki; Catechist and Martyr in Africa."
- Lentz, Robert. "Bernard Mizeki." http://www.bridgebuilding.com/narr/ebm.html
Last updated July, 2007