This week the Daily News ran a story on Prophetic Healing and Deliverance (PHD) Ministries leader Walter Magaya dividing opinion among labour experts by paying those who volunteer their services to the church in the form of “blessings”.
In the story it was reported that PHD, founded six years ago, does not employ permanent staff nor contract workers, rather its parishioners volunteer their services for free in their areas of speciality for which they are given blessings by the Prophet as a token of appreciation.
Resources permitting, the charismatic prophet acknowledges their effort by giving them cash or goodies and because the money is not fixed, it varies from month to month. In a bad month, the volunteers may not even receive the “blessings”.
The blessings, regardless of them reading saccharine to devout Christians, have become a sore point among some of the volunteers in PHD Ministries who are jobless and solely rely on the ministry to make ends meet, including paying for their rentals.
A volunteer driver at PHD is currently at loggerheads with his landlord after accumulating arrears to the tune of $350. The driver who rents a core house in the high-density suburb of Mabvuku for $140 and is depended on the “blessings” to get by.
The dispute over rental has since spilled to the Rent Board, where she offered to pay $30 a month in order to clear the arrears, plus her monthly rentals. Her landlord has written to Magaya several times, pleading with him to rescue his congregant as she is desperately in need of the rental income to pay for her father’s medical bills.
In another case, one of the volunteer videographers was evicted from his rented house in Highfield due to failure to honour his commitments.
This issue of paying workers with ‘blessings’ has attracted strong criticism from many who are baffled by how PHD, an entity that boasts a global following, a hotel, football team and real estate can’t pity these poor souls. Some even went to the lengths of terming it ‘the new injustice perpetrated by the church’.
The practice of rewarding church employees with blessings is now the new normal, not only to PHD but in a number of churches.
Volunteers are being exploited by congregations. Church ‘service providers’ are now regarded as a form a cheap labour while their peers are paid a good money for pretty much the same job elsewhere. And to entangle them, Christians are reminded frequently of the benefits of committing to their church. The lucky ones are sustained by financial gifts and blessings.
Despite their credentials, like in the Magaya case, a driver and a videographer, we can safely say they are still living well relatively below the Zimbabwe poverty line. Quite shocking isn’t it? Young, qualified or even graduated professionals, providing employee services to a loving, well-to-do church, living below the poverty line. We will not belittle the pain of these truly suffering members of our community.
What poverty looked like for these folks is struggling to pay rent for their cheap and grotty lodgings, limiting meals to bready basics, and frequently walking more than an hour each way to attend appointments because they cannot afford taxis.
The process, crudely but fairly termed, looks like these folks are begging for charity and is embarrassing. Somewhere along the way, they had got being servant-hearted confused with ‘slavery’.
The crux here is, paying voluntary workers with blessings is an abuse of Christians and an insult to their abilities. The Church should not be falling in line with this practice, but instead challenging the norm, and championing employment and fair pay. It is ironic that many Churches are run literally on the backbones of unpaid members, young people desperate to work, and keen to serve.
Volunteers have always been the lifeblood of church work, and we are not arguing that this should not be the case. But there is a significant difference between the retired gentleman helping lawn manicuring at the church, and the young person who dedicates up to 100 percent of his or her potential earning hours to the service of the church without alternative means of meagre survival.
This is not voluntary service. It is work; and refusing payment for it or reducing it to mere ‘blessings’ pushes the boundaries of legality. It is also is an insult to God’s laws for it robs young people of basic dignities. To survive the turbulent economic environment, it has become important for institutions to watch their labour costs, and it would appear that the Church’s model is that of utilising the services of volunteers to escape contractual obligations.
If these people are contributing significantly to the running of the church, then they should be fairly acknowledged with a reasonable wage; for “the labourer is worthy of his reward“.
So, if you are part of a church that employs or has people providing services, please consider whether these harsh truths could be their words. Then ask yourself, as when faced with any injustice: what are you going to do about it?