Tawanda Chandiwana, who spent 56 days in a detention center in the Philippines, is finally home. “I am so happy and excited and thankful to the church for coming together to help in my time of need,” said the 29-year-old Global Mission Fellow when he arrived at the Robert Mugabe International Airport in Harare.
Chandiwana was arrested May 9 while attending a training seminar at the Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute. He was held on a charge related to his visa status, but also was found to be on a government watch list for suspected subversives. Chandiwana denied any wrongdoing.
“I am so excited to be back home. It was quite an ordeal in the Philippines but in the end justice was served to ensure my release,” Chandiwana said.
He and the other United Methodist missionaries — Miracle Osman and Adam Shaw — had been detained at police checkpoints in February while taking part in an international ecumenical fact-finding investigation of alleged human rights violations, including the deaths of nine indigenous people.
Chandiwana was released following a public campaign that included a statement by the United Methodist Council of Bishops and an online petition calling for his release and for the other two missionaries to be allowed to leave the Philippines.
Shaw and Osman had not been allowed to leave the country. Shaw arrived back in the U.S. on July 4 and Osman, who is from Malawi, is in Manila and has her passport, said the Rev. Russell Pierce, a spokesman for the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries. He said she is awaiting word on next steps and a timeline for her departure.
Chandiwana was met at the airport by family, friends and church representatives.
“I am so grateful and hope that we grow together in faith,” he said. “I initially experienced despair and hopelessness, but when people started showing their support to ensure my freedom, I began to see an opportunity to learn from my experience.”
Chandiwana expressed his gratitude to for the outpouring of love from the 13 000 people who signed the online petition for his release over the past week. He also thanked the church in the Philippines and Zimbabwe, Africa University — his alma mater — and United Methodists all over the world.
“I don’t really have the words. I never expected that such a big number of people would be concerned ... I was surprised,” he said.
Thomas Kemper, top executive of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, visited Chandiwana while he was in detention last week.
“I was so happy Thomas came to visit me and we shared some moments together. He was so concerned and he worked extra hard to ensure everything went well,” Chandiwana said.
He had words of support for Osman. “Miracle, stay strong. You can do it. You have always been a strong woman. I pray that she will soon be going home too,” he said.
Kemper described his visit to Chandiwana. “After I had visited with Tawanda in the detention center, my heart was very heavy. The conditions there were really bad and I felt so sorry for him and how he had suddenly and innocently gotten into this situation,” said Kemper.
“When I received the first call that his release might be possible soon, I was in tears. I was overwhelmed but every day my tension grew until we finally heard he was free,” he said.
“I briefly hugged Tawanda at the airport in Manila and said goodbye. What a moment of pure joy.”
He urged the church to continue praying. “Imagine by now over 13,000 people from over 100 countries have signed the petition. What a worldwide community we are as United Methodists. Be grateful and a little bit proud to be part of the UMC connection,” Kemper said.
Simon Mafunda, Zimbabwe East Conference lay leader, met Chandiwana at the airport. “We are so excited to see Tawanda back on home soil. In him we see grace, we see the global church in operation and we have a testimony as we see the one United Methodist Church,” Mafunda said.
Caroline Mutsago, who served in the Philippines at Harris Memorial College in Taytay for two years, was among those who welcomed Chandiwana at the airport.
“Oddly, I received news of his detention on 25 May when we were celebrating Africa Day. What a coincidence knowing we were celebrating our African heritage and independence yet one of our brothers was detained in a foreign land. Tawanda has a story to tell the world of how his life has transformed through this experience,” she said.
The Rev. Alan Masimba Gurupira, Zimbabwe Episcopal Area administrative assistant to the bishop, also expressed thanks for the safe return of the missionary, who visited the area headquarters after his arrival home.
“We thank the Lord for leading you back home safely and we wish that you continue to be a missionary,” Gurupira said.
- Story by Eveline Chikwanah, Zimbabwe East Annual Conference.