Tendai Hildegarde Manzvanzvike
Madame de Stael writes: “We understand death for the first time when he puts his hand upon one whom we love.”
Many people can attest to this, but they will also tell you that irrespective of the number of times one comes face-to-face with death, it always feels like a first encounter, but with time, you learn to move on.
September 15, 2017 marked the first anniversary since the tragic death in a car crash of Apostle Charles Chiriseri, founder and senior pastor of His Presence Ministries International, head-quartered in Harare.
It was a fatality that nearly claimed the life of his wife Apostle Petunia Chiriseri, and the latter spent several weeks in the Intensive Care Unit in Bulawayo.
The couple was travelling to Bulawayo to attend a funeral when tragedy struck at the 388km peg along the Harare-Bulawayo Road in Mbembesi.
Like other families, the Chiriseri family did not just lose a father, but it was a tragic death that robbed the body of Christ of a very humble and unassuming person; a man of integrity who was also a highly respected leader in church circles and beyond.
When he passed on, social media was awash with messages of condolence, messages that spoke of how Apostle Chiriseri had positively touched lives. He was probably the first Zimbabwean pastor whose funeral had live updates published on some major online platforms.
Zambian pastor-cum-politician Dr Nevers Mumba, in his graveside eulogy on October 23 last year said of him: “We got connected because Charles said he was touched by my political involvement back home and saw it as something strategic that God was doing in Africa. Charles was a good man. That’s why I am here . . . to celebrate him.”
One year on, we retrace how his tragic death has impacted on his widow, church and their ministry. Speaking to Apostle Petunia and some of their children on the eve of the first anniversary, one could feel the deep sense of sorrow and loss.
It was evident that though the family had accepted this inescapable reality, their grief was felt through how they described who and what Apostle Chiriseri meant in their lives.
His widow Apostle Petunia paid homage to her husband in a lengthy eulogy, saying sometimes she “cries like a baby”, for the “pain of the loss lingers on”.
Apostle Petunia narrated: “It is one year today (September 15) since Apostle Charles went home and the shock lingers on. The pain of the loss still grips me now and again, and I cry like a baby when I am alone. As a father, Apostle Charles remains a role model in the minds of many; a generous, gentle, loving and caring father to my children and amazingly, to many fatherless children, both young and old, in and out of the church.
“I still can’t believe my beloved is gone forever. Our life was full of love and so much laughter . . . He brought out the best in me and so did I in him. He was my best friend and confidant, my mentor and cheer leader; a charming man, ever so caring and tender. Charles was a faithful, loving husband, my one and only lover. We were so happy together.”
She also said Apostle Charles was an epitome of the husband described by the great Apostle Paul in the book of Ephesians when he exhorts husbands to love their wives like Christ loves his body, the church: “He (Apostle Chiriseri) was a true priest and prophet, and I made sure he lived like a king in our palace. We called the extension of our house, our palace! It got easier over the years to submit and treat him like the king that he was, because we learnt that if you treat your wife like a queen, she’ll treat you like a king and vice versa. We taught it, lived it and loved it.”
She said although their marriage was shortened by his untimely death, it was a union firmly laid on family foundations, which gave her the confidence to set up the Charles Chiriseri Foundation “to empower others.”
However, she said it was an uphill struggle for them to be a happily married couple, but they were determined to work on the marriage to be a success, and she advised other couples to do the same: “We had to work at it and at ourselves, and it all paid off. It pays to obey God.
“My main message to couples is his last message to the recipients of his Daily Devotional – ‘value your spouse and family while you still have them’. Pastor Charles sent it the day before of our accident, before we set off on that missionary journey to Bulawayo. We valued each other and treated each other well. I have no regrets and it’s a good feeling.
“For years, we taught couples to ‘never take each other for granted’. We would teach and practice what we taught. That’s what has brought peace and acceptance.
“Till death do us part, the Bible says, and on the 15th of September 2016, this Word became flesh in our lives. That’s why I continue to sing and declare ‘It is well with my soul’. We fulfilled our marriage vows – a reflection of his life and my children’s life, and the exuberant life of the church he left in my care, His Presence Ministries Church, this whole year, has shown me that when you work the Word, the Word works! Thus I made up my mind to live to share this Word, the secret of our success, with others.”
Asked what gives her the resolve to move on, Apostle Petunia responded: “I guess because my life has always been a purpose-driven life, I still love life. I still love God. I still love His people. I had to make up my mind, to advance and not retreat; with the help of my children, to accept that this is what it is and we all have to accept and depend on Him for the strength to soldier on.”
She also said His Presence Ministries International was very much alive: “What has strengthened the church is seeing the many things Apostle Charles prophesied that have come to pass, including my change of stature as the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commissioner; the honour I received to give an opening prayer at Independence Day this year. My husband told us, ‘they will ask you – how did you get there? Then they will know it is the Lord’s doing and no man can stop it’”.
Since her injuries resulted in her being admitted in one of the most dreaded hospital sections, the ICU, had she recovered, or she was forcing herself to be strong?
Apostle Petunia said her physical healing was nothing short of a miracle: “A top surgeon in North Carolina (USA), confirmed the supernatural when he said to me and my friend (name supplied), ‘I can’t explain what I see as the extent of the injuries you sustained, your doctors’ reports and what I see you able to do now with your limbs and the rest of your body.’ The Lord has done great things and we are glad.”
She said this echoed Apostle Charles’s last prophetic words when he said, ‘“expect a miracle,’ and I am the miracle. No human being can survive five hours of internal bleeding without help, from a punctured lung, broken ribs, a broken collar bone, broken knees, heel and multiple injuries all over my body, the way God spared me!”
In her parting remarks she said all they now do is to sing “Mazvita henyu Baba” (Thank you Lord), a song that Apostle Chiriseri instructed them to sing for the next six months, and when everyone never realised that those next six months would be months of mourning, which the family and church declared and ended on Easter Friday this year.
The couple are blessed with four biological children, Yasha, Lisa, Zoe and Nissi and eight foster children, among them Tanya, Nyasha, Kiki, Thabani, and Nyasha Mhlanga.
Some of the children also spoke as their mother was being interviewed with The Herald. The eldest son Yasha described his father as his spiritual leader saying Apostle Chiriseri was, “a very normal man, but at the same time extraordinarily humble, patient, loving and kind; a man of great integrity and character, which cannot be said of many.
“He always seemed to have time for everyone no matter who they were, where they came from or what your status in life was. He remembered every single person’s name even if he met you once,” said Yasha.
He said he was grateful for the life-long and Godly lessons he got from him saying, “He showed me how to be a father and a husband that is loved, honoured and respected by your family. The one thing he always used to say to me was if you truly wanted to know a man, ask his wife and his children. They will tell you the truth.”
Lisa, the eldest daughter, chipped in saying, “Each time we discuss dad – and that’s so very often – we are more and more in awe of the life he lived and more in love with the God He served. It brings us such happiness. That’s the actual peace of God that surpasses understanding that God promised in Philippians 4 that has been ruling and reigning in our hearts. Only we can dethrone it. Why would I want to do that?”
So, is it possible to seal the hollowness that death brings in our lives?
Apostle Chiriseri’s children said that was not totally possible: “You can’t really close that gap because he was such a large part of our lives. You can’t replace that kind of presence, that kind of love with a person or thing. The only thing that has brought healing and joy has been the Holy Spirit. It’s almost like having a large wound that has been healed and is now just a scar. You know you were once injured there and you can see the evidence of it but there’s no longer any pain because of the comfort of the Holy Spirit.”