The Sunday Mail, 25 April 1965
AFRICANS in the Mhondoro Reserve are still talking about the “miracle” when their church at St Oswald’s Mission was destroyed by a petrol bomb last June.
Although the fire gutted the church almost beyond recognition, the two wooden crosses on the thatched roof were not damaged at all. The church has now been rebuilt and the wooden crosses now stand proudly on the new roof.
Father Langton Machila, priest-in-charge of the mission, said last week some intuition had made him wake up in the middle of the night and leave his house to find the church in flames. He managed to drag many of the contents of the church outside before the roof collapsed.
“The story of the miracle of the wooden crosses spread like wildfire through the reserve,” he said.
“The people took it to signify God’s displeasure at the destruction of His church. An immediate decision was taken to rebuild the church and the adjacent school, which was also destroyed. People from miles around, both Christian and heathen, came to give their labour and their money.”
Gifts of 200 pounds were received which, with the insurance money, was enough to rebuild the church and school. The six men responsible for the destruction of the church were handed over to the police within 24 hours of committing their crime and are now in jail.
The departure of six of his flock to prison has not adversely affected the size of Father Machila’s congregation. Many more people now attend the mission church than ever before. Perhaps it really was a miracle.
LESSONS FOR TODAY
Miracle (from Latin mirari) is defined as “an extraordinary and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws, and is therefore attributed to a divine agency.” Since the arson happened at a mission station, the survival of the wooden crosses was seen as a miraculous event. Even today, this would still be termed miraculous in line with biblical beliefs.
Despite the burning down of St Oswald’s church and school, the local community through their Christian beliefs regarded some of the events as miraculous. While the thatch roof church was burnt to cinders, the two wooden crosses on the roof were not damaged — a miracle, considering how quickly wood burns down.
Although the community concentrated on the unburnt crucifixes, the biggest miracle was when believers and non-believers worked together in the church’s rebuilding process, while some of the unbelievers converted to Christianity, making true that what the devil meant for evil, God turned it into a blessing for the community.
It is also a miracle because it did not take long for the perpetrators of the arson to be arrested, and for the building to be completed.
Although thatch roofing is beautiful when done well, the majority of mission stations no longer use it.