Simon Mkolo is one of JL's oldest partners on the African continent in terms of friendship and partnership -- going back to the early 1980s. Simon had been a political radical and revolutionary during the days when Southern Rhodesia was seeking her independence from white rule. As a result of his speaking out against the injustices of the racial regime, he was arrested and put in prison for 4 years for his rebel activities. While there he was given a book by an African pastor entitled God's Miracles. The message of that book -- especially the emphasis on the verse about Jesus Christ being "...the same yesterday, today and forever" (Heb. 13:8), led to his equally radical conversion to Jesus Christ.
Upon his release from jail, he began to walk from village to village in the poorest areas of Zimbabwe preaching the Gospel. As a result, thousands were saved and churches were planted in the “African Bush.” Today he has planted well over 500 churches. JL has gone to Zimbabwe annually to preach Conferences and Conventions for Simon’s people. He has also funded the building of many “bush churches” and pastor’s homes. Today one of J.L.‘s primary projects is helping build the Conference Center for Pastor Simon along with the Eben-Ezer Bible College.
THE CALLING OF AN EVANGELIST
Simon Mkolo never thought about becoming a preacher. In fact, he wasn’t even sure he wanted to become a Christian. It isn’t everyday that someone, who once said they “saw nothing attractive about Christianity”, becomes an extremely gifted preacher. But Pastor Simon Mkolo isn’t the type of man that you meet on a daily basis.
Simon was born in a small town in Southern Rhodesia as a part of the Tonga tribe, and was educated there at a Christian school. He found little that drew him to the faith. He saw too many clergy (both African pastors and white missionaries) who were hypocrites, racists and unfaithful in marriage. Because of that, he was more interested in fighting the racial injustices (apartheid) of the British colonialists than trying to follow God’s word.
Regardless of these beliefs, Simon should have known that he was destined for a life of preaching because of the dream he had as a young boy. In his dream, he was writing a Bible story and when he woke up, he found he had written down the story while he was asleep. Upon this realization, he went to his missionary teacher and asked him to interpret this strange phenomenon. The teacher told Simon that he would someday preach the word of God.
Several years passed with no more strange writings and then, one morning, Simon awakened and it had happened again. He went back to the missionary and received a similar interpretation, but with a small twist. Instead of simply telling him that he would one day preach the Gospel, he told Simon, “You will have to suffer for a while, but you will preach for God.”
Simon, however, continued to ignore the specific dream and its meaning, and focused instead on speaking out against the racial injustices that surrounded him. It was during this time that he got in serious trouble with the government. Because of his aggressive stance against many government policies, he was taken from his wife and family and put into prison. During his four-year stint, not much changed for him until the last year.
A poor African pastor, wearing a threadbare shirt, was put in the same cell and he gave Simon a Gospel tract entitled God’s Miracles. Simon was especially struck by the verse from Hebrews 13:8, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.” Even after the humble pastor was released, Simon kept that tract in his shirt pocket, taking it out often and reading it through again and again. Eventually, he realized that Jesus was his only hope and accepted Christ into his heart.
Toward the end of the four years, the British government offered him a way to be released back to his family: sign a document agreeing to stop speaking out about anything anti-government. He decided to accept their condition. While he was thrilled to be back home, he was also humiliated that he had given up on his beliefs. As a new Christian, he began to attend church regularly with his wife, Maina, and his children. In a short time, all of them accepted Christ as well. It was at this point that Simon realized that he was called to be a minister. He began traveling to the surrounding villages, mostly by walking since few tribal families had cars.
It wasn’t easy for Simon to spread God’s word in the rural areas. As is the case in many countries, people were not open to change and preferred to keep things the way they had always been. One time, Pastor Mkolo was threatened by villager who told him he was going to “use an ax and chop him in the back of his neck” if he preached in his village. But, Simon bravely preached the Gospel to the entire village anyway and the man with the ax was one of the first to accept Christ!
As Simon travelled, another baby was born into his family, making food even scarcer. Changing jobs from a coal miner to a preacher put a serious damper on the income he was receiving. Many of the meals provided for his family came not from his hand, but from the hand of God. On one occasion when Simon was gone and there was no food, Maina filled a pot with water and put it on the fire, believing that God would supply their need. Miraculously, as the water began to boil, a neighbor walked up to say that she had some extra food to share with them. This confirmed to Maina what she already believed, that the Lord would take care of them.
The Mkolos learned that suffering was an important part of their spiritual growth because it taught them that God would provide for them in times of hardship, persecution and struggles. Pastor Simon still teaches that while young Christians normally “seek greener pastures”, he thinks it is best to “teach them that suffering leads to maturity and fruitfulness, and that they must be patient as they learn to walk with the Lord.”
Even with all of the trials and tribulations that the Mkolos went through during those decades of following Christ, even after Southern Rhodesia gained its independence from England and changed its name back to Zimbabwe, they continued to have faith in God to spread His word to as many people as possible. Through Simon’s faithfulness of preaching from village to village, there are now over 500 churches and preaching points where people assemble to praise the Lord! That’s an amazing statistic considering that until 1996, there were no church buildings in which to worship!
We became aware of Simon’s need for church buildings back in 1994. Since then we have funded over a dozen church building projects. Through New Directions’ partners, funds were given for cement, window and doorframes, and roofing materials. The local people provided the bricks and some of the labor.
Over the last few years, Pastor Simon’s ministry has expanded greatly, growing to eight regional conferences with over 2,000 members in each. He has been invited to speak in the surrounding countries of Swaziland, Namibia, Zambia, Malawi and Tanzania. There are dozens of pastors who have graduated from Bible school also through the financial help of New Directions’ partners.
Simon Mkolo continues to reach people all over Africa because of his grace, humility and his unwavering devotion to Christ. He gives a lot of credit to those who have helped him along the way, to NDI and JLPF, saying, “Without your involvement, I wouldn’t be where I am now.” But he is too gracious on that account. He is where he is today because of the Lord’s blessing on his faithfulness in following Him.
In 2001, Maina was killed in a tragic automobile accident. The years that followed were difficult for him, as you can imagine. But through God’s great mercy, He provided brother Simon with another Godly woman, Otillia. She has been a wonderful helpmate to him in his on-going ministry, and is a recent Bible school graduate herself. Please pray for them and their blended family, that together they may continue to evangelize and disciple the many who still need to hear the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.