Prominent preacher Bishop Tudor Bismarck says Zimbabwe’s long-running economic and political problems make it difficult to continue giving people promises of breakthroughs in their lives.
Bismarck (TB), a senior pastor at the New Convenant Church, however, told Alpha Media Holdings chairman Trevor Ncube (TN) on the platform In Conversation with Trevor that it was the church’s “responsibility to keep on preaching that hope and walking that hope”.
Below is an excerpt from the wide-ranging interview.
TN: Congratulations, it’s a big day for you and your wonderful wife Chichi as you are celebrating 38 years of marriage, how have you done that?
TB: Well, we met in 1978 and we wanted to get married in 1980.
We were a bit too young and then my sister passed away in September 1981, so we moved the wedding from October 1981 to February 1982 and it just seems like yesterday. I’m the old guy, but she still looks like a teenager.
TN: That’s a great achievement, bishop, given the attack that marriages of men and women of God are experiencing. What’s been the formula for you guys sticking it out?
TB: Basically, the first year we married was loving and roses. Then we had our first major disagreement and the D-word was thrown in, you know I want a divorce and then we vowed from that day December 1982 we would never use that word again and whatever we go through we work it out and to find responsible counsellors and people that would guide us with the ups and downs like everybody else, but we have committed to a lifetime relationship being together.
TN: What advice do you give to couples going through stormy territories as far as marriage is concerned?
TB: Well, life is really unpredictable no matter where you are in the world. It’s just terribly unpredictable and so firstly in premarital counselling when we get to do it, I don’t do it anymore, we go through the vows and we deal with for better or for worse.
You know for richer or poorer and we take those actual dynamics.
What that means and to take that commitment very seriously if you are dealing with moral issues and moral failure, it’s not impossible to work through it.
It becomes challenging, but we then encourage people to work through those.
We have not been in that area, but we have helped couples survive and work through those kinds of things.
We also, for me I have always said I always want my children to respect their mum and to honour their mum and wouldn’t want to put their mother through a difficult time and that’s been basically a compass and a guideline for me.
TN: Let’s go to the beautiful people that brought you into his world your mom and dad. Your dad was a musician and interestingly your mother was a Muslim prior to getting married to your father. Share with us your journey.
TB: My grandad was actually, their name was Bismarck Pettit.
They immigrated when he was a little boy into Malawi in the Milanji area. We were told that they owned tea estates.
His parents died when he was a little boy and they lost those tea estates according to the executors of the will.
They then came to Rhodesia and he married my grandmother .
My dad’s real mum, who was from Kimberley, South Africa, settled in Bulawayo and my dad’s mom passed away giving birth to Uncle Peter.
My dad was two or three years old.
Grandpa then remarried and had a number of children from his second wife, Granny Bismarck, who passed away a few years ago, and my dad settled in Bulawayo.
He became an apprentice and finally got a job at the railways, but his pastime was playing music and a saxophone.
So there was that whole bunch of two families, one of 17 kids on my father’s side.
On my mother’s side, my grandfather was born in Surat in India and way back then, the Brits were looking for Indians to come work in the cane fields and he didn’t do well and moved to Botswana where he met my grandmother who was Tswana.
My mother was born in Francistown with most of her sisters.
One of 13 children from one mother one father.
They moved to Bulawayo where there were so many opportunities back then.
The old man got a farm, was ranching, was doing tshebe tshebe, that’s river sand, buses trucks, sour milk and all of that and my mum and dad met. She went to a dance where he was playing in a band and eyes fell on each other, they married in 1956 and I was born 1957.
TN: How was it like growing up?
TB: Well, I was very traumatised as a boy. I went to school in Trenance.
I had just turned five and I should have spent another year at home, but my dad got a job working in the railways and they were laying the track for what is now the Rutenga to Triangle railway line.
There were no shops, there were no roads and so my dad had to put me up with relatives to go to school. I didn’t understand it.
My sister Bernie, who comes after me, was put with another relative and then the third year my brother Donavan, who was born in 1959, had to go to a boarding school. They couldn’t put him up with another relative so they then sent us to Embakwe Mission, which was so traumatic.
TN: Why was it traumatic?
TB: Well, the thing is we had never been in that environment.
When you go to a boarding school, you have to have somebody that can protect you, look after you and fight for you.
In my first fight I was pulling Michael Holmes’ hair. I thought that’s how you fight because that’s how I folded my sisters and he bashed me in the eye, but then you learn very quickly.
TN: So you got a blow in your eye, traumatised?
TB: It did, I mean you learn quickly in boarding school and you learn how to defend yourself. But then Embakwe grew me really quickly.
TN: In what way?
TB: It made me appreciate, number one, values. You now appreciate home life and family because I met a lot of kids there that were on welfare.
They were taken from broken families, some were orphans.
I got to appreciate that. I also got a tremendous crowning in terms of education because at the Catholic school, mostly Irish and British nuns, were so anti-Rhodesian Front. They disliked Ian Smith, you know just like apartheid and put us in actual values etc, and the value of education.
So when I left Embakwe and went to Founders High School, we were literally two classes ahead in education.
TN: When, where and how did Jesus Christ find you?
TB: I had a basic experience of being from a subliminal Muslim family because my mother was not a practicing (Muslim).
But at Embakwe the kids were getting their holy communion.
My sister, I and my brother were the only ones that were not taking holy communion because we didn’t go for the training and so I then asked my parents if I could.
They said no, but I could serve at the altar, but there was this appetite for being a Christian.
My mum then began to seek (God) and based on our experiences at school she befriended the archbishop of the Anglican Church in Botswana.
He said your children need to be confirmed and we then started getting training in the Anglican church and I was confirmed at the age of 12, but then when I was 16 my parents were having such trauma in their marriage.
With 10 children, my dad was in the band again drinking, going crazy again and my mum was done that particular day when she was leaving.
Ten missionaries were doing door knocking. Robin Faris and Lewis Lowell knocked on the door. Robin was from Texas and he had just come off LSD and heroin drugs. They sent him far away.
The first family they invited to church was my mum and dad took us to church.
We felt the anointing. My mum spilt her guts on the measure with you know, ‘why we’re telling your business here’, but in a very short space of time we started attending church, that was 1972.
In 1974 I started preaching and became the leader of Scripture Union and then in 1978 got my first licence to legitimately preach for the organisation I was with.
TN: The music in your father, was it passed on to you?
TB: There was no music in the church, so the missionary’s wife Susan Ferris was pulling a piano.
We already had a piano in the house because my dad bought one for us and so my sisters were playing the piano.
I started playing the guitar. I was playing for the band at Founders, I played sax, flute, clarinet and so on.
I took O’Level music, my sister took A’Level music. So music was already in our family and now that the church needed musicians and we came in as a family band.
TN: So you played as a family band for the church?
TN: Speak to me about the most powerful sermon that you’ve ever preached.
TB: Well, that’s a tough call. You know I think they are basically seasons when things happen.
The first message I ever preached in South Africa defined some of my journeys. My message was entitled; “God the Supreme Man” and that’s when we began to play around with the empowerment and black crocheted message, pan-Africanism and then in 1990 in England I preached another very significant message and that was on Rebekah and that even when you’re an outsider, you have a right to inheritance that was 1990.
Then for me the breakthrough came in 2001 preaching for Bishop TD Jakes at the Pastors Leaders Conference, the message was entitled; “The blessing of one thousand times more”.
All of those messages in those decades defined my life, my ministry and my future.
So probably The blessing of a thousand times more is the most powerful and the most outstanding.
TN: What was the response to that message?
TB: It wasn’t my preferred message that night. It was something different, it was almost an accident.
I read Deuteronomy 1 v 11 where Moses says God has blessed you and the blessing of one thousand times more beyond you and then I heard like a sonic boom.
I thought there was a problem with the microphone and the Holy Spirit said no, it’s not the sound, it’s me and then shockingly I saw hundreds and hundreds of people.
There must have been about 10 000 people in that auditorium, mostly pastors running to the front and throwing money, cheques.
I was wearing an African print garment. The reason for that was that I had been preaching a few weeks in the States and no clothes, my clothes in the laundry hadn’t come back and I thought okay let me put this on and it was a mistake.
People thought this was brilliant and I was pan-Africanist and it was all a mistake.
And that day when people were throwing money I thought Bishop Jakes was offended because nobody had seen this before.
I was panicking, but it was just a moment. It was just an absolute moment and I became known as the guy that preached the blessing of a thousand times more.
In that message as the weeks went by videos went out and the thing about it was a few months before the Twin Towers were bombed (9/11) and so Bishop Jakes was taking a chance on that meeting.
Pastors came believing in Bishop Jakes. Before I spoke there was a live feed from (United States) President (George) Bush to thank the pastors for defying the terrorists and travelling and so on.
After President Bush was Bishop Jakes introducing me and President Bush said he would be watching the meeting.
So it was a stunning moment and a lot of pastors knew me from that moment. So today people refer back to that particular incident.
TN: Talk to us about the ups and downs of building this amazing church that you have built now. The presence that you have in Zimbabwe in particular and on the continent. But let’s start with Zimbabwe, how’s the challenge been, how is the journey?
TB: 1980, Chichi and I went to Houston. We weren’t married, were about to. My missionary son Reagan was getting married and we shared a bedroom. He asked me to be his best man and so we went to Houston and I had a strange visitation there.
We were offered to live in America, get married and go to college.
I was thinking this is definitely God. But I had a visitation, supernatural visitation: It was like, you go back to Zimbabwe.
You know the country had just become independent, people weren’t really sure on what Robert Mugabe was going to do.
He had won a huge majority, which was stunning. Many people didn’t have this conversation that about 20% of the seats in Parliament had to be whites.
That was part of the Lancaster House agreement, so his hands were tied but again a bit of a loose gun, nobody knew what he would do.
They thought he might go the Samora Machel way and I was like I’m not going back to Zimbabwe, there is a great opportunity here.
But Chichi said you need to go back and when I agreed to that I had this dream that I would build a church that had at least 10 000 people and the building to go with it and at that time there were very few churches anywhere that had more than a couple of thousand people.
So some people accuse me of egotism and narcissism and whatever the case might me.
But we held onto that and we anchored with that and remained even after challenges that came in the 90s and then 2000s.
We built our entire ideas though around that visitation from God that we ought to be here and remain.
We had many opportunities to leave, but we refused to leave. We have committed to Zimbabwe and remain here.
TN: What’s a day like in the life of Bishop Tudor Bismarck?
TB: Before the mid-90s I was just a general day office boy going early in the morning.
But I said I would not turn 40 without any degree and so 1997 coming towards 40 I went back to school and earned my degree and because dial-up internet was just coming and perfecting and so on I had to do the dial-up thing with the phone line and so I had to come early so I could get a decent signal and stuff like that.
So I would start to come to the office by two in the morning and it just became a lifestyle and a habit.
So now I get up at 3:50, I leave the house at 4:30 and every day religiously including today on our anniversary I was at the office at quarter to four and go through emails, go through a schedule of things I have to do and appointments.
Certain days it’s study time and then I start meeting people from probably eight to about one, two and then prepare whatever I’m doing in the evening.
I am fairly regimented in that my reading is time-specific.
So I’m right now doing leadership. January into March is leadership, April into June is finance and anything from August start reading probably inter-relationship building, team building etc, church stuff; how to build churches and then from October I may read two or three novels.
TN: I know you visit your families in the evening, share that experience with us.
TB: You know, Trevor, people say I’m a great pastor. I’m not an awful pastor. I’m never home. I get people to do the pastoring side and so I committed last year. I just wanted to be home and so while I’m home most of the people I meet in the day are basically relational.
In the evening I’m visiting families, going to see where they live and what they eat.
I don’t want them to do anything special and I’ve seen some guys that are literally building from the ground up living in little back rooms and building their houses.
You know hugging their kids and encouraging them. Last week a family didn’t want me to go to their house because they had just laid the tiles, the roof was leaking because it had been raining.
I said no I’m coming, they wanted to take me to some restaurant .
I said no, I’m coming and the children said bishop we wouldn’t have seen that restaurant and I’m hugging their kids eating what they are eating, feeling for them, praying for their breakthrough and trying to feel what Zimbabweans are feeling right now, their pain, their struggle.
TN: What are they feeling, what are they going through?
TD: When we started, we committed to buying a house and owning property and putting money away, which is part of our culture.
We still do that, but we have young couples married for two, three years and no jobs. Basically dealers, entrepreneurs trading here, buying and selling, doing cross-border business and taking those few profits and building their house and to see them doing that trying to find a school for their kids, driving on awful roads has been very painful and very difficult.
TN: What has that done to you?
TB: It’s been very painful because I have to keep on preaching messages of hope.
I’ve tracked 2010 to 2020 my crossover service messages, which have been very concerning because I’ve been saying next year it’s your year, it’s your breakthrough year, the doors are opening and so 2019 was difficult preaching that message because I don’t want to be known for empty promises.
We have to keep on being optimistic and people actually take that message and anchor their lives and their future around that message and I’m so scared that I’m giving people promises and hopes that may not be realised or take longer to realise and say that bishop said it’s going to be alright, we won’t call this off, we won’t go . . . let’s remain here, build a house, let’s find a school so now I have become very human, very sensitive.
I’m touched by the feelings of people’s infirmities and my prayers are more, God please help this country and more help Africa.
At the Council of African Apostles, which is a group of people I lead, all of us have that real conversation as Africans.
Let’s continue to be hopeful, but let’s now anchor our gospel around salvation and a culture of prosperity and not salvation equals prosperity because a lot of time people have come to church equating their salvation relationship with Jesus Christ and prosperity. They are two separate things.
TN: I call it microwave Christianity. I get born again today and because the bishop has said this is my year I expect by the end of the year to have prospered. I mean I haven’t prospered, Bishop, what do you say to me, you told me this is my year?
TB: So we are now moving around with what actually pleases God and what pleases God without faith?
The minute you ask God to increase your faith, you have asked for an impossible task.
So you may preach a message of faith, that faith is going to be tested because they just live by faith and your faith is going to be tested.
So we try to balance the message. If you look at Martin Luther’s time when he said he shall live by faith and nailed it on the cathedral door and Europe came to an awakening, that awakening came with a certain quality of life and prosperity.
So for me I would like my message including prosperity to be about the quality of life.
Water that actually works, electricity that is actually there, deliver schools that have good teachers and exercise book that are actually there.
A pipeline that will go to high school and to a university that has quality professors, where there is money available for entrepreneurs.
So we are trying to develop and perfect that pipeline alongside a message of faith and prosperity.
TN: How do you continue preaching a message of hope and encouragement in this destitution, in this poverty that people are drowning in, how do you do that?
TB: It’s mandatory because where we are, I’ve been in ministry since 1974 which is almost 40-something years.
It’s our responsibility to keep on preaching that hope and we walking that hope.
We look at traumatic testimonies in countries like Ghana, Tanzania, Ethiopia where Christians have gone through worse in terms of war and struggles and pain and they have made it.
So we anchor our faith with those and we agreed collectively that we must preach the message of hope. It is responsible to do that every Sunday because if we don’t teach that and preach that, people will not be able to stand.
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