For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows" — 1 Timothy 6:10.
The scriptures are full of warnings against seeking the passing pleasures of wealth, but it seems today's gospel of prosperity is that of money chasers.
Wristbands, car stickers, anointing oil, T-shirts, bandanas, DVDs and airtime (Spiritual Link), are just a few of the things that today's churches like United Family International Church (UFIC), Prophetic Healing and Deliverance Ministries (PHD), Faith in God and Eagle Life Assembly vend for a profit in their churches.
But they are not the only ones, Prophet Passion's exuberant Kingdom Embassy and Eubert Angel's Spirit Embassy complete the list of the top five prosperity gospel churches in Zimbabwe.
At UFIC, for instance, it is a common sight for a vendor to pass by one's seat advertising their wares during a sermon. The house of God, although it still has preachers, Bibles and praise-and-worship teams, can now be mistaken for a market place. Do we remember when Jesus went into a temple in Jerusalem and chased out all those that were doing business in the house of God?
Selling of merchandise brings in big money as it is targeted at the tens of thousands that flock to services every week. But the church has devised even more sophisticated fund-raising tactics.
The church has partners categorised according to the size of their financial contributions. A partner is an individual who commits to donate a fixed amount monthly. The partners, who fall under the different types of precious minerals like bronze, silver, gold and platinum, get to enjoy certain benefits that others do not have.
Every Tuesday at UFIC there is a partners' service and every category has its own pastor whom they deal with directly even on private matters that may require one-on-one meetings.
According to insiders, those with the platinum access, the most expensive as it involves thousands of dollars, have direct access to the founder of UFIC, Prophet Emmanuel Makandiwa.
"They deal directly with Papa himself, they even have his cellphone number because they pay a lot of money," said an insider on condition of anonymity.
The Leisure last week contacted UFIC spokesperson and Makandiwa's right-hand man, Pastor Prime Kufa, with questions regarding the church's peculiar fund-raising methods. Pastor Kufa justified his church's aggressive tactics saying indigenous churches have no donors and thus have to be funded by their membership.
"Just to go back into history, we grew up in the traditional churches that came with the whites like Anglican, Roman Catholic, Dutch Reformed Church and Methodist. These churches were sponsored from outside. They had donors that poured money into these churches to ensure that the missionaries were not hindered by lack of resources in doing their work.
"But now we have indigenous churches, which have no donors. So all the fund-raising methods we are using are to substitute the donors. As a church we are a non-profit-making organisation with no donors, and thus we are funded by our members," said Pastor Kufa.
Commenting on the issue of church partners and their different contributions, Pastor Kufa dismissed criticism as being born out of ignorance.
"There is a misconception about partnerships as if they are a creation of Zimbabwean churches. Partnerships have always existed, but it is just that we did not know about them. Partners are there to ensure that the church does not have to beg and it fulfills its mandate, they fund the church and its projects," said Pastor Kufa.
The UFIC spokesman dismissed reports that his church had recently acquired top-of-the range vehicles for their pastors nationwide, but confirmed the building of a luxurious hotel in Harare's Glen Lorne suburb.
"We have guests that visit us who want to be in control of their programmes. Sometimes these people want to fast, sometimes they are with their families and want to do things in a certain way – so this is their place because at times hotel set-ups may not allow them to do exactly what they want. It is not a hotel, it is a Mission House," said Pastor Kufa.
When The Leisure team arrived at the construction site in Glen Lorne on Wednesday, heavy-duty machinery and dozens of construction workers could be seen at the multi-hectare piece of land. Attempts to ascertain the level of development at the estimated multi-million-dollar facility were cut short when the management team and security personnel asked the crew to leave.
While Makandiwa is no doubt the richest among this new breed of pastors, Prophet Magaya of PHD cuts a close second. Magaya, who operates from a rented property at Zindoga Shopping Centre, has a following that rivals that of Makandiwa and is proving to be a shrewd businessman as well. Besides selling DVDs that come with a bottle of anointing oil for US$5, wristbands for the same amount and bandanas for US$2, among many other goods, he too has many tricks up his sleeve.
PHD is said to now own seven guest houses or rather lodges that accommodate out of town church visitors and are used by those who want to speed up one-on-one meetings with the prophet.
"Because it takes too long to follow the normal procedure to see the prophet, some people just book rooms at the lodges for a weekend and that is a guarantee that one would get an audience with him," said church member.
A visit to one of PHD's "guest houses" in Marlborough East last week, revealed that the lodges are in full swing as tens of people were gathered at the up market facility.
Attempts to book a room as walk-inns failed as this writer was informed that the facility could only be used by church members only. Staff at the lodge then made available two cell phone numbers, which were said to belong to the booking agents but they proved too difficult to get through to and when they did go through, they went unanswered.
Efforts to get a comment from PHD hit a brick wall as the church's spokesperson Oscar Pambuka failed to provide answers to our questions before going to print.
Since Beverly "Bev" Sibanda humiliated Magaya by dumping his church and saying that PHD had benefited more from her than she had done, it has become extremely difficult to get a comment from the church as they now operate behind thick curtains.
Increasingly desperate miracle-seekers are parting with their money for a chance to meet Magaya. The trend of flamboyant pastors is not limited to Zimbabwe or Africa, in the United States of America, Oxygen Network, a television channel, recently launched a reality show called Preachers of LA.
The reality series gives insight into the behind-the-scenes lives of flamboyant men of the cloth. The show has raised eyebrows and angered many.
These prophets are not without their controversies. Most notable are Makandiwa's three-day miracle baby that later died and was buried in a cloud of secrecy, Magaya's dancer Beverly Sibanda debacle and Blessing Chiza's Warriors fake victory prophecy – yet people still flock their congregations.