When A Pastor Commits Suicide … Of Pastor Berry Dambaza and Pastor Jarrid Wilson.

Last week, a California mega-church pastor and an ardent mental health advocate who spoke openly about his battle with depression took his own life merely hours after he had officiated the funeral of another suicide victim.

Unbeknownst to the world that he would go by a similar way, Pastor Jarrid Wilson, a pastor with the Harvest Christian Fellowship Church, tweeted earlier in the afternoon that he was preparing to officiate the funeral of a Christian woman who died by suicide.

“Officiating a funeral for a Jesus-loving woman who took her own life today,” he tweeted around 2 p.m. “Your prayers are greatly appreciated for the family.”

The circumstances of his apparent suicide were not immediately released, but hours before his death Pastor Wilson took to social media about mental health struggles.

“Loving Jesus doesn’t always cure suicidal thoughts,” Wilson tweeted on Monday. “Loving Jesus doesn’t always cure depression.”

Wilson, who joined Harvest Christian Fellowship Church in early 2018, had been an outspoken advocate of mental health issues.

“He struggled publicly with mental health, and his willingness to break the silence on this often taboo issue gave many the courage they needed to survive the dark nights of their soul,” said a GoFundMe page launched to raise money for his wife and two sons.

And yet while the footprints in California are still fresh and the Christian community is yet to come to terms with how Pastor Wilson, an apostle of mental health and a beacon of hope, would succumb to something that he had stood up against, another pastor had committed suicide.

This time it happened in Harare, the Capital of Zimbabwe and the community of Christ and beyond have once again been plunged into a tidal wave of grief that has left them trying to make sense of these recurrences.

Reports are that on Monday Reverend Berry Dambaza – a Senior pastor at Pentecostal Assemblies of Zimbabwe (PAOZ) Upper Room Ministries – threw himself to death from the 4th floor of a city building in an apparent suicide case.

Rev Dambaza died on the spot and people had to call the police to attend the scene. The body was taken to a local mortuary for post-mortem.

As is a common case in many cases of suicide, the circumstances surrounding his death were not immediately released and investigations to ascertain the circumstances are still in progress.

National police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi confirmed the incident to the Herald.

“We can confirm that a church pastor allegedly jumped from the last floor of Rezende Parkade and died. We are currently investigating the case to establish the motive or the reasons behind this suicide,” he said, amid speculation that he had financial problems, while unconfirmed reports pointed to infidelity.

A close relative of Rev Dambaza explained several reasons could have accompanied his death, with that of allegedly finding his wife with a younger man triggering the tragedy.
When A Pastor Commits Suicide … Of Pastor Berry Dambaza and Pastor Jarrid Wilson.
When A Pastor Commits Suicide … Of Pastor Berry Dambaza and Pastor Jarrid Wilson.

A fellow pastor in the same church, Francis Mananga told the press that he could have killed himself because of pressure connected with his mother’s illness.

There has also been a talk of there being a note that was retrieved from his pocket and somewhat looks like a suicide precis. Although reports are varying, one tabloid established that the note pointed to “abuse of church funds,” with another outlet saying it made reference to “marriage problems” probably confirming rumours he had walked in on his wife and found her in a compromising position with another man.

Rev Dambaza is survived by his wife, Sithembeni Dambaza — also a pastor — and their four children, Oreen and Oretha, Osborne and Oracle.

Upper Room Ministries website described as a “live-wire power-packed teacher and preacher of God’s Word,” who God graciously endowed with “a life-changing and life-impacting pastoral and evangelistic ministry which has resulted in many people experiencing salvation, miracles, healing and deliverance”.

He graduated from the Pentecostal Bible College (now known as Pan African Christian College) with a ministerial diploma and later obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree in Bible Theology in 2005.

He published two books, ‘How To Become a Vessel That God Can Use’ and ‘How To Receive And Release The Anointing.’

He joined Upper Room Ministries in 1996 from Rivers of Life Ministries in Harare where he was a pastor.

He worked as a pastor at the church’s branches in Marondera and Kambuzuma in Harare before his promotion to be a senior pastor at the main church.

His ministry has seen him preach the gospel in Zambia, Malawi, South Africa, Kenya, the DRC, and the United States of America. In the USA he preached in Atlanta (Georgia), Raleigh (North Carolina), Anderson (South Carolina), Indian Mound (Tennessee), Oregon Park (New Jersey) and visited several cities as he travelled across the USA.

Both Pastor Wilson and Rev Dambaza’s suicidal deaths come in the vicinity World Suicide Prevention Day which is commemorated every year on the 10th of September and spotlights the problem of mental health and suicide among the clergy.

According to the World Health Organisation, close to 800 000 people die due to suicide every year, which is one person every 40 seconds.

Pastors aren’t immune to these rising suicide rates. After all, they are people first, ordinary men and women who are vulnerable to the same illnesses, life circumstances and woes as the rest of us.

Yet they have the added stress of living in glass houses, always under the watchful eyes of church members. Sometimes both faith leaders and the congregation forget that pastors are merely human and expect superhuman feats of endurance, wisdom and knowledge. The unrealistic expectation that pastors and their families walk on water can only lead to deep disappointment and disillusionment, which can be lethal.

Chuck Hannaford, a clinical psychologist who consults for the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) in the United States, said he believes the rate of pastor suicides has increased during his 30 years of practice. And he expects the number will continue to rise.

“Being a pastor is a dangerous job,” he said. “Especially in certain evangelical circles, where you have more of a fundamentalist orientation theologically, you find pastors who will reduce their depression or their negative thought processes to strictly spiritual problems.”

Indeed, a 2013 LifeWay survey found that 48 percent of self-identified evangelical, fundamentalist, or born-again Christians believe prayer and Bible study alone can overcome mental illness.

Pastors are hard on themselves, often judging themselves for sins of omission and commission, Hannaford said. As role models for their flock, they are often too isolated by life on a pedestal to talk honestly with others.

Thus, with ministers suffering from suicidal thoughts as everyone else, this begs the question: Who pastors the pastor?

Perhaps it is time believers stop expecting pastors to be anything more than frail and fragile human being like them and seek ways they can use gifts, talents and passions to share the load of pastors.

Rather than sit back and watch pastors or priests or rabbis burn out from exhaustion and too-high expectations, volunteer and become a contributor instead of a spectator. Take care of your pastor. Seek to be a safe, nonjudgmental person who your pastor can come to when he or she is hurting. And pastors, please don’t struggle alone.

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