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Mission trip strengthens partnership, ministries (UM News)

September 7, 2022

An idea that began with providing chickens for income generation grew to shared dreams and new endeavors between church members in the U.S. and the Zimbabwe Episcopal Area.

Visitors from the Northwest District of the Indiana Conference and the Wesley Foundation of Purdue University spent 23 days fostering relationships during a July 13-Aug. 4 mission trip to Zimbabwe.

“The visit is enhancing the mission of God,” said Bishop Eben K. Nhiwatiwa, Zimbabwe Episcopal Area. “The church is not at its best right now, but our God is the same, always.

“The same should give us assurance that the church will move forward as one and that salvation from Calvary is for all the people, and no one can take it. The coming of the visitors is a true meeting of minds — of sharing, worshipping and knowing each other.”

The Rev. J. Glen Robyne, campus pastor/director of the Purdue Wesley Foundation in Lafayette, Indiana, was among the U.S. visitors.

“My objective for this partnership mission trip,” Robyne said, “is to build relationships of hope and encouragement between Africans and Americans by realizing that we are truly brothers and sisters in Christ. 

“My hope is that these relationships lead to partnerships in ministry that empower all to know and share the love of Christ more effectively. … I believe we fulfilled these goals with joy, to the glory of God. Yet, we still have a long journey ahead of us with potential for more shared experiences and working together.”

The Rev. Lore Blinn Gibson, Northwest District superintendent, said during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Rev. Diana Matikiti, superintendent of the Makoni Buhera District, shared her dream of helping the pastors in her district become more self-sustaining.

“Her dream was to support each clergy family with chickens for income generation,” Gibson said.

The Northwest District helped make that dream a reality — raising money to provide chickens and feed through a project called “Mission Huku.”

Gibson said the project ultimately benefitted both groups.

“(It) helped Northwest churches work together at a time of anxiety and division. The pastors of Makoni Buhera uplifted us with virtual prayer gatherings,” Gibson said.

“The project far exceeded our expectations in transforming the lives of pastors and communities. Raising chickens and eggs improved diets, led to more fertile vegetable gardens, increased household incomes and realization of visions for other projects. We were encouraged to see pastors support their families and uplift their congregations and neighbors.”  

The Rev. Archford Muchingami, on behalf of the Makoni Buhera District pastors, touted the project.

“Since I joined the ministry in 1985, I had not witnessed this kind of support to pastors. I am grateful and thankful to Northwest District. They did not give us fish, but the rod to fish. We will never let you down.”  

Gibson said the recent visit to Zimbabwe was transformative for many of the visitors.

“In a season of denominational upheaval, it did our souls good to learn from United Methodists in Zimbabwe. The generosity and hospitality in meals, and the love we experienced during prayers and conversations at Africa University … transformed us,” Gibson said. “I have a clearer vision of the international United Methodist Church, as dynamic, resilient and joyful as the people of Zimbabwe.” 

The partnership started with the Northwest and Makoni Buhera districts, but expanded during the trip to the Mutoko Mudzi and Harare Central districts.

The Rev. Oswell Kaseke, Harare Central District superintendent, said the collaboration between districts was tagged “culture immersion” and focused on sharing ministerial approaches and strategies as well as information on upcoming projects and needs.

“Importantly,” he noted, “for Harare Central District, a much-illuminated culture of self-help projects took center stage. The culmination of our dream was to find friends who could make our self-sustenance projects a living reality.

“Strides have been made in horticulture projects. A greenhouse is still needed to enhance our year-round productivity and feed into the nutritional grid of the community. A 400 fruit-tree orchard has been established, and a borehole has been drilled. However, more is still needed to make this infrastructure user-friendly.”

Efforts to acquire a water pump, solar installations and accommodation for security personnel are still underway. 

Working on mechanization of the farm, the district recently acquired a four-wheel drive tractor and is seeking tractor-drawn implements. Twenty-thousand bricks await construction of pigsties.

“By God’s grace,” Kaseke said, “we wish to train together, virtually and in person. The idea is to share how the laity participate alongside clergy in ministry.”

The Rev. Heather Jane Zisengwe, Mutoko Mudzi District superintendent, expressed thanks for the gifts of an audiometer for evaluating hearing acuity, as well as laptops.

“This makes us the only center with an audiometer in the entire province,” she said. “People used to travel to Harare for the service. This is a dream come true.”

Throughout the visit, she said, the groups discussed the challenges facing pastors in Zimbabwe, including the need for mobility.

Megan Stohr, a student leader at the Wesley Foundation, said she learned about true hospitality on the trip.

“Our plates were filled, both literally and figuratively. I learned how to listen deeply, be brave, communicate with people who have a different first language, and worship and pray in different languages, but still feel the power of God.” 

Shaun Pratt, 18, member of Winamac United Methodist Church in Indiana, said he did not know what to expect from his time in Africa.

“My life has been changed,” he said. “I’m here strapped in on God’s ride that he has in store for me. It has been a little bumpy at times, but the ride only goes up. The sky is the limit for me, and I am not looking back. I will never be the same.”

After a lengthy stay at Africa University, the guests befriended students and others who became part of the traveling team.

Afonso Alberto, an Angolan by nationality and a third-year agriculture and natural resources- management student, said joining the team was “an eye-opener and a wonderful experience. I learned a lot. I was healed emotionally, spiritually and physically.”

Pastor Benin Shekawongo Lopoka of Congo, is a third-year student at AU and Congolese student president. He said that the visitors blended with the AU community by joining the choir, preaching in the chapel, reading the Bible and leading devotions.

Bishop Nhiwatiwa said he was proud of Zimbabweans’ hospitality.

“As the leader of the church, I am very much thankful to Zimbabwe United Methodists who are a source of pride.”