We have much to learn from the Zimbabwe Episcopal Area. These lessons are part of the gift they offer us in our Chabadza partnership.
I am writing this from Zimbabwe, immediately upon the ending of the Ebenezer Convention. They frequently quoted 1 Samuel 7:12 “Thus far the LORD has helped us.” I estimate that 50,000 persons were present Saturday afternoon in the National Sports Stadium. Several of us believe that never before have this many United Methodists been together in one place at one time. It was an historic event. Starting Friday at 9 a.m., it adjourned that night at 10 p.m., resuming Saturday at 8 a.m., and continuing non-stop until Sunday morning at 8 a.m. The agenda was preaching, prayer, singing, praise, teaching and fellowship. I want to share six lessons for United Methodists in America:
First, they gathered for 48 hours for spiritual exercises to strengthen their faith, their hope and their love. No resolutions were debated, no plans were discussed and no business was conducted. While five-day academies and the Walk to Emmaus do the same thing for smaller groups, rarely do large numbers of us gather for spiritual growth with this intensity.
Second, we heard a one-hour sermon on tithing given by a layperson. He wore the blue sash that indicated his leadership in the men’s ministry. His key points included these: there is nothing wrong with having money, but there is something wrong when money has you. If you are not tithing you are claiming to be God because you are taking money that belongs to Him. When you tithe, you are declaring the source of your blessings and our giving reflects how we feel about God. Our giving reflects the state of our hearts. We are guilty of pride and procrastination. There is a shortage of teaching about tithing. We want to be a tithing church.
Third, an 11-year-old girl preached for an hour without notes. I am told she had previously preached at a district women’s gathering, but her command of her message, her use of hymns sung at multiple points in her message, and her references to Scripture were all powerful. What kind of Christian education program led her to this place? How was her faith formed and how did she come to know how to share it so well? I am guessing she spends more time in church than she does watching television.
Fourth, the music was lively and passionate. At times we all had to stand and move our feet and arms to the music. I hope there is no video of me dancing on stage, although I was moving to the best of my ability in time with the music. (Dancing is not one of my gifts.) While the words were in Shona, it was moving and even I moved.
Fifth, while the Americans were vastly outnumbered by Zimbabweans and Malawians, the world-wide nature of the UMC was clearly evident. Our delegation from the Great Plains Conference was joined by people from the Baltimore-Washington Conference (including about 20 youth), the Western Pennsylvania Conference, and individuals from other places in America. Our three conferences all have Chabadza partnerships with Zimbabwe. Baltimore-Washington announced a $100,000 gift to help pay for the new conference center in Harare.
Sixth, members of the women’s group (the RRW) wore a uniform of blue dress, red collar and belt and white cap. I am told one must be voted into membership and thus the uniform is earned by clarity of faith and service to the church. Probably 30,000 of the 50,000 in attendance wore the uniform.
Several Americans discussed how to package this experience and bring it back home. Could we ever fill a sports stadium with United Methodists for spiritual growth activities? Why not?