Zimbabwe, a nation in the southeastern portion of the African continent, struggles in many aspects of life in the 21st century. Less than 50 years removed from independence from the United Kingdom, the Zimbabwe government is widely believed by the United States CIA to have run improper elections at least twice since 2002. And unemployment is estimated by some authorities to be as high as 70 percent in some regions.
Yet, the spirit of the people of Zimbabwe is strong. And their faith in Christ has helped sustain them through difficult times.
Zimbabwe, as with other parts of Africa, is among the fastest-growing areas of the United Methodist Church. With that growth comes a need for structure and a better means of synchronizing the efforts of churches and the leadership needed to help the local congregations succeed. And that is why the Great Plains Conference wants to raise $100,000 for the Zimbabwe Episcopal Area. Specifically, money from the cross-cultural capital campaign would go toward the construction of the new Zimbabwe East Annual Conference’s building, which is meant to serve, among other duties, as a communications hub to coordinate the many ministries taking place there.
As of February, the Zimbabwe Episcopal Area had 222,208 members served by 397 pastors. Congregations totaled 970, with 431 of those located in the Zimbabwe East Annual Conference. The growth has led to discussion of Zimbabwe receiving a second bishop after the 2016 General Conference. While that is no guarantee, it is certain that funds to build the new conference center will help with ministerial efforts in the Zimbabwe East Annual Conference and beyond.
Parts of the Great Plains Conference have played a role in helping make disciples 9,000 miles away in Zimbabwe. In 2010, the former Kansas West Conference established a “Chabadza” covenant with the Zimbabwe East Annual Conference. The Shona word roughly translates to people in relationship working alongside each other for mutual benefit. In other words, people get to know each other and then help in such a way that both parties find satisfaction and benefit from that relationship.
Chabadza is a covenant appreciated deeply by the Rev. Dr. Linda Louderback, Wichita West superintendent who helped partner churches in Kansas with churches in Zimbabwe.
“First and foremost for me is thejoy and faithfulness that exudes from the very being of my Zimbabwe United Methodist friends,” Loudberback said. “The reason I have invited them to my district is that I wanted people in my district to experience the joy and the depth of their faith.”
Louderback said the exuberance shared by United Methodists from Zimbabwe helps people Christians in the Great Plains remember the joy that comes with fulfilling the worldwide church’s mission: To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
“In my observation, it appears that the church in Zimbabwe must be like the U.S. churches were in (church founder John) Wesley’s time – a movement built around class meetings, worship, singing and praying,” Louderback said.
She said she had the privilege to attend a “section meeting” in Zimbabwe, a spiritual-formation and affirmation setting that closely resembled the class meetings incorporated by John Wesley in the earliest days of the Methodist movement.
“I was amazed!” Louderback said. “The group, which met in the homes of people, was made up of people of all ages. It was the teenagers’ turn to facilitate the meeting. A 4-year-old child led us in prayer. A layman led us in a time of devotion. All people who are a part of the church are assigned to be a part of a section who are there for you as you go through life.”
That kind of enthusiasm and faith in Christ ignited a passion for the people of Zimbabwe for the Rev. Mark Conard, a retired pastor who attended a concert by a group known as the Ambassadors Quartet in 1959 or 1960 when he was 12 years old.
“I was astonished by their presentation,” Conard said. “I didn’t know you could do that in a church!”
Conard has visited Zimbabwe five times, with the most recent trip coming in 2014 to attend the Ebenezer Convention, a gathering of approximately 50,000 United Methodists from throughout Zimbabwe for worship, lessons and celebration.
He said the history of the Chabadza relationship with some Great Plains churches means the conference’s assistance for Zimbabwe is merely a means of showing that covenant is still in place between the American Midwest and a nation on the southeast corner of the African continent.
“Many churches or circuits simply cannot afford to provide even minimal housing, and pastors and their families are sometimes left without a place to live,” Conard said. “The idea of a Chabadza partnership is any kind of assistance is only extended to those with whom we have a relationship. It means coming alongside one another to help in a mutual way. It does not mean doing something for somebody else that they can’t do for themselves.
“My rough personal estimate is any financial support that we are able to send has an impact at least five times greater than it would have in the states.”
The campaign to raise money to build the Zimbabwe East Conference office is under way. Learn more about this and two other campaigns – Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference and the Lydia Patterson Institute – on a special part of the Great Plains website. Once there, you’ll find Powerpoint slides for pre-worship service announcements and a bulletin insert.
This is the second of a three-part series on the three cross-cultural capital campaigns under way in the Great Plains Conference. Read the first story, about the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference.