By Melissa Lauber
It was March 4 – “yes, March forth,” the Rev. Chris Holmes remembers, in 1997, when the first team of Volunteers in Mission from Community UMC set out for a trip to the Murewa/UMP District in Zimbabwe.
For the past 20 years, volunteers from this church in Crofton have regularly traveled the 7,938 miles to share God’s love in action in Zimbabwe. The volunteers pay their own
At a celebration Nov. 19 and 20, they remembered the work and the shared experiences with “cheers and tears” that included a banquet and worship service.
During Community’s 11 visits, the volunteers-in-mission helped build a 125-seat church in Maponongwe, a new parsonage in Muchinjik, a new 200-seat church in Chipfunde, a medical clinic and staff house in Dindi, a new 400-seat church in Juru, a primary and second school building at the Hanwa Mission, two new secondary school buildings at Mashambanhaka, a church roof at DomboRaTenzi, provided wells and power to Hanwa Mission, and led a six-week sewing project.
Members of Community also established three new orphan trusts and supported a fourth in Murewa and contributed more than $100,000 for Fortune Masamba, the son of Zimbabwean pastors, to come to the United States and attend college.
This one congregation also contributed to solar power projects, providing school supplies, furniture and uniforms, medical supplies, the salaries of active and retired clergy, cars and parsonages, sewing machines for United Methodist Women, food, a communication project, bicycles for pastors, programs for orphans, and repairs to church buildings.
Holmes, who was pastor of Community UMC at the time, remembers the experience of the first 12 VIM pioneers. “We drove an hour to the Mopanogue Church, which needed a roof and concrete floor. Our little team was a novelty in this remote area where some of the children had never seen a white person, and where there were no phones, running water or electricity.
“Upon arrival, a large, singing crowd of Methodists surrounded our van and greeted us with hugs. We joined in this singing procession circling the church three times, prayed and then participated in the traditional exchanging of gifts – giving them school supplies, Bibles and children’s toys, and receiving sugar cane, corn and a live chicken.”
That initial experience was relived and expanded upon as United Methodists from two continents and very different lifestyles found a sense of meaning and love working together.
Their partnership is grounded in, and enriched, by “
Chabadza, in Shona, means “coming alongside.” The spirit of
Stepping out of the sanctuary and beyond the borders of their lives has allowed Community UMC to model the idea of “beloved community,” and dare to take on “the scandalous work of the Gospel,” said Bishop LaTrelle Easterling, who preached and celebrated with the congregation in worship Nov. 20.
Easterling is the bishop of the Baltimore-Washington Conference, which has a covenant partnership with the two Zimbabwe annual conferences. She pledged to support this partnership, but also praised the work of Community UMC, for “drawing the circle wide, and wider still,” and crossing language, racial-ethnic, social, cultural and geographic boundaries so that they could “do the work of God” with the people of Zimbabwe.
The leader and driving heartbeat behind most of Community’s ZIM VIM efforts is Charlie Moore, a
But throughout the celebration, Moore took on a humble role, celebrating the “two-way blessing,” and the way the people from
“People ask me why we don’t just send money to Zimbabwe, why do we go,” Moore said. Then he introduced Lincoln, a mission partner from Zimbabwe. “He is one of the answers to the question of why we keep going back.”
Lincoln recalled his first encounter with the volunteers from
The Rev. Mary Masamba, Zimbabwe’s first woman district superintendent and the DS of Murewa for several years, thanked the people from Community and received their thanks as well. She led them in song and ululation.
Gurupira joined her in the appreciation. “Community VIM members came as a force to reckon with,” he said. “With the glory of God in their efforts, the ball started rolling in Murewa and Murewa will never be the same again.”
He brought with him a letter from students in Mashambanhaka, where Community UMC built a new secondary school.
The students said simply, “With you, the sky is the limit.”
As a gift to the people of the Murewa District, the Rev. Stan Cardwell, pastor of Community UMC, presented Gurupira with 50 children’s Bibles.
It is the same version of the Bible that the children of
“Love is risky, he said. “Love requires a servant’s heart.”
Throughout the celebration, the volunteers all remarked that while the work is crucial, it is the relationships they form that matter most.
When each of them finishes working in Zimbabwe, they are emotional and know it will be a long flight back, Holmes said. “But they also know Zimbabwe is not really so very far from home after all.”