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Risk-taking ministry in Zimbabwe

September 23, 2011

Grace UMC 2011 Mission

Only one of the eight men had been to Africa but all felt called to leave work and take a risk in sharing their faith in a unique way. The call came through an invitation to help convert an old building on a mission station in Zimbabwe into an AIDS clinic. They begin with the commitment to buy their own tickets and to meet weekly for prayer and trip orientation for two months. Next, they set a goal of raising $4,000 by holding a church dinner, an auction, a bowling tournament, donation cans in businesses, and a matching gift from the Mt. Juliet UMC mission fund.  They also collected hand and garden tools, baskets of seeds, medicines, dental supplies, donations of clothes, several computers and other office supplies for their point of destination in Zimbabwe, Project Tariro.  By the date of departure they had nearly one half ton of supplies and raised $8,000 for construction projects.

 The purpose of the trip was primarily to bring hope to the HIV infected clients of Tariro (Shona word for Hope) and secondarily, to rehabilitate an old building at the Old Mutare Mission to serve as a clinic and training center for infected adults.  Bringing hope meant visiting with clients, going to their homes, eating with them, singing with them, sharing medical supplies, helping them plant garden seeds and hearing their stories. Gil Pollard described this experience of sharing as a positive spirit with lots of laughter and the clients responding to this caring with singing and happiness. It was truly a movement of resurrected Hope that came alive in their midst.  Easter had come in an unexpected way.

The construction projects at the clinic meant working with a local contractor to put up shelving for storing drugs, erecting a water tank, attaching rain gutters, laying stone for parking vehicles, and building an outdoor cooking shed.  The team stated that working in a different cultural setting, under hot weather, without ordinary mechanical tools to carry brick, move stone and cut wood proved to be a challenge. But the work projects were all completed on time allowing the team to visit and deliver clothing, even their own shoes, to needy persons in Gatsi, a remote community in the mountains.   Hector Benitez described the moment as “not a dry eye among us.  I have never felt closer to what I imagine it was like for Jesus to wash the feet of others.”

Upon returning home, Bobby Naylor, VIM team leader, reported to the congregation that the trip was a life changing experience for the team and an eye opener to life in a police state and the poor living conditions in the rural communities around Old Mutare. Speaking about his experience David Haskett commented, “I thought I was going to see people dying from AIDS.  Instead I saw people living with AIDS, and with hope.” Brett Karstens added, “And we hope they will continue living and their children will not become orphans.” One of every 4 children in Zimbabwe has lost parents due to AIDS and nearly one of every 5 adults is thought to be infected with HIV.  Larry Price, who worked mostly in the garden with the project horticulturist, was adopted as “Dad” and continues the relationship through email.

Footnote:  Project Tariro is an initiative of theUMCdiaconate in partnership with the Zimbabwe UMC and Africa University.  The members of the VIM team were: Bobby Naylor, David Haskett, Brett Karstens, Steve Toler, Larry Price, Jim Lamberson, Hector Benitez, and Gil Pollard.  The team members were trained by Rev. Paul Van Buren and anointed by Rev. Ron Brown.

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