They may be more than 8,000 miles apart, but two district superintendents — in Indiana and Zimbabwe — have formed a genuine friendship, and United Methodists are benefiting.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Makoni Buhera District of the Zimbabwe East Conference found a true friend in the Northwest District of the Indiana Conference. The Rev. Diana Tambudzai Matikiti is superintendent of the Makoni Buhera District, and the Rev. Lore Blinn Gibson is her counterpart in Indiana’s Northwest District.
The pandemic has left a trail of destruction for many Zimbabweans. The economic impact is severe. Most rural communities in the semiarid Makoni Buhera District, with infertile soil, are experiencing chronic crop loss leading to perpetual food insecurity.
Gibson’s team helped 50 pastors from Makoni Buhera with more than $16,000 (U.S.) worth of donations of food and livelihood-enhancing projects. In return, Matikiti held an encouraging and uplifting Zoom prayer session for the Northwest District, where churches and pastors are divided over denominational issues.
“The support to Makoni Buhera District,” Gibson said, “has given the Northwest District churches an activity that might remind us that we can do more together than apart. The support far exceeded my expectations.
“Makoni-Buhera pastors and lay leaders led us in prayer and a worship service, which we desperately needed. It was extraordinary. This partnership has strengthened us. It strengthened my own faith that Jesus can overcome pandemics and denominational struggles.”
She continued, “Because of this partnership, we have focused more on loving God and loving our neighbors, and less on the things that keep us divided. We recognize the power of God when we put aside everything else.”
The relationship between the two districts was facilitated by the Rev. Wellington Chiomadzi, a pastor at Reynolds and Monticello United Methodist churches in Indiana. He is from the Rusape, Rukweza area of the Makoni Buhera District.
“I reflected on the impact of COVID-19 on the church in Zimbabwe, particularly on pastors,” he said, “and my heart was moved toward pastors in rural areas. My motivation was to seek ways of plowing back to my home and the church that raised me to be who I am.”
Matikiti expressed appreciation for the partnership.
“The food hampers valued at $7,350 boosted the morale of pastors, especially the newly appointed who were the most affected,” she said. “The COVID-19 lockdown started soon after appointments and deployment of new pastors. This effectively shut out the new pastors from any form of interaction with members.
“Wisdom befell Lore (Blinn Gibson),” she added. “She did not continue to give us fish, but she gave us a rod to fish in the form of a life-enhancing project.”
In April 2021, all 29 pastors received poultry-rearing packages made up of 50 day-old broilers, broiler starter feed, growers’ crumbs, growers’ pellets and finisher pellets, with a value of $8,893.
“All pastors,” Matikiti said, “are realizing some income every six weeks of the broiler-production cycle. Others have plowed back or opted to diversify.”
The Rev. Juliet Chirowa, pastor in charge of the Innercity Rusape United Methodist Church and district connectional ministries director, said, “What is happening between the two districts is in fulfillment of God’s Scriptures.
“The support was well-timed,” Chirowa said. “Food hampers were adequate for a family of five people per month. Pastors are now concentrating more on the core business, rather than on looking for food.”
Chirowa, who has three children ages 8 to 17, said they were fascinated by the poultry project. “First thing every morning was for them to check on the chicks,” Chirowa said.
The Rev. Sibongile Chikosi, Headlands United Methodist Church, said, “My circuit is not able to support me and the church. The chicken project has been very helpful. So far, I have sold 33 (chickens) at $6 each. I intend to buy roofing material for my retirement house and purchase another batch of chicks and feed.”
“I really appreciate this unwavering support,” noted the Rev. Miriam Manyaya of St. Stephen’s UMC. “This has boosted my financial resources because COVID-19 has impacted negatively in many areas of our ministry. From the sales, I have ordered 50 day-old chicks. I want to increase them to 100 birds and venture into other new avenues.”
The Rev. Tendai Nyagano was a new pastor at St John's United Methodist Church when the lockdown began. “I did not know anyone,” Nyagano said, “and no one was coming to see us. The hampers came just in the nick of time. With the Zoom worship service, we felt connected to others, and we shared our challenges.”
Nyagano said the life-enhancing project has proved life-transforming. “I have now grown from one batch to four and sell a batch of 25 birds weekly,” Nyagano said. “As I generate income, my children are being groomed to be entrepreneurs. I thank the Northwest District for their generous hand, for it has unearthed dormant talents.”
“The donations went a very long way in lifting our spirits and those of our families,” added Pastor Luke Chikata, United Methodist student fellowship vice president.
“The food hampers were like manna from heaven,” commented the Rev. John Chinyati, 76, who is retired.
Jane Mhondoro, spouse of the late Rev. Andrew Mhondoro, recalled, “My situation was very bad. The food hampers helped me to feed the three of us for three months.”
The last interactive event between the two districts was a Zoom prayer meeting.
“This interactive prayer session has joined the two districts spiritually and physically,” Matikiti said, “and forced many pastors in Zimbabwe to be acquainted with internet-based Zoom meetings. Seeing each other physically was a joyful moment.”
Gibson agrees and counts her blessings from the partnership.
“I think the most wonderful gift God has given through this,” Gibson said, “is that we can now say ‘we know someone from Zimbabwe’ and that we can unite together in prayer and mutual support.
“We are so blessed by the Makoni-Buhera District pastors and lay leaders.”
Chingwe is a communicator in the Zimbabwe East Conference. News media contact: Julie Dwyer at (615) 742-5470 or [email protected]. To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Weekly Digests.
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