Bishops from the Zimbabwe Episcopal Area and the Western Pennsylvania Conference have signed a new covenant to continue working together to develop principled Christian leaders, construct churches and health clinics, reduce poverty and stamp out killer diseases.
The covenant was signed at the close of the 2019 Laity Academy, supported by the conference at the United Methodist-related Africa every two years. Western Pennsylvania speakers traveled to Zimbabwe to lead sessions along with resource people from Zimbabwe.
Western Pennsylvania Bishop Cynthia Moore-Koikoi described the partnership as mutually beneficial.
“We consider our partnership to be a sort of common pool. God has gifted us with many financial resources and our partnership with Zimbabwe is a line item in our budget. Zimbabweans have also given to us from their own overflow because you are rich beyond measure in your knowledge of God, wisdom, faith and commitment to God almighty,” she said.
“This is a historic record of our partnership so that future generations will know how God has joined us together in order to bring out God’s kingdom right here on earth,” said Moore-Koikoi.
Bishop Eben K Nhiwatiwa of the Zimbabwe Episcopal Area said the covenant with Western Pennsylvania was first established in 2010 as a Chabadza agreement. Chabadza is a Zimbabwean concept where farmers take extra hoes and passersby stop to help those already at work in the field.
“A lot of work has been done by Western Pennsylvania, including supporting the laity academy, immersion programs and construction of clinics and churches,” said Nhiwatiwa. “There is an exchange of ideas and sharing through fellowship between the two areas.”
Sandra Matoushaya, the Western Pennsylvania missional engagement coordinator, said each of the 10 districts in her conference has a partner district in Zimbabwe.
These partnerships have resulted in support for construction of churches, teachers’ housing, clinics and schools in the partner districts, Matoushaya said.
Churches have been constructed at Mazimauya (Mutasa Nyanga), Ringai (Marange), Kajokoto (Harare West) and Bikita (Masvingo District).
“Western Pennsylvania has also supported programs for orphans and vulnerable children, and people living with Albinism in Harare East District,” she said. Albinism is a genetic disorder that causes skin, hair and eyes to have little color and is often associated with vision problems.
Matoushaya said the two conferences have a reverse immersion program to learn how the partners do church and three such programs have been held.
Last year, four district lay leaders from Zimbabwe visited churches in Pennsylvania, sharing ideas on how to grow church membership. They presented various topics including the importance of section meetings, evangelism, discipleship and spiritual growth through gatherings such as conventions.
Youth Zim Camp, a program where Western Pennsylvania youths visit Zimbabwe for two-and-half weeks and participate in activities with their Zimbabwean counterparts, is also a unique feature of the partnership.
The Nyadire Connection, based in the Western Pennsylvania Conference, was formed before the 2010 partnership to support the Nyadire Mission Hospital. Its ministries have grown and resulted in restoration of the hospital’s six clinics, eyeglass clinics, support for the Home of Hope and its outreach program and the mission’s schools.
Western Pennsylvania Conference supports the laity academy every two years to empower lay people in the church. This year, almost 500 people — mostly local church lay leaders — participated. The Zimbabwe Episcopal Area holds its own academies every other year.
Simon Mafunda, Zimbabwe East Conference lay leader, said the academy is designed to cover all aspects of church, including theology, current affairs and historical issues. Presenters were drawn from the two partners.
“The role of Western Pennsylvania is to walk side by side with us all the way, providing financial, spiritual and moral support,” said Mafunda.
This year the academy was held under the theme “Purposeful Engagement for Transformation.”
“We want to engage church members to transform and generate a sense of ownership to whatever programs we are doing,” said Mafunda.
“We are excited by the growth of the laity academy and hope to conduct it twice a year in order to cover as many leaders as possible,” he said.
Chikwanah is a communicator of the Zimbabwe East Conference.