By Jessica Connor
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A South Carolina team of missioners got a lesson in flexibility during their recent trip to Zimbabwe.
And though their trip didn't turn out exactly as they had planned, they are certain it was just as God planned — and all the better for it.
The eight-member team was supposed to finish construction on Hatcliffe United Methodist Church, located in a suburban community just outside Zimbabwe s capital city of Harare. Bringing over painting supplies and other finishing materials, the team (which included the Advocate s editor and assistant editor) showed up at Hatcliffe expecting to find the bulk of the construction done and to dedicate the church on July 29.
But a delay in funds meant work on the church was way behind. Instead of finish work, the missioners spent their week building the ring beam for the roof, which is expected to be complete by Nov. 1 when the Zimbabwe rainy season begins. Interior work will begin soon after.
Despite their initial surprise, the team switched gears and evolved the mission mid-trip, which team leader and conference employee Robin Landers said allowed them a more meaningful and Spirit-filled experience.
It s all in God s time, Landers said. Things do happen, and we learned you can be flexible and still have a successful mission.
In addition to building the ring beam, the team helped haul rock and sand to mix into cement by hand. The cement must cure for several weeks before contracted workers from Grid Transmission can build and complete the roof.
New friends, old friends
But the team wasn t in Zimbabwe more than 24 hours before they realized their mission this time was far more than physical labor. It was about connecting with the people of Hatcliffe on an entirely new and more personal level.
Jerry Washabau, assistant team leader, said the team s rapid change in expectations shifted in mission entirely.
Once I saw the stark reality of the foundation without even the ring beam, I began to work in my mind what we could try to accomplish, and that would be to know more about the people, Washabau said. Regardless of whether the roof went up or not while we there didn t register with the people we met and stayed with; it was that we cared enough to be there so far from our family and friends to be part of their life and their church.
Two of the team members stayed in the parsonage with Hatcliffe pastor the Rev. Washington Kwembeya, his wife, Phoebe, and their family. Three others stayed within walking distance, while the remaining three stayed with a family in a nearby community.
It was really meaningful to get to know these families so intimately, said team member Matt Brodie, S.C. Conference communications director. They quickly adopted us and treated us like true family members.
During lulls in labor, team members embraced the small hardworking neighborhood, helping to draw water from the community well and learning to cook over an outdoor fire traditional Zimbabwean food such as sadza, a whole grain dietary staple served at nearly every meal.
They spent hours playing soccer or King of the Mountain with the Hatcliffe children, holding tiny babies and seizing opportunities for language lessons, learning Shona phrases like mangwanani (good morning), mazvitta (thank you), famu chakanaka (God s blessings on your journey) or a team favorite, vakadzi simba (strong women).
Good-natured teasing ran rampant. Zimbabwean workers cheered on the less strong missioners with chants of more power! as they labored to hammer nails in the timber frame “ a job the workers could have done themselves in three or four swings.
There was a lot of cultural exchange, Landers said. It really became all about relationships.
By the time missioners left Hatcliffe, they had made a host of new friends and shifted longtime relationships from friendships into true family.
A long time coming
A project of S.C. United Methodist Volunteers in Mission, the construction of Hatcliffe UMC dates back to 2006. That November, S.C. Conference Resident Bishop Mary Virginia Taylor visited the community and realized the congregation s need for a larger sanctuary, parsonage and office.
The S.C. Conference embraced the UMVIM project as its own, and many churches statewide have stepped up to help Hatcliffe. The first UMVIM team, led by Landers, traveled to Zimbabwe in October 2008 to pour the foundation and leave supplies. In April 2010, Landers and a second team finished the parsonage and office. This third trip, July 27-Aug. 11, built the structure for the roof.
While the team hoped this trip was the final for church construction, Landers said missioners quickly realized they needed to throw all their expectations out the window and turn the project over to God. After all, she said, the church is His “ and the team was there to do His will.
It s all about God and serving Him, Landers said. And that is just what we tried to do.
To help the Hatcliffe mission with a donation, send to the S.C. Conference of The United Methodist Church, P.O. Box 3787, Columbia, SC 29230. >
Hatcliffe UMC Wish List
32 pews ($1,000 each)
Altar cross ($250)
More information: [email protected]
Robin Landers, team leader
Jerry Washabau, assistant team leader