Trinity United Methodist reaches out to African children

By Ken Mufuka

GREENWOOD—Because of its proximity to Lander University, Trinity United Methodist Church has been the home for many students from Africa. More than 100 students from Zimbabwe have attended Lander University.

This summer, a short letter and a photograph of five children and their teacher became the subject of Trinity’s Church Council meeting. The letter and the sad faces of the kids said it all. Their mothers had failed to raise the equivalent of U.S. $10 per child, and as a result, the kids had been sent home from preschool.

Zimbabwe has the highest rate of literacy in Africa (95 percent) thanks to a century of missionary efforts. Zimbabweans take education seriously, and even though the kids involved (ages 3 to 5 years old) were very young, they understood the importance of an education.

They refused to go home. Whenever the school authorities were not looking, the five kids found their way and hid among the 73 other kids at school.

When the Rev. Thessa Smith heard the story, she was filled with the Holy Spirit.

“Why take just five kids?” she asked. “Why not the whole group? How many are they?” 

The Holy Spirit moved among us, and each one of us, without consulting each other, pledged to take up one child, thereby assuming responsibility for the 73 children.

I was sent with a princely sum of $1,000 to the school.

Arlene Walmsley, a member of the church and a fashionista was the real heroine. If the mothers could not afford the small sum of $10, she reasoned, surely they would need some clothes as well. So she rolled a few clothes.

It was not so much the money that impressed the tribal elders and the chief as much as the extra effort of this unknown sister.

“She has a kind heart,” I heard them say, and the women shed tears. “Is this Ms. Arlene a mother like us? How does she know the pain and sacrifice a mother makes so her children can go to school?”

I had invited a Methodist pastor to bear witness. He burst into a song from the psalmist: “God does not want us to perish.”

The real surprise was the petition to the chief that if “Ms. Arlene” could be found, a title of “Supreme Sister” (princess, one who cares for others) should be bestowed upon her.

I reminded myself of the memoirs of German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  While attending seminary in New York, Bonhoeffer attended a Black church several times. It is through the eyes of those who have suffered greatly that we can experience grace.

I, too, was shaken by their appreciation that Arlene’s gift came—not because she had a kind heart, but that God had given her a kind heart to serve others.

Mufuka, a native of Zimbabwe, is a graduate of St. Andrews University, Scotland. He serves as chairperson of church council at Trinity UMC, Greenwood. Anyone interested in a two-week missionary trip can contact him at [email protected].

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