A completed church celebrates

Partnership between Union UMC, Irmo, and Chitenderano UMC, Zimbabwe, finishes new sanctuary

By Allison Trussell

CHITENDERANO, Zimbabwe—In a service filled with joy and faith, two churches celebrated the dedication of Chitenderano United Methodist Church on Sept. 24.

A week earlier, a United Methodist Volunteers in Mission team of 12 from Union UMC, Irmo, arrived to help finish the church and with preparations.

Another team from Union visited in 2022 to roof the church and had left money to finish the church. The team was invited back for the Sept. 24 dedication. Nine of the members—Victor Caldwell, Chris Elvis, Robin Landers, Chris Lindler, Tim Livingston, Lora McKinney, Jim Miller, Marjorie Rehlander and Allison Trussell—were able to make the return trip. They were joined by the Rev. Faye Jones, Dana McAdams and Scott Rehlander.

The Rev. Honest Sithole and his congregation greeted the team Sept. 16 with hugs, songs and dinner. The team was housed with members of the congregation and treated as part of the family for the week.

The Sept. 17 Sunday service, led by the Union team, offered the Zimbabweans a glimpse into how Americans worship. Jones, the associate pastor at Union, preached on the Holy Spirit and how it lives in each person. The Rehlanders introduced Children’s Church to the congregation, and Livingston offered a Sunday school-type lesson on faith. Communion by intinction was offered, and Lindler took great delight in showing the children how to dip their pieces of bread into the juice. The service was a blend of Union’s traditional and contemporary services; the Zimbabweans seemed to especially enjoy the song “Days of Elijah.”

Following the service and in the week following, the team and the congregation began the final work on the church: painting the interior and exterior, installing 30 new pews and commemorative plaques, and cleaning. The team also brought two computers—one for the church and one for the secondary school—and soccer balls for the primary and secondary schools.

“The finishing of the church was a big dream which has come to realization because the church was too big for local people to finish alone,” Sithole said. “Union UMC are good life partners for Chitenderano church.”

With monies left by the first team added to their own fundraising efforts, the congregation was able to wire the church, tile the floor and have the altar furniture built and installed before the team arrived. The church in partnership with Home Is Best—a group of those who once worshipped or who had parents and relatives who worshipped at the church but were no longer in the area—raised funds for the labor costs. Families and friends were invited to purchase pieces of furniture as well as pews, and the Union team brought brass plates to be fixed to the items. In addition, the congregation at Union raised money to purchase 20 pews.

“There was symbiosis in whatever we were doing. The tripartite was working as a team and in harmony,” Sithole said.

Ground was broken for a new sanctuary for Chitenderano in 2012 after Cyclone Eline hit the area, damaging the old sanctuary’s roof. Church leaders feared for the safety of their members. Sithole arrived in 2020 and oversaw work to the gable level. The Rev. Lloyd Nyarota, who grew up nearby and is a close friend of Landers, approached her about a partnership to roof the church. Union UMC enthusiastically agreed and the 2022 team roofed the church and built the altar area.

The labors of so many were celebrated during the Sept. 24 service, which was presided over by Bishop Eben Nhiwatiwa, bishop of the Zimbabwe Episcopal Area.

Following a procession from the old sanctuary to the new and the uncovering of a church plaque, Nhiwatiwa cut the ribbon and unlocked the door, allowing the congregation and special guests to enter.

Local, district and national leadership offered words of welcome and recognition of special guests in the crowd of more than 400, including the pastors who preceded Sithole and village leaders.

Caldwell, team co-leader, thanked the Zimbabwe leadership for their unwavering support and noted that Irmo is to Columbia as Chitenderano is to Mutare. He also officially presented a banner given to the church by Union’s Banner Babes, a group that designs and creates church banners. The congregation of Union made bracelets as an outward symbol of their partnership. Those were handed out during the Sept. 17 service.

Landers thanked the congregation for the love the team had received and Edwrd Mukoyi, church lay leader, for his leadership. A photo album of pictures taken the previous year was then presented to him, with a promise of a Volume 2 that will cover this trip and the dedication

Landers recalled that in 2022, she and Caldwell asked Sithole to make a wish list and to dream big. On that list, among other things, was a vehicle. Sithole serves three churches on this circuit and travels the distance between them either on foot or by bicycle. The team learned on this trip that the church has raised about $3,000 toward the vehicle.

Elvis, team co-leader, then stepped forward. “With the help from Union United Methodist Church, let me invite Rev. Sithole to receive this matching gift to be used for church work.”

The service was paused for several minutes as deafening celebrations broke out. Congregants cheered their pastor, ululated, clapped hands, beat drums and shakers, and hugged. After jumping into Nyarota’s arms, Sithole broke into song, “Praise God, Alleluia. Praise God, Amen.” Team members gleefully joined in with their voices and hugs.

Nhiwatiwa extended appreciation to South Carolina Bishop L. Jonathan Holston before beginning his sermon based on Exodus 36:1-7 and addressing the discord currently surrounding the church.

He recalled his parents’ struggle to send him to school before the church provided a scholarship for him to have a bright future. For him to be what he is today, he said, is because of The United Methodist Church.

“It is true that challenges come and very big ones, but it does not mean that you can abandon your family because a brother is not cooperating. … In life, there is not any problem which cannot be solved when people group together.”

After the service, the dignitaries, friends and families were invited to lunch. The team from Union left shortly afterward to return to Harare.

“Luke 17:21 says, ‘The kingdom of God does not come with observation, nor will they say, “Here it is!’” or “There it is!” For remember the Kingdom is within you.’

“I see [the kingdom of God] in the people of Chitenderano,” Landers said.

To see photos from their mission trip, go here to view the Flickr album.

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