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A letter from Doug Tilton in South Africa

April 2012

Dear Friends--

My trip to Zimbabwe last week was short but full. One of the highlights of the visit was going with Rev. Libias Boloma, the General Secretary of our partner, the Harare Synod of the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian (CCAP), to visit their congregation in Mabvuku, just outside of Harare. Mabvuku is a community of about 8,000 people.  Like so many communities, it has been hit hard by the deterioration of infrastructure in Zimbabwe, and both water and electricity supplies are a major headache. Although the power still functions intermittently, water supplies have virtually ceased.  A number of boreholes and shallow wells have been put in to serve the community, but pumps have not been maintained and many of the wells are at risk of contamination or drying up seasonally because unscrupulous contractors have tried to cut corners to make more profit by drilling only 25 or 30 meters deep, rather than the recommended 40 meters.

Digging at Mabvuku

The borehole closest to the Mabvuku church—about half a mile away—stopped working last year, so people (i.e., women!) in the neighborhood have had to make long and arduous trips to collect water for their families on a daily basis.  Several PC(USA) congregations made generous contributions to the CCAP last year to assist them in drilling a couple of boreholes, one at Mabvuku and one at the CCAP's Lay Training Centre at Rock Haven (about which more in a moment). The PC(USA) also made a small annual partnership grant to the CCAP at the end of last year, and the Synod Executive decided to use it to buy a submersible pump, piping, and a pressure regulator for the Mabvuku borehole.

Mr. Shumb attaching a hose to the submersible pump

We arrived at Mabvuku just as the affable engineer, Mr. Charles Shumba, was preparing to install the pump and hook it up to the system.  Also on hand were the pastor, Rev. Tenson Zefu, and two elders in the congregation, Mr. Mandla and Mr. Chikonde, who were hard at work digging trenches for the pipes.  (I liked the fact that their names, Mandla and Chikonde, mean "power" and "love" respectively!)  The congregation's contribution to the project was to supply the labor and also to purchase the huge 5,000-liter water storage tank and the three-meter-high stand on which it now sits so that they can have a gravity-fed water supply even when the electricity is off and the pump is therefore not working.

Unfortunately, on the afternoon of our visit, the power was, indeed, off, so they needed to wait until it came back on to test the system and fill the tank.  But Mr. Shumba was very pleased that the pump hit water after a mere 12.5 meter descent, so that means that they will have a healthy water supply in spite of the recent dry conditions.  The church intends to make water available to the surrounding neighborhood, so it will be a real blessing to the community.  Truly the water of life!

After Mabvuku, we headed out to Rock Haven, about 20 miles southeast of Harare, to visit the evangelism training program that is being conducted jointly by the UPCSA (Uniting Presbyterian Church in Southern Africa) and the CCAP with assistance from the Outreach Foundation.  I have been eager to encourage this initiative, which provides prospective evangelists with both theological education and "sustainability training"—basically, skills in entrepreneurship and business management so that the evangelists are able to support themselves in a "tentmaking" ministry.

Evangelism course members Rock Haven

Students choose a trade—such as agriculture, tailoring, animal husbandry, carpentry, catering, etc.—and then they receive both general business management training as well as specialized assistance to enable them to develop their own small businesses.  Currently there are 20 students of all ages in the course, 10 women and 10 men, from the two denominations, and they come from all around the country.  The day we visited they were engaged in a module on missiology, completing the 6th week of the 10-week program.  It was inspiring to have a chance to talk with the students, to bring greetings from the PC(USA), and to hear a bit about their lives and stories.

Idah Banda, one of the least inhibited of the students, got the ball rolling by sharing her journey. She had had a successful career in banking. About 1997 she felt a call to work for God, and she joined the CCAP at Mbare. She got involved in the Women's Guild and soon she was chairing the congregational chapter.  When she was asked to be an elder, she initially tried to refuse. But she felt that "God had a purpose" for her and eventually resigned from the bank to work full time for God.

When the CCAP first began participating in the evangelism program, her pastor invited Mrs. Banda to go to Zambia for the training.  She agreed, but ran into problems with her passport and could not go. There were problems the following year, too.  The next year, when the training was offered in Zimbabwe for the first time, she made sure that nothing would stop her from participating.  "God did wonders!" she said, and she looked forward to sharing what she was learning in the program with others as an evangelist.  I was amazed at the faith and strong sense of vocation that would lead someone to give up their job in a very uncertain economic environment to answer the Lord's call.

Another woman echoed Mrs. Banda's appreciation for the course.  "We did not know much before, but now we know!" she exclaimed.  "I talked to my pastor and I said that I want to be a full-time servant of the Lord."  Her pastor too informed her about the evangelism training and suggested that she apply.

Siteshi Moyo said that he had been a soccer player when he began to get involved in the church.  One Sunday morning they were meant to play a match, and he had a crisis of conscience: should he play or should he go to church?  He finally decided, "No, let the soccer team go away." "I decided to serve God," he said.  After that he began to devote himself to ministry and he jumped at the chance to join the evangelism course.

And there were many more stories in a similar vein—all from people glad to have a chance to know the Lord better and to share the Good News with others.  You can imagine how exhilarated the encounter made me feel!

Please join me in praying for these faithful and enthusiastic servants of God, and for peace and justice in Zimbabwe as the nation faces looming battles over a new constitution and prospective presidential elections. 

Grace and peace,

Doug

The 2012 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 112

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