Zimbabwe and Denver Presbyteries build each other up through partnership
by Douglas Tilton | Mission Crossroads Magazine
ZIMBABWE — Is mission a one-way street? Not to people in Denver Presbytery or the Presbytery of Zimbabwe of the Uniting Presbyterian Church in Southern Africa (UPCSA). These two presbyteries have been faithful witnesses to the unity of the body of Christ for more than a decade, despite the nearly 10,000 miles between them.
This partnership grew out of the commitment of a Denver couple’s desire to assist a school in Zimbabwe. Gradually, local churches began to support those efforts. Denver Presbytery helped to facilitate a discussion to determine how this relationship could honor the gifts of people in both places.
In 2005 the two presbyteries signed a memorandum of understanding, recognizing that “It was God, not us, who called us into partnership. It is a partnership that is grounded in love and respect for one another. We are able to extend God’s love to one another because God first loved us.”
The Rev. Lydia Neshangwe, clerk of the Presbytery of Zimbabwe and convener of its Ecumenical Relations Committee, said the presbyteries’ joint Partnership Committee finds particular value in relationships, diversity and equality. “The result is a relational mutuality that is manifested in our various engagements,” she said.
Over the years the partnership has provided opportunities for Presbyterians in Zimbabwe and Denver to get to know one another. Delegates travel back and forth regularly, strengthening relationships by exploring what they have in common and how they can support each other through dialogue, prayer and programs. The relationship has enabled Denver clergy to spend a month in Zimbabwe to assist with congregational care, preaching, teaching and other projects, while Zimbabwe pastors have used their long sabbatical in Denver for rejuvenation, study and exchange of experiences and ideas. A mentor program pairs retired pastors from Denver Presbytery with theology students and new pastors in the Presbytery of Zimbabwe, allowing them to pray for each other and share questions, ideas, concerns and goals.
“Serving as a short-term volunteer alongside a pastor in Zimbabwe has enriched my life beyond measure and allowed me to extend my ministry into retirement,” said the Rev. Parker Smith, coordinator of the mentor program for Denver.
Figuring out how to walk together has had its share of challenges. “It has meant some difficult conversations, setting aside assumptions and listening carefully, navigating through different cultural lenses, staying at the table and a commitment to genuine partnership,” wrote the Rev. Janet Schlenker, Denver Presbytery’s former stated clerk.
Yet their faithfulness has yielded remarkable dividends. “It’s fascinating to witness how deep and wide our partnership has taken root in the life of our presbytery,” said Ruth McCollum Huff, co-chair of the Partnership Committee. “The efforts between Denver and Zimbabwe Presbyteries to create a central fund of sustainable business initiatives for the benefit of the Presbytery of Zimbabwe’s pastors and congregations is making headway now, only after the decade-plus relationship and trust-building that we’ve been working on together.”
Rose Musonzah, the former Ecumenical Relations Committee convener, added, “We’ve learned that … there are people who have hidden talents that have been exposed by this partnership. Our partners have actually picked [up] some of the talents that are within us.”
“Like a typical family relationship, we have our challenges as well as successes,” Neshangwe said. “But because we are one family, we support each other through it all.”
Douglas Tilton is Presbyterian World Mission’s regional liaison for Southern Africa and Madagascar.
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This article will be included in the Summer 2018 issue of Mission Crossroads magazine, which is printed and mailed free to subscribers’ homes three times a year by Presbyterian World Mission.
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Ministries: World Mission