2016 Zim Immersion Participants Named

Five 2016 ZIP participants at the airport with Rev. Greg Cox (in Pirate shirt), who sent them off with prayer, and Zimbabwe Partnership Coordinator Sandra Matoushaya, right.



UPDATE: Five of the ZIP participants arrived safely in Harare after leaving Pittsburgh on June 28.

Three clergy and three lay people have been selected to participate in the fifth annual Zimbabwe Immersion Program (ZIP) this summer. 

ZIP was developed to enable individuals from Western PA United Methodist churches to spend significant time in Zimbabwe to learn church growth, discipleship, and leadership dynamics. ZIP participants live with host families and most will be in Zimbabwe from about June 28  to August 4, 2016. 

The 2016 ZIP participants include:

  • Saundra McKee- Manorville UMC in the Indiana District

A life -long member of the United Methodist Church, she has been very active since she retired as an educator in 2008. She is a church council chairperson, a lay speaker and has held numerous church offices. Very committed to spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ, Saundra was an educator for 38 years at the secondary and college levels. She is a speaker and published author. She is fascinated with culture and has a PHD in International MultiCultural Studies. She hopes to experience the culture in Zimbabwe first hand, observer worship practices and learn how Christ has transformed His church there.

  • Alexandra Konopasek- Faith UMC in Fox Chapel in the Pittsburgh District

A full-time student at the Bidwell Training Center learning to become a Pharmacy Technician, she also is a part time student at the Community College of Allegheny County earning pre-requisites for Pharmacy school. Her sister Victoria Konopasek was a participant in the first Zimbabwe Immersion Program in 2012. Alexandra expects to learn flexibility, better communication and relationship skills, patience, relaxation, happiness, leadership dynamics and last but not least discipleship.

  • Rev. Renee Mikell  – pastor, West View UMC in Pittsburgh District
 Renee served as a church lay leader and worked with youth and her church leadership team before becoming a lay leader. God touched her heart one  day calling her to reach out to a group of homeless people who sat around at the park across from her office. She started a daily noon Bible study with them that gave a visible witness to her co-workers and increased her faith because of the experience. It opened her hear to hear a call from God to attend seminary and pursue full-time ministry. She left her job, returned to school and has been serving as a pastor for the past eight years. She has learned that it is most important to remain open to what God is saying and doing in a particular context. There is no way to anticipate what will transpire, but she always walks away with a new awakening about how the Spirit of God is able to move.

Three others will participate in a Mini-Immersion experience.

  • Rev. Brett Dinger -- Senior Pastor of the Greater Blairsville Cooperative Parish churches in Indiana District
  • Bob Hixon -- Greater Blairsville Parish layperson

Because the Greater Blairsville Parish has launched a new congregation, Connect Church, Dinger and Hixon will visit a new church start in the Marange District of Zimbabwe, which partners with the Indiana District here. Rev. Kelley Schanely, pastor of Mt. Zion UMC in DuBois, also in the Indiana District stayed in the Marange District as part of the ZIP program in 2014. She visited the new church start there and helped to select the name Mount Zion UMC.

 "Brett and Bob will have an opportunity to visit the district and church and witness life, church and culture in Zimbabwe," said Sandra Matoushaya, Zimbabwe Partnership Coordinator. "They will have an opportunity to bridge the gap between the two districts and help build disciples of Jesus Christ."

  • Rev. Dianne Glave -- WPAUMC coordinator for diversity development, who also will connect with youth participating in Zim Camp. 
Dianne, a provisional elder, earned an M.A. and Ph.D. in History with an emphasis on African American and environmental history. She has experience as a professor in African American Studies and Ethnic Studies, After earning an M.Div. from Candler School of Theology, she came to Western PA and served as a local pastor at Crafton UMC and Ingomar UMC before joining the Conference Center staff.