Having returned only yesterday from Zimbabwe, three things keep playing over and over again in my heart.
First of all, to experience the loving expressions of our God in the people of Zimbabwe, and their tender, gentle and powerful hospitality, was to experience anew the very touch of Christ in my life. Our United Methodist friends there shared all they had in every moment of encounter without hesitation. They offered not only themselves in service to God and to us, but also their homes, their tables, their thoughts, and their love ~ a self-offering presented to people they largely did not know , beforehand, save through the saving power of Jesus Christ and the connection therein. Our friends embodied Christ's command ~ "In as much as you do this for the least of the little ones, you do it unto me..."
Secondly, to have been so immersed (for three days of the Zimbabwe Laity Academy) in what I have come to call the waves of spontaneous and harmonious praise, was a beautiful reminder of my Baptism and coming up out of the river waters in which I had been immersed at the age of twelve years -- a time of new beginning, renewal and refreshing! This happened almost spontaneously at every transition in a worship service, and joy over spilled the place in rhythms of God's Presence dwelling within and among us! The Zimbabwean United Methodists SING THEIR WORSHIP to the Lord and surrender their bodies, minds, souls and spirits as living sacrifices before The One who "gives us strength for each day, and enough" (I am quoting one of the Zimbabwean women who companioned us for many days while there).
Finally, I see the faces of each person I encountered there. They are crisp in my mind. A pastor had said to me before I left on the trip, "Look for Jesus in the eyes of the people." The comment was compelling, but experiencing the reality of it was transformational. Sometimes here, we think we need so much to do this and that in the Church... we encumber ourselves with details and deadlines...we swallow camels and strain at gnats, we get side-tracked on agendas that detain us from the greatest gift ~ love, and the great commandment ~ to love our Lord and our neighbors as ourselves, and we miss Jesus in one another. My simple prayer has become to "see Christ everywhere and in everyone where He dwells". I thank my Zimbabwean friends for this awakening that I will not soon take for granted.
How did I get to Zimbabwe? I went to a Volunteers in Mission training program in Pittsburgh with my pastor and a team from my local church. At a dinner break, a beautiful, black woman approached me, placing her arm about my shoulder and said, "We would like for you to teach at Laity Academy".
As I had done this previously in the WPA Annual Conference, the invitation was normalized and I said, "I'll think about it." When she added, "In Zimbabwe"... I thought my friends from my Church were playing a joke on me, as they had taken a mission team to Zimbabwe last July, and I was,sadly, unable to go with them. Because I thought it a joke, I laughed and started teasing about their antics.
"I'm serious," the young woman said. "God wants you to teach in Zimbabwe." The whirlwind of thoughts, barriers, questions, fears and calling, caught me up! I had only two days to decide! Yikes! God moved every binding thought, each barrier, answered every question, calmed my fears and opened the door for me to respond to the call! I still stand amazed...
I was asked to speak about finding and using one's Spiritual Gifts for ministry in the Church. Several years ago, while using John Wesley's sermons as guides for personal devotions, God nudged my heart regarding how we often go about finding/discovering our Spiritual gifts in a less than sacred way. We use instruments and tools to peg and label our own or someone's gift/s, when in fact, it is God who can activate any gift, at any time, in anyone, to accomplish God's work at any given moment (Read the story of 'The Good Samaritan' and notice the number of gifts brought to bear in responding to the needs of the person before him.) First of all, however, a person has to have a relationship with God through prayer, through seeking, asking, knocking, believing and offering oneself for service.
On August 24, 1774, during his sermon at Oxford, entitled "Scriptural Christianity", John Wesley used Acts 4:31 as his text and shared, "They were ALL filled with the Holy Spirit"..."to give them the mind that was in Christ and the ordinary fruits of the Spirit." Wesley taught that if the fruits of the Spirit were not manifest, then the person was "none of His", referencing Christ. The fruits of the Spirit brought about an inward change in a life, to fulfill all outward righteousness -- "so that they might walk as Christ walked, in the work of faith, in the patience of hope, and the labour of love (I Thess. 1:3). One might say that Wesley spoke of the ordinary fruits of the Spirit as prerequisites for the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit! Following this personal inward search, responding to God's call, and then working to identify a particular gift or gifts that one has been given by God to fulfill one's purpose in the world, was discussed, and a discovery and self-assessment Spiritual Gifts Inventory was presented to each Zimbabwean District Lay Leader to share with church lay leaders across time.
"Pray for the best gift", St. Paul wrote in I Corinthians 12:31. "The greatest gift is love," he wrote in I Corinthians 13. From the first day to the last of our sacred journey, I experienced the love of the people called United Methodists, in Zimbabwe. They are gifted to share with us a way of being fully present to one another, a way of joyful and spontaneous praise, the way of hospitality, and, most importantly of all, they are gifted to share Christ, who is The way, the truth and the life! (John 14:16).
On a personal note, as a Clinical Nurse Specialist in women's and children's health, it was a true privilege to visit the Honde Clinic and see and hear of the work that is being done there. I was deeply moved by the commitment of the nurse in that place to assist families with birthing, maintaining health and dealing with the common ailments that occur in their community. I saw how the work was being done with the bare essentials to support such work, and I thought about store rooms 'back home' that overflow with equipment that is no longer being used, or has been pushed aside for newer technology. I stood in that gap asking God what God wanted me to do, while I experienced the beauty of simplicity and the power of the gift of healing, made manifest through one nurse.
Being from the Greensburg District of the WPA UMC, it was also wonderful to visit the Nyamhunga congregation in Karibe, our Greensburg District Partners. There, I had the profound joy of being "bound to a baby"! After gaining permission from so many mothers across Zimbabwe to take their photos with their children, the privilege of having one of the United Methodist women of the Church 'anchoring a baby to my back', wrapping my hair, giving me a broom and a bucket to carry on my head, was nothing but sheer joy! I tell you, I COULD NOT do this amazing Zimbabwe 'feminine multi-tasking' with the skill and ease with which the Zimbabwean mothers do, but that little one on my back stretched my smile from the borders of Zimbabwe, across the globe to my home!
The other "stretching" involves discerning how God would have us use all we saw at Nyamhunga to engage the people of the Greensburg District more fully than it is already involved. God is alive and well in Nyamhunga! God's work is already being done there by faithful, vibrant people! I feel certain there is more than one way we can strengthen the connection and bring glory and honor to God, while continuing to share the communion and unity of the Spirit that we found in that place! Aside from the Laity Academy and all that it encompassed, this time with the people of Nyamhunga, was the high point of my visit! In the very near future, we will be visiting with our District Superintendent here, Rev. William Meekings, to see how we might become more fully "bound in the bundle with God" and the people of Nyamhunga, and strengthen the ties that already bind!
I will be grateful forever for this beautiful opportunity to serve God in this extraordinary way. Upon my arrival home, my husband of 38 years asked, "Did you enjoy being there?" I nodded yes. He said, "Will you need to go back?" I nodded yes.