District-to district partnership encourages diversity through work
For members of the Western Pennsylvania Conference, living a diverse life means building relationships with United Methodists halfway around the world.
These bonds grow through a district-to-district partnership with the Zimbabwe Episcopal Area formed in 2010 by Zimbabwe Bishop Eben K. Nhiwatiwa and then Pittsburgh Area Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton. A covenant unites the two areas.
"When we signed the partnership, we called it the chabadza covenant, because we're walking alongside each other," says Sandra Matoushaya. The Shona word means working together. Matoushaya, a Zimbabwe native, coordinates the partnership.
Each of the 10 districts in Western Pennsylvania pairs with a district in Zimbabwe and chooses projects to support financially.
The program builds on the conference's history of support for Zimbabwe through Africa University and The Nyadire Connection, a non-profit founded in Pittsburgh in 2006 that supports the Nyadire United Methodist Mission in rural Zimbabwe. The Mission features a hospital, schools, orphanage, teachers' college, nursing school and farm.
The Pittsburgh District claims The Nyadire Connection as its partnership project. Matoushaya said the collaboration has blossomed over the years.
Other districts are seeing similar success as relationships evolve. Matoushaya cites the Johnstown District's partnership with the Harare East District in Zimbabwe, which focuses on orphans and vulnerable children, particularly those with albinism.
The Harare district is helping to raise awareness and break the stigma associated with the genetic disorder. Oftentimes, albino children are hidden away or sacrificed in misguided rituals.
"They've been helping to educate people within these areas and trying to bring them out and be able to help give them a future and a life ... different opportunities that they can either start their own business or they can find jobs or get training and go to school," she said.
The Butler District also is working with orphans. "Most of them are HIV/AIDS orphans. ... With this program, we're helping to buy school uniforms and books and send them to school," Matoushaya said.
Butler also sponsors a goat ministry in which the church purchases female goats to give to orphans. The children learn responsibility and earn money by raising and selling the goats. Each child also presents the goat's first female kid back to the church for another orphan.
Some United Methodists in Western Pennsylvania get to see these success stories firsthand through three biennial programs in Zimbabwe: a lay academy, a longer immersion program and Zim Camp, which allows youth to travel around the country.
"It's good for our youth to be able to interact with the people that are there," Matoushaya said. "Sometimes they get to help out with building some of the projects that we have."
She stresses the partnership goes both ways. The Zimbabwe churches must contribute to fundraising for the projects, and the programs have to be a good fit for the community.
"We have to see what it is that they need and what we need and find a way in which we can work together halfway," Matoushaya said, "I've always had people say, ‘Oh, we have to help the people in Zimbabwe. They're very, very poor. We need to go and minister to them.' I'm like, ‘Actually, no, you don't have to minister. They might actually end up ministering to you.'"
She adds that Zimbabweans have much they can teach U.S. visitors about increasing church membership and stewardship, as well as being grateful for what they have.
For annual conferences considering similar district-to-district partnerships, she said having the support of episcopal leadership is key, as is collaboration in mission.
"I know for sure that one of the things that we want to do is to make sure we find ways in which both conferences will benefit in work to further the kingdom."
Julie Dwyer is general church content editor with United Methodist Communications.