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Assembly scattered: Preparing us with hospitality

   

September 8, 2003
-Elsie Rempel

Elsie Rempel makes a new friend at Mennonite World Conference in Zimbabwe. Sicelesile Ncube was part of MWC’s Global youth Summit–Elsie Rempel file photo

Rempel says that Zimbabweans are “people of frequent and honest prayer.” Members of the tour group were asked to prayer with each patient in the hospital they visited. –photo by Elsie Rempel

Some members of the Global Youth Summit of Mennonite World Conference. L-r: Mbole Munkonbwe, Choma, Zambia;, Vikal Rao, India; Andy Brubacher Kaetler, Canada; Elina Ciptadi, Indonesia; Jennifer Egon, Canada. –photo by Elsie Rempel

Gabarone, Botswana— Why did you come to Zimbabwe? This question repeatedly came to mind as I met fellow travelers in my tour of the Matopos and Mitshabezi Mission complexes and communities.

Retired Argentinean missionary Frieda Epp came because God brought her. Now it was up to her to learn from and revel in the experience. Max Ediger, long time MCC worker now stationed in China, came back to where Africans had helped him grow up as a 19 year old. Cheryl, a young adult from Eastern USA, came with her grandfather, to be in the country that had influenced her family so much. Kay Shue said, “I pray that by being here and learning from my African brothers and sisters, my character will grow to be more like Christ.”

Lydia Harder said she came to get acquainted with another part of the faith family, to be in solidarity with hosts who didn’t retract their welcome as their currency plummeted. She came to understand more fully what it means to be bonded to each other “in the bonds of peace”.

Others came to experience the mystery of Africa, to find spiritual renewal, to increase each other’s witness, to learn why Africa’s churches are growing while ours are shrinking.

Though the pre-assembly tour of the BICC (Brethern in Christ Churches) Mission Stations surrounding Bulaweyo was only 4 days long, the experience was unforgettable and blessed us with BIC friends to greet at the Assembly, enriching that experience as well.

The sights of the unique Matopo hills, the sounds of almost endless praise in Entebele vocal harmonies, the tastes of their finest Zimbabwean foods during a time of scarcity, and the experience of the incredible and generous hospitality of our hosts combined to make this the unforgettable experience that it was for all 32 tour members.

The tour through the mission stations, where we saw the schools, the Bible college, the Aids clinics, the hospital, the productive agricultural farm with its irrigation system, and the funeral of their last foreign Bishop and his wife, informed us of the positive impact these mission complexes continue to have in the Zimbabwean economy and society. We were moved by the lack of educational and medical supplies, and impressed with how they managed to heal and educate in such condition.

As we tromped around Matopo’s ancient hills and caves with our tour guide Reverend Dickson Moyo and the dozen or so form six (grade 12) girls who served as our enthusiastic hostesses, we gleaned bits of Bushmen humour, marveled at their cave paintings, were guided through the site of the sprawling university campus they have a vision for, and crawled underneath the arched sole of Shoe Rock to sing all the “Rock” hymns we knew as the sun set on the incredible landscape.

In accordance with the Assembly theme of sharing gifts in suffering and joy, we also shared the gifts we had brought along, only to be amazed at the gifts they bestowed on us later that evening.

There was hearty laughter as I received a huge cooking melon. Fortunately, I was able to share this gift with hosts on our next stop, where they cooked a traditional sweet melon and maize soup for us as appetizer to an extravagant Brai (barbequed feast). With the soup we were treated to the delicacy of roasted caterpillars, and our hosts were treated to the entertainment of our responses. There was much hearty and unpretentious laughter as we encountered each other, tried to learn some basic greetings in Entebele, and sang each other’s songs.

Local Zimbabweans’ response also showed a more reflective side. They are a people of frequent and earnest prayer. They expected the same of us, and called upon us to do the same. So we prayed upon request; before and after trips, before, during and after worship, and in the hospital with each patient in the ward.

In the Adult Sunday School in the Mitshabezi Brethren inChrist Church on August 10th the lesson was on Romans 12:9-16. As we reflected together about loving without hypocrisy, we touched on many of the hard but right things we Christians are called to do. When the teacher talked about rejoicing in suffering, I sensed a sharing of wisdom from the depths of their collective soul. This is how I recorded his teaching in my journal: “How do we rejoice in suffering? When we forget our faith in God, forget what God can do, then our joy is taken away. But when we remember, our joy returns. We then realize again that we are not just mere people. No, we are nothing less than God’s ambassadors, and it is our privilege and duty to give God’s light in the world.”

Thulani Moyo, a young assistant pastor at Mitshebesi, said, “We never knew how strong our faith community was before, or how much international support we had. I think this conference will be good for our economy and may even improve our currency rate. Perhaps the government will respect us more because of what they have seen here.”

They were proud to have been part of, and to have helped host, this 6,000+ person gathering. They echoed Bishop Danisa Ndlovu’s closing comments that this event is perhaps the most internationally diverse gathering Bulaweyo has ever hosted.

Our days together were bathed in gifts of hospitality, prayer, laughter and songs of praise. Sicelesile Ncube, a 22 year old Bulaweyo woman, said, “When things are not going well in your life and you sing praises, the devil gets confused.”

It seems to me that these gifts are simple strategies for a victorious life of faith in a harsh land.

Elsie Rempel is director of Christian Education & Nurture, MC Canada. She traveled to Mennonite World Conference at her own expense.

 

Youth and young adult impressions

A special treat of any large gathering like this is meeting and getting to know the younger crowd. I asked several youth and young adults, “How do you see God at work at Assembly?” Following are a few responses:

Anne Whitford – “Every moment there’s a spark of the divine here. I am so moved by the friendly Zimbabwean welcome. They treat us as if we’ve been friends for a long time.”

Leah Bock – “I sense God at work during prayers in languages I don’t understand. In the inflections and fluctuations of volume I feel the Spirit at work.”

Kevin Stoesz – “In the passion that youth have around the world, we are already changing and redeeming it.”

Andy Brubacher Zehr – “God is at work when the youth get chances to exchange their experiences and passions.”

Jonathon and Rachel Regehr – We came to meet other Mennonites and to get our feet wet as we prepare ourselves for overseas service. We see God at work in the Zimbabwean friendliness, generosity and hospitality. We were deeply moved by the challenge in Fernando Ens’s sermon, to become a communion in which there is true sharing. The theme of this conference is suffering and joy, but we guests aren’t suffering. Even in the food line ups we receive preferential treatment and the better food.”

Sicelesile Ncube – The Mennonite World Conference has taught me that when Christians are gathered together, language barriers, skin colours are all broken because God, our Father, made us all in his image. Therefore, when we get to heaven, children of God are the only ones that are going to be found. When you’re still considering skin colour, ethnic groups and language, you have not started!