A delegation of Methodists from the Washington-Baltimore area returned last night from a two-week trip to Zimbabwe and South Africa, where it delivered money and expertise to help burgeoning Methodist churches.
Led by Bishop Felton Edwin May, the 44 members of the Washington-Baltimore Conference returned to a rousing welcome at Baltimore-Washington International Airport after a trip that started Monday afternoon.
The objective of the visit, May said, was "to support and cooperate with indigenous United Methodists in South Africa and Zimbabwe dealing with the issues of HIV-AIDS, education, community development and empowerment."
In what was the first mission trip by a U.S. United Methodist Conference to South Africa, the delegation visited Cape Town and provided the South African Methodist Church with a gift of $5,000 that will be used to purchase a house to serve as church headquarters.
In Zimbabwe, the delegation visited Sakubva, an impoverished suburb of the city of Mutare in the eastern edge of the country. There, the delegation helped to set up a "Shalom Zone."
Shalom Zones are a project of the United Methodist Church in the United States, in which churches work within a defined geographical area with residents to identify social problems and work at creating solutions.
There are several Shalom Zones in Baltimore.
"It's churches and communities coming together to rebuild and renew community life," said the Rev. Joseph Daniels, chairman of the Shalom Zone committee in the Baltimore-Washington Conference and pastor of Emory United Methodist Church in Washington.
"Each zone that is set up deals with the particular issues of the community that are unique to it."
Members of Hilltop United Methodist Church in Sakubva decided they needed a school for area children who were orphaned or who had parents who could not afford to pay for schooling.
In addition, local church members decided they would act to protect albino children in the community.
"We discovered that there is a cultural bias against albinos and, traditionally, albino children have been killed at birth," May said.
"There is an emerging number of albino children in Zimbabwe, and the church has recognized its responsibility to these children. And we intend to support them in that recognition."
May noted that the Aug. 7 bombing of the embassies in Kenya and Tanzania caused the delegation a few anxious moments.
"The hotel where the team stayed was four blocks from the American Embassy, so there was some concern when it initially happened," he said.
"We didn't know if it was just going to be the two embassies, or if it was going to be widespread."
Pub Date: 8/19/98