Church's mission: to cement ties with Africa

The Baltimore Sun

A Bel Air church's willingness to build a medical clinic in an impoverished and remote area of southern Africa has set off a frenzy of brick-making among the local populace in Zimbabwe.

In a cluster of 23 villages in the landlocked country about the size of California, residents have built kilns, made hundreds of bricks and hauled them, often long distances, to Munyarari, a United Methodist mission church and school complex established more than 100 years ago. There, piles of bricks await a groundbreaking for a much-needed health clinic.

"These people give out of their poverty," said Dave Talbot, a Bel Air resident who recently spent three weeks at the Munyarari mission in eastern Zimbabwe. "They are giving their skills."

The villagers have persuaded their country's leaders to extend power lines to Munyarari, where there is land for the clinic. They have located underground water sources. They have won promises from Africa University in Zimbabwe to staff the facility.

"Theirs is a gift-giving culture," said Bev Talbot, who accompanied her husband on the trip. "I expected to see broken spirits, but I saw smiles."

Thanks to the Talbots and other parishioners at Bel Air United Methodist Church, villagers in desperate need of health care have hope. The Rev. Lloyd T. Nyarota, communications coordinator for the United Methodist Church in eastern Zimbabwe, is visiting the United States this month and will speak at three services today at the Bel Air church.

He will talk about a country of 12 million people that is beset by spiraling inflation, widespread unemployment, food shortages and disease - one in five adults is HIV-positive - and yet, he said, his countrymen remain optimistic.

"We cannot solve all the problems, but something can be done and valuable lives can be saved," Nyarota said.

With the nearest hospital more than 12 miles away from Munyarari, on often impassable roads, a local health clinic would provide basic health care, particularly for preventable diseases like malaria, which claims one child in Zimbabwe every five minutes, Nyarota said. The staff, mostly medical residents from Africa University, will offer health education programs as well as treatment and hospice care for patients with HIV/AIDS, an epidemic that kills nearly 500 people a day in sub-Saharan Africa and has orphaned millions of children.

"We have walked the mission grounds," said Bev Talbot. "I know we can make a difference. We can make an incredible impact."

Motorists along Route 924 in Bel Air might wonder at the message that reads "Call to Chabadza" above the time of services today. The congregation has taken up the practice of Chabadza, which means "We are obligated to help" in the Shona dialect spoken by most of the 20,000 villagers living near Munyarari.

Dave Spivey has helped his parish publicize the mission.

"This custom of helping parallels the Good Samaritan," he said. "We can't walk past these people and not help. They are making their bricks and calling us to Chabadza."

One parishioner's gift two years ago helped found Healing Hands Across Zimbabwe, an outreach ministry at Bel Air United Methodist. The congregation has raised more than $75,000 of the $120,000 it will cost to build the clinic.

"This church has a heart for this project," said the Rev. Barry Hidey, the church's pastor. "We explained the need, and they just began to give. Maybe we can't save the world, but let's make a difference in one village. And we are just getting started. We are in this for the long haul."

The Talbots brought back hundreds of photos showing the schoolchildren, the villages and the neat stacks of bricks.

"They crushed stones from the mountains and made them by hand and many brought them a long way, moving them in ox-drawn carts," said Nyarota. "This is what we can do. Now we need money to buy cement, and that is what this church can do."

The stacks of bricks, awaiting construction, have inspired another fund drive in Bel Air, this one for mortar to hold all those bricks together. A $20 gift will pay for five bags of cement.

"Now we need to get them cement to put the bricks together," said Bev Talbot. "Like the Good Samaritan, we must stop to provide help."

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