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Bishop brings message of hope to Zimbabweans

Worshippers at Hilltop United Methodist Church dance in praise in Mutare, Zimbabwe, as they prepare to hear a visiting preacher, Bishop John R. Schol of the Baltimore Washington Annual Conference. UMNS photos by Shaun Lane.

By Shaun A. Lane*
June 28, 2007 | MUTARE, Zimbabwe (UMNS)

A boy receives a prayer blessing during the June 10 worship service.

David sat in the balcony of Hilltop United Methodist Church as Bishop John R. Schol preached to 2,000 congregants about Jesus Christ’s love and compassion for 10 lepers.

The story from Luke 17 was one with which he could relate.

The 35-year-old resident of Mutare was diagnosed with HIV/AIDS nearly five years ago. He says that because of the lack of medicines in Zimbabwe, he is on the verge of death.

Following Schol’s June 10 sermon, David was among nearly 1,500 people who accepted the bishop’s invitation to come to the altar for healing. David said he had no choice.

"I wanted the bishop from the Baltimore-Washington Annual (regional) Conference to pray for me," he said. "His sermon was exactly what I needed to hear today––like he was reading my mind. I am going to read that passage again and again.

"I know that I am going to die soon––maybe in less than six months. And my son, who is also sick with AIDS and malaria, will be without his father. I wanted the bishop to make me one with Jesus. When he placed his hands on my head and prayed for me, I was ready. My worries were gone."

A timeless message

Speaking to a congregation ravaged by AIDS and malaria, Bishop Schol said that despite suffering from diseases and poverty, Hilltop and its community have the richness of Jesus in their lives. The congregants at Hilltop, one of the oldest United Methodists churches in Zimbabwe, listened intently.

"Hearing a sermon like this gives many people hope. There are so many people crying right now. Sometimes all they need to hear is a word of hope."
--The Rev. Tazvionepi Nyarota

"When going down the street, (lepers) were required by law to tell people that they had the disease and had to do everything at a distance," the bishop said. "So they were surprised when they saw Jesus come closer to them, even as people yelled 'leper,' Jesus wanted to bring the power of healing to their lives."

The Rev. Tazvionepi Nyarota, superintendent of the Mutare District, said the bishop’s sermon impacted people at Hilltop because many feel like outcasts.

"Hilltop has many people who suffer from AIDS and malaria," she said. "It has devastated a lot of our community. Hearing a sermon like this gives many people hope. There are so many people crying right now. Sometimes all they need to hear is a word of hope. The bishop has provided that word for us today."

People sang and danced as they came to the altar and waited for Schol and one of five other pastors to pray for them. The worship leaders spent 30 minutes praying for congregants wanting prayer. When the last person left the altar, Schol praised the people for their resolve in the face of a nationwide crisis.

Delivering nets to fight malaria

Schol was part of a 13-member delegation from the Baltimore-Washington Annual (regional) Conference that joined with the United Nations Foundation for an 11-day mission to distribute 7,125 insecticide-treated sleeping nets in rural Zimbabwe, where mosquito-borne malaria is another deadly reality.

They delivered nets to more than 15 churches, orphanages, clinics and hospitals. According to the foundation, the treated bed nets can prevent malaria transmission by 50 percent and are a cost-effective way to fight the disease.

Bishop Eben Nhiwatiwa translates for Bishop Schol.

United Methodist churches and ministries throughout Africa are expected to play a major role in ensuring that the nets get in the hands of needy children and pregnant women through the Nothing But Nets campaign, of which the people of The United Methodist Church are a founding partner.

Between 350 and 500 million people are still infected each year, mostly in Africa. Every day, nearly 3,000 people on the continent die from malaria. Seventy-five percent of those deaths are children younger than age 5. Every day, 25 million pregnant women risk severe illness and harm to their unborn children from a malaria infection. The 2005 World Health Organization’s World Malaria Report says only 3 percent of children under 5 in Africa sleep under a long-lasting, insecticide-treated net.

The Baltimore-Washington Conference team also conducted a school for 300 of Zimbabwe’s clergy, most of whom have had little formal theological education. As part of the school, the pastors were taught about the threat of malaria and how sleeping under the nets can curb spread of the disease.

Schol, who first visited the Hilltop church and the Zacova community in 1995, said "my faith has grown" with each visit.

"We will pray with you so, together with Jesus, we will eliminate AIDS," said Schol.

David said he will pray with the church and the bishop to eliminate AIDS, even if it is too late for him.

"My son may be helped," he said. "And my friends may be helped. So I will still pray. I know that it is too late for me and I will soon die. But still, I am healed. I am one with Jesus. I thank the bishop for his grace."

*Lane is director of communications for the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference

News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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