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Deacons take hope, medicine to Zimbabwe

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Courtesy of the Board of Higher Education

A deacons' caravan, visiting Zimbabwe to research people living with AIDS, presented Africa University with a painting of the Black Christ.
Oct. 20, 2005

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS) — A caravan of United Methodist deacons, searching for a site for an AIDS treatment project, personally confronted the needs of those suffering from the disease.

“I see the poverty, the problems, the lack of supplies, and yet I see a difference being made in people’s lives,” said the Rev. Anita Krueger, one of six deacons who visited hospitals and clinics in Zimbabwe. The trip was made possible by an emerging-ministry grant and a caravan grant from the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry.

The team which visited Zimbabwe Sept. 16-Oct. 1, gathered information about AIDS, considered sites for Project Tariro and worked on a partnership with Africa University for the new ministry. Project Tariro will provide treatment and rehabilitation, as well as respite care with home-based care for follow-up, counseling and spiritual support for people living with AIDS.

The Tariro proposal will be completed and presented to the Africa University Board of Directors in December. The United Methodist-related school is near Mutare, Zimbabwe.

The team delivered more than 400 pounds of medicine, medical supplies and clothes to clinics and hospitals in the Mutare area. Several members of the group have worked in cross-cultural settings and with HIV/AIDS patients.

The deacons found that the faith and hope of Zimbabweans remains strong, even in the face of 300 percent inflation and 80 percent unemployment, compounded by a three-year drought.

“The people are smiling and polite, gracious, and hospitable,” said Krueger, a deacon and nurse from the New Mexico Annual (regional) Conference. “We, as strangers, were welcomed. Even the busiest persons gave of their time; even the poorest generously shared their little, treating us as honored guests.”

One who said she was transformed by her experiences was the Rev. Debbie Gara, an associate pastor from the California-Pacific Conference.

“I have seen tremendous, unexplainable faith and perseverance, and gracious hospitality, all in the midst of a poverty and economic strain that promises no sure future but for that faith,” she said. “I have seen God as I had not known, and I will never be the same.”

Accurate statistics on HIV/AIDS are unavailable, since it is seldom listed as the cause of a death. The government claims infection is down from 32 percent to 21 percent of the general population, but private studies have found higher rates.

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A UMNS file photo by Mike DuBose

The Rev. Elliot Chikwenjere (right foreground) holds a service of baptism for a woman with AIDS. She died the next day.
The team visited AIDS patients and home-based care programs, talked with volunteer caregivers, and interviewed directors of various agencies, such as the Family Aids Caring Trust and National AIDS Council, as well as doctors and nurses.

The deacons consulted with Africa University faculty, including Peter Fasan, dean of the faculty of health sciences, and Professor Fanuel Tagwira, dean of the faculty of agriculture and natural resources, as well as Bishop Eben Nhiwatiwa, leader of the church in Zimbabwe.

Nhiwatiwa expressed concern that the AIDS conference coordinator position in Zimbabwe is vacant due to lack of funds and personnel. The coordinator educates pastors about AIDS and how they can counsel, minister and assist people to live positively with the virus.

The team heard stories of need everywhere.

Roberta Hupprich, a United Methodist Board of Global Ministries nurse in Zimbabwe who is about to retire, said little is done to treat people with HIV/AIDS, to help overcome the stigma of AIDS, to improve patients’ nutrition or to help them live positively with the disease.

The Rev. Beauty Maenzanise, dean of Africa University’s faculty of theology, said the project will allow pastors in training to learn how to counsel AIDS patients.

Tagwira said agricultural and medical students at the university could assist, too. He saw the project as complementing the university’s proposed Africa Technology Training Center.

The Rev. Hollie Tapley of the South Georgia Conference said the visit and project gave her renewed hope, even in the face of much to do.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS file photo by Mike DuBose

Fresh graves at Granville Cemetery in Harare, Zimbabwe, provide a grim reminder of the AIDS pandemic in Africa.
“We walked and prayed over the grounds of what we named the ?field of hope,’ with the prayer that this project will soon become a reality.”

Other caravan members were the Rev. Karen Mitchell, Kansas East; and the Rev. Katia Parades, New Mexico. The Rev. Paul Van Buren, East Ohio Conference, a deacon and retired Board of Higher Education and Ministry staff member, led the caravan.

Others in the group were Van Buren’s wife, the Rev. Corinne Van Buren, a deacon in the Minnesota Conference; Sam Dhlamini, a Zimbabwean living in Great Britain; and Bobby Naylor, a businessman, construction engineer and layman from the Tennessee Conference.

More information about the Tariro Project is available by contacting Paul Van Buren at

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