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Visit to orphan's house inspires an AIDS ministry in Zimbabwe

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
Courtesy of the Rev. Greg Jenks

The Rev. Greg Jenks, of Clayton, N.C., visits some of the 8,000 Zimbabwe AIDS orphans fed by his ZOE ministry in 2005.
Dec. 1, 2005

By Bob Vernon*

CLAYTON, N.C. (UMNS) -- It was a teenage girl, caring for her three brothers, who planted in the Rev. Greg Jenks' heart the seeds of a Zimbabwe mission to help AIDS orphans.

The former pastor of Christ Community United Methodist Church in Clayton found his passion following a trip that he and other United Methodists from North Carolina made to Zimbabwe in 2003. On that trip to carry food to mission schools and churches, Jenks met an orphaned 15-year-old girl who was caring for her three young brothers.

"The doors had always been closed, but this time, God not only opened the doors, he ripped them off the hinges!" Jenks says, describing how the seeds to help AIDS orphans grew into a ministry.

"She took us into her home and said, 'This is all we have left - all the food we have left. It is enough to last until Saturday, and then after that, we'll just die,'" he says.

If there was ever any doubt in his mind about whether this was where God wanted him, he says, this incident made clear that this was to be his life's work. He saw a personal face to the AIDS pandemic in Africa, and the Zimbabwe Orphans Endeavor, or ZOE, was born.

The World Health Organization predicts there will be 41 million children orphaned by AIDS worldwide by the year 2010. Ninety percent of the orphans will be in Africa. Other estimates put the African number as high as 40 million orphans, a number equal to the entire population of schoolchildren in the United States.

Every 14 seconds, a child is orphaned by AIDS, Jenks says. For him, the tragedy goes beyond numbers. "We talk about AIDS so often in the terms of statistics, but when you travel and spend time in the midst of it, it's not percentages anymore. It's faces. Children's faces."

On his most recent trip to Zimbabwe, last fall, he saw that the girl had painted flowers on the side of her little home. She had also written on the wall, in the Bantu language of Shona, words that translated into this message from James 2:26: "Faith without works is dead."

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
Courtesy of the Rev. Greg Jenks

The Zimbabwe Orphans Endeavor feeds children who were orphaned by AIDS and would otherwise go hungry.
Jenks says this young girl understands that Christians in America put their faith into action, and that changed her life half a world away.

A widow, in one of the communities ZOE serves, has five children of her own. She took in five more children when both of their parents died. The widow's outreach, with ZOE's help, has grown to feeding 100 children every day at her home.

That widow has become a hero for Susan Graebe, of Soapstone United Methodist Church in Raleigh, N.C. Graebe was a volunteer last year on one of Jenks' eight two-week mission trips to Zimbabwe, and she says the trip changed her life.

When she returned home, she felt thankful for the blessings she and her family have received, but she also felt concern about the waste she sees around her in the United States. "The amount of money that we spend on food that we don't need, clothes that we don't need or little trinkets that we don't need - you can take that money and it could literally save somebody's life."

She says she was able to see firsthand that Jenks is the perfect person to lead ZOE. He has a gift of being able to partner with people, she says. "He doesn't go in and say, 'Oh, here's your problem. I'm here to solve it.' He embraces people and talks to them. He finds out who they are, and then he looks at the resources he has to partner in the situation. That, to me, is what ministry should be about."

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
Courtesy of the Rev. Greg Jenks

A house in Zimbabwe bears the verse, "Faith without works is dead."
Jenks is no longer pastor of Christ Community United Methodist Church. He travels the state and nation, sharing the ZOE story with congregations and asking for their support.

Most of the support comes in the form of families pledging a monthly check to ZOE. The response has enabled Jenks to surpass his goal of feeding 4,000 orphans in 2005. The number of children fed by ZOE this year has already reached 8,000, and the ministry is providing clothes for 1,500 AIDS orphans in Zimbabwe.

In some churches, the support isn't only monetary. University United Methodist Church, of Fort Worth, Texas, sent a medical team with Jenks on a trip to Zimbabwe last April. The team of two doctors and four nurses from the congregation worked alongside overworked Zimbabwean medical professionals at United Methodist Church Missions Hospitals in Mount Makomwe and Mutambara.

Besides providing healing ministries, the Texas group taught "Deep in the Heart of Texas" to the Bantu orphans at Mount Makomwe Primary School.

Jenks and another group of volunteers returned to Africa in November for a ninth mission trip to find other schools and missions that ZOE can partner with.

More information about the Zimbabwe Orphans Endeavor is available at or by calling (800) 951-0234.

*Vernon is a freelance producer in Cary, N.C.

News media contact: Fran Coode Walsh, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5458 or

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