By Woody Woodrick
MADISON – United Methodist churches in Zimbabwe are attracting large numbers of young people.
“We are thankful they want to come to church,” said Bishop Eben Nhiwatiwa of Zimbabwe. “They fill our churches. We don’t know yet why.”
Nhiwatiwa hopes to share that enthusiasm for worship with youth from Mississippi next spring, he told those attending the Celebration of Youth Ministries banquet at Madison United Methodist Church.
The Mississippi Conference intends to send a contingent of youth and young adults to Zimbabwe prior to next year’s Annual Conference. Proceeds from Monday’s banquet will be used to offer scholarships to youth for the trip.
Nhiwatiwa told the 125 or so people at the banquet that young people in his country face many challenges. He said young people in Zimbabwe don’t have the opportunities their counterparts in the United States have. He cited the political situation as discouraging to youth. “You wonder what word of hope you can give them,” he said.
Youth also don’t have the opportunity to work, many are orphaned by the AIDS pandemic in Africa and there are few summer programs for young people, making them susceptible to drug abuse. “It is a great challenge to keep their moral behavior together,” he said.
Despite those challenges, Nhiwatiwa said large numbers come to church and are involved in ministry. “Ministry begins with worship,” he said.
Nhiwatiwa said the young people raise money to pay school fees for children orphaned by AIDS. They also visit the orphanages and play with the children. Others visit the elderly and help them gather fire wood, which provides for cooking and light in rural areas.
Nhiwatiwa urged the youth to come to Zimbabwe as part of the Chabadza Covenant, an agreement between the two conferences to share in love of Christ, pray for one another and to be in partnership. Chabadza is a Shona word meaning to join someone already at work.
“They will be glad to see you. I will be at the airport to meet you. I will see you, you will see me and our great hope is that we will see Jesus,” he said.
Lakeadra Coffey of Weir said she would like be among those visiting Zimbabwe. “I would like to learn about Africa and its culture,” she said. “It would help me prepare for college because I would be away from home.”
Coffey said she thinks United Methodist young people from Mississippi can share their enthusiasm, love for Christ and how they worship with youth in Zimbabwe.