On her last day in Holston Conference, Maria Humbane was so grateful -- and yet so concerned.
From the moment her plane touched down at McGhee-Tyson Airport on Feb. 13 until her March 27 departure, Humbane visited churches all over Holston and many in Indiana.
Her priority was to express gratitude to Holston Conference for sending food and other supplies to the children of Zimbabwe over the past 14 years.
“I’m coming to thank the churches,” said the director of Ishe Anesu, a missionary project that feeds and educates about 75 students in Sakubva, Mutare, Zimbabwe. “Everything we ask for, they send. They do so much for us.”
Each May since 2000, Holston churches have collected food, school, and health supplies for children cared for by Humbane as well as children in Liberia. The “Hands-on Mission Project” is blessed at Annual Conference in June before being shipped across the ocean to Africa.
Now, as Holston gears up for another Hands-on Mission Project, Humbane has returned to Zimbabwe with confidence that, at least, the children will continue to be fed. The food and other supplies sent by Holston each summer are carefully rationed and made to last until the following year, when another “Hands-on” shipment arrives in August.
“It helps me to know the churches care and know our needs,” Humbane said. “My presence and visits in the churches, to me, was like a revival. They remembered me and called me by name. They welcomed me with open arms.”
Because of Holston, the children are healthier, Humbane said. Many are HIV positive yet nutrition and vitamins help keep them well.
What Humbane is unsure of, however, is how long Ishe Anesu can continue to educate the children.
“It’s a frustration,” the 72-year-old leader said on her last day in the U.S., before returning to the children she loves. “I don’t see the green light or where we are going. Maybe God wants us to struggle so we appreciate what we get.”
Ishe Anesu Project needs $65,000 a year to educate 45 children in primary school plus an additional 20 in secondary school and college.
In past years, donations and Maria Humbane’s own salary as well as her husband’s salary helped meet these expenses, Humbane said. Maria Humbane’s husband is Bill Humbane, age 82, a teacher at Africa University.
Dramatic changes in Zimbabwe’s exchange rate, political state, donation levels and salaries are threatening the future of Ishe Anesu, said the Rev. Jerry Russell, senior pastor at Fairview United Methodist Church in Maryville, Tenn.
“They see this mission as God’s call on their lives,” Russell said, referring to the Humbanes. “They’re doing all they can not to let it wither and die.”
Humbane rattled off the costs of employing staff to educate 45 children in primary school ($250 per child per year) as well as the costs of high school ($500 per child per year) and college. Some are waiting to take the next step or to finish another semester, but money is not available.
“I’m an educator so it’s a big disappointment to say ‘I cannot help,’” Humbane said.
In addition, an orphanage built by volunteers from Fairview United Methodist Church has sat vacant for three years. Currently, the children of Ishe Anesu receive education and one meal daily, but they do not live on campus.
The orphanage was built to accommodate 12 children left parent-less by HIV. “For $25,000 a year, 12 children can stay at Ishe Anesu overnight rather than sleep in a doorway,” Russell said.
CHANGE FOR CHILDREN
For six weeks in February and March, Humbane visited and spoke to about 20 congregations. Some assured her that they would not only help feed the children through the Hands-on Mission Project, they would also help educate the children.
When Humbane visited the Holston Conference Center on March 10, the Connectional Ministries staff was so concerned to hear about the situation at Ishe Anesu, they invited her to apply for a Change for Children grant.
Humbane did apply, and the Children’s Ministry Team has since awarded Ishe Anesu a $22,000 grant. Change for Children is funded by donations from Holston churches explicitly for children’s ministries.
“Maria shared that she had vacancies for younger children as a result of graduations but was unable to fill them because of lack of funds,” said Gaye King, associate director of connectional ministries. “Her story spoke to my heart. The Children's Ministry Team wholeheartedly agreed that we should fund this ministry.”
The goal now is to move others with the story of Ishe Anesu -- to help Maria Humbane continue to help the children of Zimbabwe.
To give to Ishe Anesu, write a check to your local church with "Ishe Anesu Advance #130710" on the memo line ... or you may give online.
2014 Hands-on Mission Project brochure (Holston.org)
Ishe Anesu Project for Underprivileged Children (GBGM)
First Broad Street welcomes missionaries for annual celebration (The Call, 2/24/14)
"Blessings Counted in Zimbabwe" (GBGM, 2003)
Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newspaper.