BEAN STATION, Tenn. -- Jo Hatfield didn’t have a lot of money. But she was inspired to do something when her pastor preached about his dream of building a church in Zimbabwe.
“She came home talking about it. She was really fired up,” remembers her daughter, Kendra Lynch.
The next time Hatfield went to church, she took two rolls of pennies, valued at $1, and gave them to the Rev. Sam Dzobo. Her donation was the first to kick off a six-year mission campaign that Mary’s Chapel United Methodist Church saw completed this summer.
With about 35 in average worship attendance, Mary’s Chapel sent $48,000 over six years to build a United Methodist church in Dzobo Village, outside of Mutare, Zimbabwe.
“What a beautiful story about what a little church in Grainger County has done,” says Dzobo, pastor of Mary’s Chapel from 2014 until July 2022.
At age 47, Dzobo has been preaching since he was 16. For the last 14 years, he has served churches in the Holston Conference. His home is Dzobo Village in Zimbabwe, named after his extended family. Until Mary’s Chapel sent enough money to break ground for a new building in 2016, Dzobo United Methodist Church met in a classroom for many years.
“My desire was to bless my home church with a sanctuary where they can gather together," Dzobo said.
Amy Carmon “didn’t even have a passport” when her pastor first suggested she travel to Zimbabwe to witness the new church under construction.
“I had never been out of the country before I went to Zimbabwe,” says Carmon. Like other members of Mary’s Chapel, she was moved by Dzobo’s testimony of how, as a child, he had been invited into the fold of a United Methodist church after he heard singing from the windows of a school. The act of hospitality changed his life.
“We could see his dream,” says Carmon, who has since joined Dzobo four times on mission trips to Zimbabwe. “We started praying about it, and we kind of grew from there.”
Year by year, Mary’s Chapel members gave what they could toward the construction of the church in Africa. Jo Hatfield “religiously” saved all the money she could for the project, particularly pocket change. “If you were around her and if you had any change, she said, ‘Let me have that,’” her daughter said.
Mary Good, an artist and church member, created a little Zimbabwean church replica to keep the vision before the congregation. The artistic reminder still rests on the altar today.
The Rev. Chris Brown traveled with a Holston mission team to Zimbabwe twice while the Dzobo church was under construction. Inspired by what Mary’s Chapel was accomplishing, Brown’s church gave $5,000 to help put the roof on. Brown is pastor at Colonial Heights United Methodist Church in Kingsport, Tennessee.
“So many churches are just trying to survive,” he said. “But if Mary’s Chapel can build a church in Zimbabwe, it should be an example to other churches that they, too, can do anything.”
This past August, Carmon made her most recent trip to Zimbabwe, after a two-year gap caused by the COVID pandemic. “The tears started rolling down” when she finally laid eyes on the completed church. The builders, selected because they were skilled residents of the village, had finished the project just two days prior.
Carmon and Dzobo had their pictures taken in front of the beautiful, gleaming church. “Where we started and where we are now is a blessing, and our small church did it,” Carmon said.
One month before visiting the finished church in his homeland, Dzobo was reappointed to Shady Grove United Methodist Church in Dandridge, Tennessee. He is so proud of his former congregation in Bean Station, Tennessee, and the gift they gave to his home village.
“Sometimes we say the church is not a building, it’s the people. But in context, the building is a place of identity, a place to belong, a place to grow,” Dzobo said.
Dzobo United Methodist Church now has seating for 250 people. A well dug by Good Shepherd Ministries of Chattanooga, Tennessee, provides much-needed water during a season of drought, so that “when people come to church, they can also get water,” Dzobo said.
Jo Hatfield didn’t live to celebrate with Mary’s Chapel over the completion of the church in Zimbabwe. In November 2021, she died of COVID at the age of 82.
Hatfield still had one more gift to give, however. Her daughter donated her mother’s huge collection of books to Mary’s Chapel for a yard sale benefiting the church in Zimbabwe.
“She loved to read,” explained Lynch. “My mother grew up very poor – she left school in eighth grade – and everything she knew was what she learned in books. Those were her treasures.”
Sign up for a free weekly email subscription to The Call. Holston Conference includes 842 United Methodist congregations in East Tennessee, Southwest Virginia, and North Georgia. Holston Conference's main offices are located in Alcoa, Tennessee.
Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newspaper.
TALBOTT, Tenn. (Dec. 11, 2017) -- The Rev. Samuel Dzobo lives off a little country road and is the pastor of two small-town congregations in east Tennessee. At Christmastime, he’s busy with all the things preachers are busy with: Worship, ...