Pastors witness impact of Holston missions in Liberia, Zimbabwe

Pastors witness impact of Holston missions in Liberia, Zimbabwe

Women in a recovery community are photographed by missionary Helen Roberts-Evans as they show off health kits sent by Holston Conference churches. The Rev. Sam Dzobo and the Rev. Chris Brown are standing in back.

Key points:

  • Two pastors traveled to Zimbabwe and Liberia over 17 days to see how Holston Conference supplies and offerings have helped people served by United Methodist missions. 

  • In Zimbabwe, they helped lead a Vacation Bible School attended by 2,800 children.

  • In Liberia, they handed out mission kits sent by Holston churches and saw great need, especially through the "heartbeaking" story from a mother recovering from addiction.


ALCOA, Tenn. -- The Rev. Chris Brown and the Rev. Sam Dzobo didn’t visit just one African country this summer. They visited two.

The goal was to see firsthand the impact Holston Conference churches have had as they sent mission supplies and special offerings to Zimbabwe and Liberia over the last 25 years.

“I’m convinced, more than ever, that the kits and supplies that Holston sends to Liberia and Zimbabwe doesn’t just impact lives, it changes lives. We have a great story to tell,” said Brown, chair of Holston’s Mission Ministry Team.
The Rev. Chris Brown (left) and the
Rev. Sam Dzobo prepare to worship
in Zimbabwe.

The two Holston Conference pastors – who are also longtime friends – returned to Tennessee on September 9 from a mission trip that lasted 17 days. They first traveled to Dzobo’s home country, Zimbabwe, as part of a 16-member mission team that departed August 24 from McGhee-Tyson Airport in Alcoa, Tennessee.

Holston has sent teams to Zimbabwe for many years, timed in late summer when the shipping container full of “Hands-on Mission Project” kits usually arrives at its destination in Mutare.

A highlight of the annual Holston mission trip to Zimbabwe is organizing a week-long Vacation Bible School for area children at Hilltop United Methodist Church in Mutare. This year, about 2,800 total children were in attendance on the final day, moving in shifts between stations of music, crafts, games, and Bible stories.

“In Zimbabwe, when you say ‘bring a friend,’ they bring a friend. That’s one reason why it grows,” Brown said.
The Rev. Sam Dzobo and the Rev. Jerry
Russell lead VBS for children in Zimbabwe.

Dzobo said, “For me the greatest thing is when you have 2,800 kids in not a large space, running from one station to another, and at the end of the five days not one child is hurt -- that’s amazing.”

Led by the Rev. Jerry Russell, the 16-member mission team was in Zimbabwe from August 24 to September 3. The team represented Holston churches and included a few recently disaffiliated members, Brown said. The team also included two Methodists from Costa Rica and Bishop João Carlos Lopes of the Methodist Church in Brazil.

On September 4, Brown and Dzobo began another journey to a country that neither had visited before. They flew from Zimbabwe in southern Africa to Liberia in West Africa.

Holston Conference churches have collected food buckets, backpacks, health kits and more for both Zimbabwe and Liberia since 1999, yet a Holston Conference mission team has not visited Liberia since 2006, Dzobo said.
People in Liberia get ready to hand
out mission kits sent by Holston.

“For me and Chris, it was a learning experience,” he said. The two pastors met with Helen Roberts-Evans, a longtime United Methodist missionary in Liberia. She organized their visits to schools so Brown and Dzobo could personally help distribute the mission supplies that had arrived in a shipping container from Holston Conference. 

“Helen makes sure the greatest needs are the priority,” Brown said. “She really wanted the people in Liberia to see the people from Holston who are sending this.”

Brown and Dzobo visited the Bishop Judith Craig Village 15 miles south of Monrovia, where 56 orphans live. They handed out 56 backpacks full of school supplies and 60 food buckets, Brown said.
The building that houses J.J. Roberts
School was built by Holston in 2004. 

They visited the J.J. Roberts School in Monrovia, built by Holston Conference in 2004 and supported for many years by the “Operation Classroom” drive led by the late Rev. Dan Kelly.

The longest distance the two pastors traveled with Roberts-Evans was four hours to a United Methodist mission in Taylor Town, Liberia, where they handed out more backpacks and food buckets.

“There were so many children there that we had to divide up the school kits,” Brown said. “Some of the kids were so happy just to receive a few pencils.”

In addition to schools, Brown and Dzobo visited two addiction recovery centers supported by United Methodist pastors. At New Life Recovery Center in Monrovia, they left school kits and health kits for the 16 men living there.

At Women’s Rescue Daughters in Louisiana, Liberia, they delivered 46 food buckets and 46 health kits. Brown and Dzobo also heard the residents’ stories of how they were so destitute with their addictions, they lived in the tombs of graveyards.

One woman shared the story of how she had four children but was so sick with addiction, she sold her children for drugs.
J.J. Roberts School is "a place
of vibrancy," said Rev. Chris Brown.

“To me, that gave my purpose of my visit, to see what transformation is all about in the life of an individual. You just hear it and your heart pounds and you say, ‘What can I do?’” Dzobo said. “The children are gone and that realization, that she can be a mother with regret and pain but to be looking forward with hope and joy. That was the power of the gospel for me right there.”

On the first leg of their mission trip to Zimbabwe, Brown and Dzobo did not get to hand out the “Hands-on Mission Project” kits sent by Holston churches. The shipping container full of supplies that departed Cokesbury United Methodist Church in Knoxville in early June was detained in Mozambique, Zimbabwe, although it is expected to be released soon, Brown said.

However, the two pastors and the mission team did get to see, once again, the impact Ishe Anesu Mission has by feeding and educating hundreds of children over the years. Ishe Anesu is now led by missionary and director Nancy Chinzvede.
The mission team departs McGhee-Tyson
Airport for Zimbabwe on Aug. 24.

In addition to the food buckets, school supplies, and health kits, Holston Conference has sent Annual Conference mission offerings to Ishe Anesu, most recently $36,616 from the 2023 offering.

“We have done a lot of lifting of young children out of poverty and educating them. That has been a very successful story of our work in Zimbabwe,” Dzobo said.

Many children educated by Ishe Anesu have gone on to college and now serve as teachers, managers, nurses, and missionaries, Dzobo said. His own growth as United Methodist clergy is a “testament” to Holston’s mission work in Zimbabwe, since he came to serve in East Tennessee through that connection, he added. Dzobo and Brown have been friends since attending Duke Divinity School together in 2007.

Today, Dzobo is associate superintendent for the Tennessee Valley District and Smoky Mountain District, in addition to pastor of Lennon-Seney United Methodist Church in Knoxville. Brown is senior pastor at Colonial Heights United Methodist Church in Kingsport, Tennessee.

Now that they are back home, Brown and Dzobo want to lift up and strengthen Holston’s mission partnerships in Zimbabwe and Liberia, including planning trips back to Africa and modifying the lists of supplies gathered by Holston churches each spring. Brown said they learned that some foods are more easily bought locally, and some supplies sent by Holston are met with high tariffs.
Students study in a United Methodist
church located in Red Light, Liberia. 

Brown is also seeking churches to partner with pastors and churches in Liberia, who are in need of wells, latrines, water pumps, solar panels, or construction. “We have a chance to make some real connections there,” he said.

Despite the need in his own country, Dzobo said he was moved by the needs in Liberia, caused by drug abuse and a high number of orphans.

“Liberia is unique. They have gone through so much: Civil war, Ebola, cholera, and now Covid. What that did is leave behind so many orphans that almost every church is trying to help," Dzobo said. "Anything we can do to help those pastors, we should do.”

For more information on how to participate in missions in Liberia or Zimbabwe, contact the Rev. Chris Brown at

Holston Conference includes member churches in East Tennessee, Southwest Virginia, and North Georgia, with main offices in Alcoa, Tennessee. Sign up for a free email subscription to The Call.


annette july 2023.jpg
Annette Spence

Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newsletter.

Related News

Volunteers form an assembly line to unload and reload mission kits at Cokesbury United Methodist Church on May 31.
The results are in! Hands-on Mission Project

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- It was a reunion and a work party in the Cokesbury United Methodist Church parking lot on May 31 and June 1. As cars, trucks and trailers arrived with their church or district’s gifts for Africa, United Methodists put their ...

Rev. Sam Dzobo and Amy Carmon stand in front of the newly constructed Dzobo United  Methodist Church in Zimbabwe.
Gift of 100 pennies leads to building a church in Zimbabwe

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 ...

vbs in zimbabwe.jpg
Holston team ministers with 1,800 children in Zimbabwe

"Hands-on" kits sent by churches distributed to most needy   It’s the hundreds of little faces and their expressions that inspire Amy Carmon to return to Zimbabwe each August. “It’s a blessing to see these kids’ faces ... You see those expressions ...