"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 when you hand them a simple craft or a backpack for school. It’s like you’ve handed them a million dollars.”
Carmon is one of 20 people representing eight churches who traveled to Zimbabwe Aug. 22 to Sept. 6 to offer Vacation Bible School and help organize supplies sent by Holston Conference earlier this summer.
A record 1,800 children attended Vacation Bible School at Hilltop United Methodist Church on the final day, team leaders said.
The annual August journey to a region close to Holston hearts has been led by the Rev. Jerry Russell for the last two decades. Russell is a retired clergy member who served as senior pastor at Fairview United Methodist Church in Maryville, Tennessee, for several years.
The trip is always scheduled when supplies collected by Holston Conference churches are expected to arrive at Ishe Anesu Mission in Sakubva, Mutare, Zimbabwe.
Every spring, United Methodist churches gather food, school, health and home supplies to send to Zimbabwe and Liberia. In June 2019, the Holston Annual Conference celebrated a completed “Hands-on Mission Project” valued at $220,131. (See the totals collected by districts.)
“Zimbabwe has definitely fallen on harder times ... Our presence and the gifts from Holston Conference provide a moment of hope,” said the Rev. Chris Brown, who joined this year’s August team to Zimbabwe. Brown is senior pastor at Colonial Heights United Methodist Church in Kingsport, Tennessee.
Electricity was only available for six hours each day, Brown said. “Fuel is crazy expensive and food costs are high. The average Zimbabwean is really struggling.”
Brown and other team members helped organize and distribute the Holston supplies for Ishe Anesu, a mission that educates and feeds students and families from the community.
"Most of the food buckets, health kits, and backpacks will be used throughout the year to help the children at Ishe Anesu," Brown said.
One hundred and fifty food buckets were provided for families identified by Hilltop United Methodist Church as those in greatest need, Brown said. Fifty backpacks were shipped to an impoverished community near Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.
Team members also worked on construction, repairs and painting for Ishe Anesu. For five days, they provided Vacation Bible School for a group of children that began with 600 on the first day and concluded with an attendance of 1,800.
The children were placed in four groups and rotated through recreation, crafts, music and Bible study from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. The crowd grew so large, organizers had to move them from the courtyard and seat them inside the church, Brown said.
“Had there been adults, you wouldn’t have been able to pack them in there,” Brown said. “We had to walk by faith. All of us were pretty hoarse by the end of the week.”
The children walked from within three to five miles to attend Vacation Bible School, Carmon said. The theme was “Anchored in Christ,” and the crafts included making bead bracelets with tiny anchors and placing stickers on paper anchors.
“I planned and brought enough craft supplies for 2,000,” said Carmon, a member at Mary’s Chapel United Methodist Church in Bean Station, Tennessee. “I know it’s hard to imagine doing crafts for that many children at one time. By the time you’ve handed it out, it’s time for them to move to the next activity.”
The 20 team members managed the activities with the help and language translation of about 30 Ishe Anesu students, Carmon said.
Soccer balls purchased with the Vacation Bible School offerings of children at Colonial Heights United Methodist Church were also gifted to Zimbabwe children, Brown said. The new soccer balls replaced balls the children had made with plastic bags.
Team members included the Rev. Sam Dzobo, pastor at Mary’s Chapel United Methodist Church in Bean Station and Rutledge United Methodist Church in Rutledge, Tennessee. Dzobo is a native of Zimbabwe and former pastor at Hilltop United Methodist Church.
Also participating on the team was the Rev. Micah Nicolaus, senior pastor at Broad Street United Methodist Church in Cleveland, Tennessee. The team also included members from Fairview (Maryville), Colonial Heights (Kingsport), Broad Street (Cleveland), Beech Grove (Bristol), Wheeler (Blountville), Wears Valley (Sevierville), and Loudon United Methodist Church, as well as participants from Costa Rica and Paraguay.