March 2010


I can remember a time (too) many years ago when I was in primary school. Though my children point out that it was probably shortly after the Norman Conquest, it was in fact in early 1970’s. Though to them there probably isn’t much difference, both were BC - Before Computers (and mobile phones, Play Stations etc).

Anyway, one day the teacher came into class and handed out letters from prospective pen pals in the US. I don’t remember volunteering to be a pen pal, in those days it was more or less expected to do what the teacher asked, but in youthful enthusiasm I probably put up my hand to write a letter to a child in an elementary school in the U.S. It was stressed that no one would check up, but it was up to us to reply to the short, rather formulaic letter. Just write a letter telling something about yourself and put it in the envelope that already had an address and stamp. Simple!

A few weeks later, one of my classmates stood up after the teacher asked her to and read out a reply to her letter. We were all mightily impressed that this thing worked. Especially those of us who had ‘forgotten’ to reply at all, which among the boys in the playground seemed to be in the majority after you delved past the guilty bravado. As far as I remember, I never did write that letter. For what ever reason, it seemed too much hard work for me, and even in the Neolithic age before the internet and DS Lite, we always had something to do.

We all know that establishing and remaining in contact takes some effort and patience. But eventually the contact can mature into a friendship. I never even started to uncover this with my potential U.S. pen pal.

The Eastern Synod of the URC (of which we are a part) is establishing a partnership with the Zimbabwe Presbytery of the Uniting Presbyterian Church in Southern Africa. And through that embryonic link, it has been a real encouragement for me to be in contact with Rev Wilbert Sayimani. Wilbert is the minister of Hatfield Presbyterian Church in Harare, Zimbabwe. He is also the Moderator of the Presbytery, making him responsible for the general oversight of all of Zimbabwe's 32 Presbyterian Churches and 40 preaching stations.

After a decision of both elders and Church Meeting we are working at a long term partnership with Hatfield Presbyterian Church. Initially it has been an email exchange between Wilbert and myself, but a Church partnership means more than just the ministers sending emails. So over the next months and years we will endeavour to widen the scope of the contact so that a true partnership exists between the two churches.

Generally, life for the average Zimbabwean is extremely hard and a real struggle on all fronts. Money barely stretches to cover the bare necessities and medical needs are an enormous challenge and every day activities a burden. However churches are full. Given all this, people remain bright and positive, living without complaint and with much gratitude to God and to the other s who have supported them and hanging on to hope for the future.

One area of partnership is helping each other where possible. Hatfield Church has started its own primary school, Fulcon Infant School, in response to the collapsing education system in Zimbabwe. It takes grade ones to grade threes at the moment. It will be growing to grade four next year. They collect children from town every day and transport them after school. Wilbert is doing this with his little 4 seater Nissan Sunny where he does several trips with pupils sitting on top of each other. When this Sunny breaks down which it often does, then they go on the road to negotiate with passing cars to find someone who can help for a fee and this often turns out to be unaffordable, and the children don’t get to school. To give them a chance of regular schooling, Christ Church is buying an 18-seater mini bus as the Churches Centenary Project. It will help both the church and school, and it will be a good way to say thank you to God for His guidance over the last 100 years.

Partnership is more than money. But the mini bus is an expression of our desire to help our new partners in Zimbabwe. Who knows? We might soon be calling them friends.

March 2010