UMCOR Brings Hope to Zimbabweans in South Africa
* By Melissa Hinnen
July 22, 2009—“The first call of justice is that all people are treated with dignity,” believes Bishop Paul Verryn referring to the Central Methodist Mission (CMM) a church in Johannesburg, South Africa and home to 2,000 people who have been uprooted because of conflict and poverty in Zimbabwe. “Faith must address the poor and we are bringing the needs of the poor directly into the church.”
The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) provides funding to the Albert Street School, serving 500 children who are part of CMM. In a recent visit to the New York City area, Bishop Verryn thanked UMCOR and extended his gratitude to all the United Methodists who support the mission and make a significant difference in the lives of people who have experienced extreme hunger, poverty and turmoil.
“When we open up the tap, it’s because of UMCOR’s generosity,” says Bishop Verryn about the water. He extended gratitude to the many United Methodists who are helping CMM including a congregation in Old Lyme, Conn. that has been in covenant with him for 22 years. The congregation at CMM also supports the school and many people donate books, groceries and school supplies.
“We experience the widow’s mite regularly,” says Bishop Verryn. “Last week a woman who looked quite poor herself, came with a child on her back to make a donation of toys and clothing that her child didn’t need anymore.”
Beyond the Classroom
While the school has many students with diverse and great needs, Bishop Verryn maintains a whole child approach. Each child is known and loved. Students are listened to and when there is a problem or challenge, the staff responds with compassion. There is intentionality about building a sense of consistency and family, particularly for those children who are unaccompanied by an adult. Parents are met with regularly and offered strategies for guiding their family in a better position.
Beyond having basic needs met and attending classes, students are encouraged to join the chess league, become computer literate and learn karate. By giving them a range of skills and abilities, the children are empowered and build a sense of accomplishment and self worth.
The teachers are all displaced Zimbabweans who are hired and certified to teach the children. The principal of the school is a former student who used to sell papers. The staff of nine meets weekly to discuss challenges and create strategies for the following week.
Providing Refuge through Worship
On Sundays, CMM becomes a place for worship and offers six services including in French and Portuguese. More than 1,200 Zimbabwean refugees pack the church at the evening service. When they arrive, they look sad and lonely. Their life is hard – all of their support has been taken away. But through their worship, despondency turns to joy and when the invitation to the table is issued, “people are literally running to the communion rail,” says Bishop Verryn.
CMM also offers a healing service on Wednesdays that draws 250 people who are looking for wholeness. He notices children like the little boy whose father was killed in Zimbabwe and whose mother is too broken to always properly care for her son. However they faithfully come to the healing service and Bishop Verryn is hopeful that the experience will be a strong positive force in the boy’s life as he grows. Each week, he blesses them each with the words, “With the grace of God, may you find healing and peace.”
How You Can Help
Every day, uprooted people, including unaccompanied children as young as seven years old, arrive looking for food, a safe place to sleep, clothing and guidance. You can help Central Methodist Mission continue to be a place of refuge for thousands of Zimbabweans seeking safety there. Give to South Africa Relief and Development, UMCOR Advance #3020999.
*Melissa Hinnen is a staff writer for UMCOR