Christians Let Their Lights Shine in Zimbabwe

Christians Let Their Lights Shine in Zimbabwe November 19, 2023

A large group of children during Vacation Bible School at a Zimbabwe chuch
A large group of children participate in Vacation Bible School at Hilltop United Methodist Church in Zimbabwe (Photo courtesy of Terri Kirkpatrick)

Ishe Anesu Project Helps the ‘Poorest of the Poor’ Children

Let your light shine before others so that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven, Jesus told his followers (Matthew 5:16). Today, many Christians from around the world let their lights shine by volunteering in communities that need spiritual and material help. Here’s the story of one such volunteer.


The children at the Ishe Anesu Project in Mutare, Zimbabwe, scramble aboard a mini-bus and start singing and celebrating. They’re heading to the Chicken Inn in Mutare with project staff members and a team of volunteers that includes men and women from United Methodist churches in the southeast U.S.

“It’s a huge outing for the youngsters — something akin to Christmas and birthdays combined,” explained Terri Kirkpatrick, a volunteer from Tennessee.

“We literally take the place over. This year we had 75 people. Everyone gets two pieces of chicken, fries and a Coke,” Terri recalled.

“The children wear their best clothes, and we rent buses to take us. There’s 95 percent unemployment in the Sakubva slum, and food is a problem, which is why we feed the kids,” she said. “It’s the only time those children will go out to eat.

“Kids with top grades also get a T-shirt, and they’re very proud of them. This year, I kept buying more and more T-shirts, and when I got ready to hand them out, I had exactly 17 shirts and 17 kids. I also had the right sizes and the right numbers for the boys and for the girls. God had a hand in it.”

“God Is with Us”

Ishe Anesu, which means “God Is with Us,” is a project of the United Methodist Church’s (UMC) Holston Conference. Holston is part of the denomination’s organizational structure and consists of 578 congregations, organized in nine districts, in east Tennessee, southwest Virginia, and north Georgia, according to UMC.

Terri noted that most of the volunteers at Ishe Anesu are Methodist, although membership in the church isn’t a requirement.

She began making annual trips to Zimbabwe 12 years ago, although the mission trips were canceled in 2020 and 2021 because of Covid.

Ishe Anesu is an after-school project that helps the community’s orphans and other poor children by:

  • Paying for school uniforms, books and stationery that the children must have for school
  • Offering Christian education, social and family ethics education, and recreation
  • Providing for two meals a day for each child – which is an important benefit given the community’s extreme poverty
  • Covering treatment of minor injuries and illnesses

Life at Ishe Anesu

During their seven-plus days in Mutare, the volunteers hold four to five days of Vacation Bible School for the children, make necessary repairs to the project’s facilities and provide other assistance to the project.

“We bought a gas stove because the government sometimes cuts electricity” because it can, Terri said. The country is run by a dictator who occasionally likes to remind people who’s in charge. Compounding the problem is an active black market and rampant bribery.

“This year, we went to Mutare near the presidential election so we had electricity,” she added. Election results are a foregone conclusion, as happens with dictators, but the nation goes through the motions of holding them anyway.

Fuel is very expensive — about $6 per liter, Terri noted. Some people drive cars, but most take buses, which are like big vans. They hold about 15 people, but as many as 30 may pile onboard.

The director of Ishe Anesu “thinks all Americans are wealthy because everyone (in the U.S.) has cars,” she added. “I try to explain that we have to have a car to get to work, but compared to them, we are very wealthy.”

Humble Beginnings

Ishe Anesu is the brainchild of Maria Sabino Humbane, formerly of Mozambique in east Africa, Terri stated. Maria’s dream of educating some of the poorest of the poor children in Africa began to take shape 29 years ago after she received missionary training in Atlanta, GA.

Maria started small by taking food and reading to children under a tree in the Sakubva slum of Mutare, which is a city of one million people. A local church — Hilltop United Methodist Church — decided to help.

The UMC sent a representative to Zimbabwe to see whether Maria’s efforts were something the Holston conference wanted to support. It did.

“God had a hand in it,” Terri said. The UMC representative sent to evaluate the situation was seated next to Maria and her husband, Bill, on the plane to Zimbabwe. By the time they landed, the couple had shared enough first-hand information with their seatmate to warrant the conference’s interest.

Maria started Ishe Anesu with 15 children from the Sakubva community, but the number grew after the Holston conference decided to help. Hilltop UMC sold land to the conference, and it built a complex that consists of classrooms, an office, bathrooms with showers, a kitchen and a dining area.

Planning Ahead

Terri, a retired nurse, became involved in Ishe Anesu when Maria visited churches in the U.S. to share information about the project. “She stayed at my house when she visited our church (Loudon United Methodist Church in Tennessee), and I got to know her well,” Terri said.

Since then, Terri has traveled with other volunteers to Mutare every August, though preparations for the trip begin several months before they leave. Terri begins soliciting non-perishable foods from her church and preparing food buckets in May. The buckets contain canned meat, meal and flour, cooking oil, powdered milk, tea, rice, beans and other items.

The cornmeal is especially important. “They have a plant called rape that’s a kind of greens, which they grow in their yards,” Terri said. “Their main diet is the leaves of the rape plant and plain, boiledd cornmeal that’s called ‘susda.’”

Each district of the Holston conference collects items for the buckets. “Our district does food buckets, and I collect them for Loudon United Methodist Church.

“Other districts fill buckets with school supplies, health or cleaning supplies, soap, paper towels or other items. Then, the buckets are shipped ahead of the volunteers’ arrival in Africa.”

Some of the volunteers who go to Ishe Anesu gather items for craft projects the children will make at the Vacation Bible School. Between 1,000-3,000 kits are prepared.

“I start looking for sales in the spring and stock up on T-shirts, soccer balls and other things the kids will want. We deliver everything to a central location in June, load them into containers and ship them to Africa,” she explained.

In August, Terri and other volunteers from Tennessee and surrounding areas fly to Atlanta and then take a 16-hour flight to Johannesburg, South Africa. Finally, they catch a flight to Harre, the capital of Zimbabwe, and complete the trip to Ishe Anesu in an old school bus.

Terri supplements the food buckets with other supplies that she takes with her on the plane, and she also goes grocery shopping every day after she arrives in Mutare.

Fun & Games at Ishe Anesu

“We have Bible school for everybody and share God’s message,” Terri said. “A lot of these kids have never heard about God, so we try to get them to come to church on Sundays. A lot of them do.”

And while Christianity continues to decline in the U.S., it’s growing in Africa. Hilltop UMC and other churches are filled with worshippers on Sundays.

Ishe Anesu’s Vacation Bible School takes place while the children are on winter break. “On VBS days, the staff has devotions at 7 a.m. and discusses what we’re going to do that day. Then, we get ready and have lunch before the children arrive at 2 p.m.”

“On the first day, we have children from the Ishe Anesu school and the kids that go to the Hilltop church. This year, we had 650 kids the first day, but the number grows because the pastor-in-charge encourages everyone to bring a friend. So, there are more and more who attend each day. By the end of the week this past year, we had about 3,000 kids.”

The children take part in the usual Vacation Bible School activities. They make crafts, learn new songs, listen to stories, enjoy recreation time and learn about God.

“We split them into four groups so that one-fourth is at each activity at any one time,” Terri explained. “Recreation is somewhat difficult because the children range in age from one month to 15 years, but the staff and volunteers make it work. The older kids play ball, have a tug-of-war, make crafts and take part in a water game, among other things.”

Introducing the Children to God

Terri’s job is to help with crafts. “I go around telling the kids what a good job they’re doing. It’s very important to give them positive feedback. They’re desperate for it,” she said. “Some children know nothing about God, and we want to make this introduction to him positive.

“I usually take two suitcases filled with hygiene supplies, gifts, T-shirts and deflated soccer balls when I go to Mutare. Toward the end of the week, we give out raffle tickets and have a drawing with the neighborhood children. They really anticipate this,” Terri said.

Some of the children used to play with homemade soccer balls made from grocery bags, she added. Now, the pastor-in-charge brings the children real soccer balls. They know he’s coming with new balls and watch for him. They swarm his car and even try to climb through the windows to get them.

Being a Volunteer

“Education is the main way children from the Sakubva slum escape poverty, and that’s what we provide at Ishe Anesu, Terri noted. “School isn’t mandatory in Zimbabwe, and the only way to receive an education is to pay for it.

“That’s why it’s important for the Holston Conference and Samaritan Hands, an organization started by the Hilltop UMC pastor, to cover tuition, school supplies and two meals a day.”

Why do Terri and other volunteers travel approximately 8,400 miles from the southeastern U.S. to Zimbabwe and then back home? As volunteers, they cover all of their own expenses, including more than $3,000 for airfare, and they use their own money to cover other items.

Why return to such a poverty-stricken area year after year?

Terri goes because she loves God and the people at Ishe Anesu, and she wants to share the gospel with them. She has made several friends there and texts back and forth with them throughout the year.

Her love for them is quite evident — whether she is spending time with them or talking about her experiences in Africa.

“It’s crazy, but it’s fun,” she said of the mission trips. Some of the fun stems from differences between the white volunteers and the black children.

“The children don’t see a lot of white people,” Terri said. “One year there was a (white American) guy there named Kyle, and the kids wanted to touch his hair. They also wanted to touch mine. Our hair was just so different from theirs…. I looked like I had an Afro by the time they were finished with me.”

There also was a little girl who gave Terri a hard pinch. “She was trying to get the white off of me. They don’t understand that some people are white, and some are brown or black.

“But they learn that, yes, our skin is a different color, but there’s not a lot of difference between us.” It’s a worthwhile lesson for children – as well as adults — around the world to learn.

More about Volunteering

Several Patheos bloggers have written about various aspects of Christian volunteer work:

If you’re interested in volunteering in your community, check with your church or go online, call a community service organization in your area or contact your local community center. Also:

  • Visit homebound senior citizens in your area.
  • Serve meals at a soup kitchen or through a mobile meals organization.
  • Volunteer at a local hospital.
  • Deliver regular or holiday meals to low-income people.
  • Coach or help coach a community sports team.
  • Volunteer at a nursing home.
  • Teach a class at an assisted living facility.
  • Volunteer your talents (doing handyman-type work, sewing, teaching, organizing, typing, math, art, etc.).
  • Help build a Habitat for Humanity house, provide meals for a Habitat construction crew, etc. (The organization is rooted in Christian service)
  • Mentor a child or teenager.
  • Volunteer at organizations that hold toy or food drives during the holidays.
  • Contact an organization such as the American Heart Association or the American Cancer Association to ask about opportunities to volunteer in those types of organizations.
  • Or get creative with volunteer opportunities.

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