From Zimbabwe to the world

Brethren in Christ members celebrate African heritage and vision for mission

Aug 5, 2019 by and

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HESSTON, Kan. — The growth of early shares in companies like Microsoft and Apple pales in comparison to Jacob E. Stauffer’s 1894 investment in Brethren in Christ missions. His $5 gift at a general conference in Abilene launched church planting in Zimbabwe, which today is home to more than 300 BIC churches.

A choir performs a song in the Zulu language at the Brethren in Christ Diaspora Summer Conference July 13 at Whitestone Mennonite Church in Hesston, Kan. — Tim Huber/MWR

A choir performs a song in the Zulu language at the Brethren in Christ Diaspora Summer Conference July 13 at Whitestone Mennonite Church in Hesston, Kan. — Tim Huber/MWR

On July 13, a handful of church workers representing the fruit of that seed gathered in Kansas to extend their gratitude to those who worship in Abilene’s BIC churches today.

Meeting July 11-14 at Whitestone Mennonite Church in Hess­ton, the annual Brethren in Christ Diaspora Summer Conference collects Zimbabwean pastors, mission workers and families who now live and work in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.

Some, like Whitestone outreach pastor Ron Moyo, fled their home nation to seek asylum when their religious efforts ran afoul of the government. In Moyo’s case, he was national youth director of the BIC Zimbabwe conference and chairing an interdenominational organization helping poor people displaced by the government and political unrest.

Others work in international missions on behalf of Ibandla Labazalwane kuKristu eZimbabwe (Brethren in Christ Church), which counts 52,400 members in 302 congregations, according to Mennonite World Conference statistics.

“Sometimes it feels good to sing in our mother tongue, the way we grew up,” Moyo said of the gatherings that began in 2006. “The way we say the Lord’s prayer in our Zulu language rings true in our hearts.”

On July 13, the group of roughly 50 attendees took a break from formal worship for a ceremony of appreciation with guests from Abilene BIC churches.

“We don’t know, but we think that if it had not been for Abilene, we would not be here,” Moyo said. “So today we say thank you to our brothers and sisters in the Abilene Breth­ren in Christ churches.”

A $5 bill multiplies

The group recalled the pivotal day in 1894 that Stauffer responded to recent BIC convert Rhoda Lee’s emotional appeal on the last day of business.

“Oh, may I dare to hope that a missionary fund may be started and a systematic method of foreign work organized, and that each of us will practice economy and self-denial to swell the fund?” she asked.

The general conference took no immediate action, so Stauffer walked to the conference table — now in the BIC archives in Mechanicsburg, Pa. — and presented officers with a $5 bill. Lee picked up a man’s hat and passed it among the audience. By the end of the day, the newly minted BIC Foreign Mission Fund held $35, and Stauffer was its treasurer.

Five mission workers arrived in what was then Rhodesia in 1898. More than 100 years later, the BIC in Zimbabwe has the largest national BIC membership.

“That’s really when the Breth­ren in Christ missions was born,” said Don Vundla. “And from that they are now in 32 countries. But when they started, for many years when the Brethren in Christ thought about missions they thought about Zimbabwe.”

Jay Johnson, right, senior pastor of Zion Brethren in Christ Church in Abilene, Kan., received a plaque of appreciation from Zimbabwean BIC members including Don Vundla, center, and Bongi Richards July 13 in Hess­ton, Kan. — Tim Huber/MWR

Jay Johnson, right, senior pastor of Zion Brethren in Christ Church in Abilene, Kan., received a plaque of appreciation from Zimbabwean BIC members including Don Vundla, center, and Bongi Richards July 13 in Hess­ton, Kan. — Tim Huber/MWR

He and his wife, Karen Buckwalter Vundla — a self-described product of that first $5 — presented a wooden plaque expressing “eternal gratitude to the BIC Abilene churches” to Pastor Jay Johnson, who represented the four BIC congregations in the community today.

“It’s not because of anything I’ve done, I’m just the pastor of Zion Brethren in Christ Church in Abilene, but it’s wonderful to see everything come full circle,” he said.


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