October 11, 2012 by Kristen deRoo VanderBerg / Topics: 50th Anniversary, Kristen deRoo VanderBerg
On their first morning in Edmonton, AB, Justin Kadyeni, William Mawalela, and Elizabeth Banda woke up to snow. “It was really very fitting,” said Tracy Apoll, of Edmonton about the three visitors from Zambia, “that they’d wake up to a blanket of snow on their first morning here.”

The three individuals from Madzimoyo, Zambia had arrived in Edmonton at the beginning of November in 2010 for a two week visit with members of The River Community Church. The purpose of their trip was to get to know their Edmonton brothers and sisters and learn to understand their life better. While the snow only lasted two days, it was a memorable introduction to Canadian life.

This visit was part of a “global partnership” between the Edmonton church and the Madzimoyo Community Board – a group of Madzimoyo residents who are working to improve life in their 100 communities. It was the fifth visit between The River and Madzimoyo, but it was the first time that those from Zambia had come to Canada. 

“One of the reasons the board came here, is that it has been easy to say and understand what The River has been giving to the partnership,” explained Apoll. “It seems shallow, but it’s been a challenge to know what the Madzimoyo community can give us. We have been challenged with this in Edmonton and the board in Madzimoyo has also been challenged. Part of the reason they came here was so that they could meet us, find out who we are, and help us all understand what they can bring to the partnership.”

This is a great embodiment of what World Renew’s Global Partnership program is all about. The program began in 2006 when various Christian Reformed Church agencies noticed a desire on the part of churches to be more connected with ministry.

“We had received a number of requests from churches to engage in a deeper connection with churches or communities around the world,” said Crystle Numan, who managed the Global Partnerships program from 2008-2009. “They wanted something more than simply a work team or single service and learning visit. In early 2007, representatives from Christian Reformed World Missions, Back to God Ministries International, Partners Worldwide, and World Renew began meeting. They developed jointly held values of spirituality, relationship, reciprocity, and guarding against dependence.”

The goal of this new venture was to form partnerships between churches or groups in North America and churches or communities elsewhere in the world in order to deepen their connection as Christians, better educate each other about what life is like in other cultures, and become involved in each other’s efforts to make our communities closer to the vision that God has for us. 

The various agencies worked together to develop joint materials so that the partnerships they provided to churches would offer similar approaches and benefits. 

The partnership between The River and Madzimoyo community began in 2007, when Tracy Apoll and Ian Gray, who had served with World Renew (known as CRWRC from 1962-2012) for three and a half years in El Salvador and Honduras, were part their church’s Ministry Lead Team and wanted to find a way to help the congregation engage in something international and really get invested in it. 

They also hoped that a partnership would help the congregation better understand international justice issues in a more real and concrete way.  They e-mailed World Renew staff and were directed to the Madzimoyo Community Board.

We spend time with people getting to know them and building relationships with them. It is an informational, relational and educational trip. After every trip, one or two people come back and really want to get engaged.

In 2007, a representative from The River was in Africa so she went to Madzimoyo to introduce the church and talk about the possibility of a partnership. The Madzimoyo Community Board was receptive to the idea.

“From the beginning for both parties this partnership was about getting to know each other and learn from each other,” said Justin Kadyeni, a staff member with RCZ. “It was not like other organizations where it is about a donor giving and a community receiving.  This was about developing a relationship and knowing what either side was doing and how we view God and how we can get more people involved in doing God’s work and how to be good stewards of what we have.”

In 2008 a group from The River went to Zambia to meet with members of the Madzimoyo Community Board.  During this visit, both parties put together a joint mission statement and decided on joint values around the partnership. They also agreed to different actions they could take to support each other.

The River agreed to pray for the Madzimoyo Community Board’s work, provide funding for a video camera that Madzimoyo residents could use to send video clips to Edmonton, and provide funds for capacity building initiatives and income generating activities including bicycles for community volunteers and seed to support the Madzimoyo Community Board’s agriculture and HIV and AIDS programs in the region.

The Madzimoyo Community Board agreed to pray for The River Community Church and its church plant in Edmonton. They also agreed to host teams from The River who come to Zambia each year. Since then, the relationship has been building and growing each year.

“We have sent five teams to Zambia since that initial exploratory visit,” said Apoll. “The teams go to meet people and see the projects that the board does. We spend a couple of nights in communities making peanut butter together, learning how to cook, sweeping, and getting water. We visit agriculture projects and see what the communities are doing  to care for orphans and vulnerable children. We spend time with people getting to know them and building relationships with them. It is an informational, relational and educational trip. After every trip, one or two people come back and really want to get engaged.”

The relationship has also had a profound impact on members of the congregation.

“One thing we’ve learned from the partnership is that our sense of community is really lacking here,” said Apoll. “We have big yards surrounded by big fences and we don’t know our neighbours. One guy in our church said that after seeing the community in Zambia, he started to talk more with his colleagues at work. Instead of just making small talk, he started to actually ask questions about his coworkers’ family and well being.  What he found out was that one of his coworker’s had a wife with back problems, she wasn’t able to work, and the family was struggling. He never would have found out about that pre-Zambia. He was able to cook a meal for that coworker and bring it to work. His coworker was in tears because no one had ever done something like that for him before.”

Apoll said that church members are also learning to be more open about their faith, and are reading the newspaper and doing their shopping in a more intentional and alert way. 

“They’ll ask, ‘is it fair trade? What are the deeper issues? How will this impact our partnership or our friends in Zambia?’ They are looking at the world with fresh eyes,” she said.

In 2010, The River and the Madzimoyo Community Board decided to switch roles so that the Zambian representatives could come to Canada, to get to know about life in North America, and offer their advice and support in return. Similar to trips to Zambia, the congregation at The River took their guests to visit local schools, farms, clinics, and non-profit organizations. They also invited the guests to worship with them, volunteer at a local homeless shelter, speak at a University chapel, and participate during a Sunday service. 

“We got to take part in sharing the communion,” said Kadyeni. “We were all in different spots sharing the bread and wine with our fellow Christians. That to me and the way we were received it was so good. There wasn’t that distinction of being Africans separate from the rest. Everyone wanted to learn more from us. It humbled me so much.”

“William, Elizabeth and Justin did the message in church on Sunday,” added Apoll.  “It was interview style. Pastor Bruce asked William Mawalela about his observations of life in Canada.  He said, ‘I’m staying at Ian and Tracy’s house and I have yet to meet any of their neighbors. You guys do not have community. We may be poor but we know who we are. You people, you don’t know who you are. You try to buy things and get involved in this and this to define who you are.’ Feedback like that has been really good.”

“When we return, we will report back on what has happened,” said Kadyeni about his time in Edmonton. “After discussions with William and Elizabeth about the spiritual aspect of our friends here, we will keep our friends in prayers for the church to grow.”

“It will also shape the next trip for those that come to Zambia,” he added. “What we don't want is for Canadians to have the perception that we are in need of this, and they are providing that. They should look at us as friends. Of course there can be challenges and as friends we assist each other, but the perception shouldn't be one-sided"

Today, World Renew is facilitating 27 such Global Partnerships with churches in the United States and Canada.  To find out more, please contact Iona Buisman or Wendy Hammond.

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