The Rev. Alson Nkala, left, and evangelist Litu of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Zimbabwe Bulawayo City Centre congregation.
Rich Duncan is the ELCA’s director of Mission Funding.
I have been a fundraiser for over half my professional life. I had a football coach once tell me he could never ask people for money. I responded that I could never place the future of my career on the athletic performance of 18 to 24 year olds. He smiled and said, “We are all called to serve in different ways, aren’t we?”
I’ve been blessed to work with some incredible people that wanted to make a difference – people moved to participate in the joy of giving, caring people of various levels of financial capacity. Everyone can make a difference, and it takes everyone to make a difference. That became more real to me this month than it has been ever before.
I was one of the ELCA team to visit Zimbabwe, Zambia and Tanzania to see the work of our Lutheran partners in those counties. It is humbling to walk with these colleagues and share in their joys and challenges. One of the projects the ELCA and Evangelical Lutheran Church in Zimbabwe have worked on together is the Bulawayo City Centre congregation. This new facility will be a church that will hold 1,500 people and serve an entire community with evangelism, malaria and HIV and AIDS awareness outreach.
I have NEVER sat through a three hour church service – until that Sunday. For a person with self-diagnosed adult ADD, I have a difficult time sitting through an hour-long service let alone a three-hour marathon of Bible study, song, sermon and fundraising. It went incredibly fast. I was enthralled with the joy, hope and celebration of Christ in their lives.
We were told that there is 90 percent unemployment in Zimbabwe. And this community of Lutherans reaches out to a population in an urban area as well as those they call marginalized at “Old Nic Mines.” So, those we would consider marginalized spend their outreach money on others. It is truly humbling and reassuring that Lutherans understand outreach and practice it to a point of sacrifice.
After the service the delegation from the ELCA and the Bulawayo City Centre congregation went to the building site for the new facility. We looked at plans. We walked the property, and we saw a vision of the future together. Then we held hands and prayed for the future of the church. We prayed for each other and our ministries. Afterward the man to my immediate right came up to me with an envelope in hand. He wasn’t at the service but was at the meetings afterward. He explained that he was a part of the outreach of the Bulawayo City Centre congregation as an evangelist. He then said he felt a “surge of energy” when he held my hand during the prayer. He felt called to give me the money he had collected. He said, “Here is $50. I want you to have it for your mission and ministry. God has told me to give this to you.”
How humbling. I was there to find ways to learn about and find financial support for their ministry and he was trying to give me money for the ELCA. Fifty dollars is a small fortune to this man. I have never turned down a cash gift – until that day. I told him to give it to their pastor for the City Centre project because that is what I would do with the funds. I had to walk away to compose myself. This was an amazing way to be introduced to the selfless, giving nature of these faithful Lutherans representing our faith in action better than most of us.