An African mission for South Norfolk churches
An empowering mission for a struggling community in Zimbabwe struck an immediate chord with Carolyn Skittrall who supports several South Norfolk churches to bring change and growth through practical initiative and insight. Sandie Shirley reports.
Carolyn’s homeland is Zimbabwe; she knew the depths of poverty and the heights of prosperity and yearned to be involved with a mission to ease suffering and injustice but no doors opened until she moved to England 28 years ago.
When she joined the Upper Tas Valley Benefice in her neighbourhood she learnt of its strong historic links with a church mission in Africa.
“I knew it was not a coincidence; I had a knowledge of the country and its unique challenges and difficulties and it could not be ignored since God has put us here to be their family,” says Carolyn, an effective connection between the Norfolk and African churches, who helps raise awareness and rally support.
The international mission was set up by Rev James Hay Upcher almost 125 years ago and named All Saints Wreningham because his father was Rector of Wreningham and Ashwellthorpe.
Church warden and treasurer, Christine Minns (pictured right), born next door to Wreningham Church and who has been a member of its PCC for 45 years, has seen a resurgence of heart for the African Anglican mission. It came over 30 years ago, when James Hay Upcher’s great niece from Sheringham approached the church making it aware of the continuing mission in Zimbabwe and its needs explains Christine.
As a result, the benefice helped finance a new primary school and church (a delegation from Norfolk attended the church dedication service in 1997) and continues to aid hardship with encouragement and funds for a community that includes orphans and subsistence farmers.
The support helps enhance living standards, education, and health where the mortality rate is high; disease, including AIDS, Covid and malnutrition is evident, and essential needs are often unmet.
But its quest is also to bring self-empowerment in a country where there is unimaginable soaring inflation and a failing health service.
The mission near the village of Chivhu has been bolstered through ongoing communication and reciprocal visits including the arrival of Bishop Godfrey Tawonezvi in 2013 who led a Wreningham church service celebrating the international associations.
Carolyn visited four years ago and met Archdeacon Tapiwa Chatikobo, his wife Obvious and family after their growing communication. Over the years, she has helped forge benefice links with various new and changing priests. Friendships have developed by exchanging letters, parcels, telephone calls and WhatsApp messages.
Her visit highlighted the grim realities as the political situation continues to hamper welfare and reform for the poor and marginalised.
Many parents, some of them teachers, cannot afford the school fees or uniforms so children are denied an education perpetuating the poverty cycle. School resources are meagre and outdated; books are torn, faded and fragile.
Transport is non-existent, so children walk miles in the dust and heat to attend lessons while the new school curriculum is impossible to implement without expensive modern technology.
Rev Watson Mapurazini and his family joined the mission as the new priest just after Covid struck last year. His modest salary does not cover basic needs, let alone postage and internet for a mobile phone, explains Carolyn, who has been instrumental in boosting finances to cover living expenses. In recognition of her supportive liaison Watson, and his wife Esther, named their fourth child after Carolyn.
There is still crying need and big hopes for solar panels, running water, electricity, repairs, and school resources including a vegetable garden so the children can eat the produce and learn about gardening.
“But with God’s resources we can find a way to make a difference and work with them to see their potential, achieve their goals and see them rise above their circumstances,” says Carolyn, who is planning a future visit.
A fundraising coffee morning will take place on September 18, 10.30am – 12noon at All Saints Church, Ashwellthorpe.
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Pictured top are Carolyn Skittrall in Zimbabwe with Archdeacon Tapiwa Chatikobo, his wife Obvious and their son.