TNC Team Builds Relationships As Well As Clinics
Recently returned from a trip to Zimbabwe, Africa, Dutilh Church’s The Nyadire Connection (TNC) mission team has its roots in a Sunday morning small group that met seven years ago.
In 2013, Ralph Duckworth, who led the June 2019 mission team, was part of a men’s group that gathered weekly to read and pray together. They were finishing up a book about praying when the last chapter shifted focus to the author’s experiences in Africa. Reading about the lack of clean water “tugged at all our hearts,” said Duckworth. He kept thinking about people in Africa without access to clean water, and had a sense that the Lord was calling him to do something about it.
Shortly afterward, through his participation in another Dutilh small group, Duckworth had a conversation with Tim Wesley in which Duckworth shared that he had a dream about drilling water wells in Africa. Wesley responded, “Why does it have to be a dream?” Duckworth accepted that question as a challenge.
Wesley’s words prompted Duckworth to reach out to Drew Harvey, who he contacted through a colleague of Duckworth’s wife, Jan. Harvey was involved with TNC through his church, Christ United Methodist Church in Bethel Park. Harvey explained about TNC’s work at the Methodist mission in Nyadire, Zimbabwe, and said that TNC could use help with the rural medical clinics affiliated with the hospital at Nyadire.
In 2013, Duckworth first traveled to Nyadire to visit the clinics. Duckworth observed people being treated at clinics without running water, reliable electricity, or a safe way to store medications. The medical clinics lacked a way to separate people with infectious diseases from women seeking prenatal care or delivering babies. Despite these challenges, Duckworth also witnessed the care and professionalism of the nurses.
“They were so dedicated,” Duckworth said, “and they would show up—in the middle of the bush—every day, in starched white uniforms to care for their patients.” After seeing the needs first-hand, Duckworth’s focus shifted.
“The water well concept morphed into ‘Let’s rebuild the whole clinic,’” Duckworth said. He remained in conversation with Wesley, who was closely involved with Dutilh’s Men’s Ministry and who way key in developing the plans to rebuild the clinic. The Men’s Ministry and others at Dutilh raised funds to support a substantial portion of the $300,000 needed to rebuild the first medical clinic in Chikwizo, Zimbabwe, which was completed in 2014.
Duckworth said that Dutilh Church’s support of TNC was strong from the very beginning. Pastor Jim Gascoine was particularly supportive among the church’s leadership team, and Debbie Little—now a TNC leader herself—has been closely involved for many years. Dutilh’s music ministry, children’s programs, and preschool have also offered support. Dutilh preschool’s April 2019 Hop-a-Thon raised $1,200 to purchase bicycles that the TNC mission team delivered to children in Nyadire to help them travel to school.
“Dutilh’s support of TNC and the rural clinics has been amazing in the way it has brought together people from across the entire church to support our brothers and sisters in Zimbabwe,” Duckworth said.
In 2014, Wesley traveled to Nyadire to assist with construction of one of the clinics. In 2016, Duckworth returned to Nyadire and attended the dedication of the second clinic in Nyahuku. He also traveled to the third clinic in Dendera on behalf of Dutilh Church, whose congregation had continued to support TNC’s efforts.
Duckworth said it was Pastor Tom Parkinson in 2016 who suggested putting together a mission team from Dutilh Church to travel to Nyadire. Though Duckworth did not imagine himself a mission team leader, Pastor Tom kept encouraging him to try.
“Five years have passed since Dutilh Church helped complete the first clinic. While that is a great accomplishment, there is more to do. We needed to send a team to Nyadire to breathe a second wave of energy into the mission trip,” Pastor Tom explained. “Ralph’s passion for this ministry, and his relationships with the church of Zimbabwe, made him the right person to lead the trip.”
In 2018, Duckworth and his fellow TNC missionaries held their first organizational meeting. The trip involved “a lot of planning, a lot of meetings,” Duckworth said. “It was good because people got to know each other and bonded during the preparations.”
The trip itself was life-changing not only for the residents of Nyadire by improving access to quality medical care, but also for the members of Dutilh’s mission team.
The Ekstam family—Pete, Tracy, Ava, and Alaina—had been sponsoring a student in Nyadire for several years and became more involved when Ava Ekstam chose TNC’s Girl Empowerment Program for her senior project in high school. When the opportunity arose to be part of the mission team, it seemed like a good fit for the entire family.
Ava Ekstam explained, “One thing that I learned on this mission trip was to not worry! I worry a lot whether it’s about my grades, what my plans are for the day, or what I am going to study in college….This trip made me realize how silly that is! It opened my eyes to see how grateful and thankful I should be instead of worrying. The people of Nyadire basically have nothing. But at the same time they have everything because of their overflowing joy, and faith in God. They taught me how if I am more thankful for what I have there is no need to worry. God has our whole lives already planned out, so there is no reason to ever stress! That’s easier said than done, but this trip taught me how to just embrace every day!”
Tracy Ekstam reflected, “One of the biggest lessons I learned on this trip is to just be. Life at Nyadire was so quiet – meaning no one was rushing from one activity to the next, or on a crazy schedule to get things done. Most of the day revolves around completing what you can when you have power and water. There are of course school schedules and work schedules, but no one was too busy to talk to you.”
For Dana Bucci, the trip offered the chance to forge new relationships. Bucci said that her favorite memories include getting to know some of the people of Nyadire, particularly the women. Bucci was struck by people’s friendliness, and by the commonalities shared among people from different cultures.
“Out in the bush, when someone asks you to help them dig, this is an offer to shoot the breeze—maybe just a shovel or two, then to share conversation,” Bucci said. “They have the same problems we do, but on a much larger scale, such as health problems, finances, relationships, addiction, not knowing Jesus.”
For Alaina Ekstam, some of her favorite parts of the trip were meeting the local kids and interacting with them at school, at the Home of Hope orphanage, and at VBS. She added, “Also getting to know the sweet ladies that took care of us for two weeks, Savey and Greater! They were so funny and sweet.”
Kate Gascoine has supported TNC for several years and was interested in seeing first-hand the projects and people the church has helped. Initially, Gascoine had concerns about wanting to make sure that the work she and her fellow missionaries were doing was actually helpful to people on the ground in Nyadire. Gascoine said one thing she wants to make sure people know about the community in Nyadire is that “people are very resilient in making successful lives for themselves despite the many hardships in Zimbabwe, many of which have been caused by government entities.” Gascoine continued, “Dutilh/TNC is doing great work, work that honestly can save lives.”
The Ekstam family shared similar sentiments and said, “The people in Zimbabwe are some of the most hardworking, kind, faith-filled people we have ever met. The trip opened our eyes to so much, especially how strong their faith and hope in God is. The people in Zimbabwe live a modest lifestyle and are so thankful to God for everything they have. It was humbling to see this, when we have so much that is sometimes taken for granted and we lose sight of God’s presence in our life. Know that any support you provide to TNC is so well received and appreciated.”
Pastor Jim said, “One of my goals was to meet the leadership at Nyadire, and I got the opportunity to connect with several. My impressions: this is a dedicated group of leaders, resilient in the face of scarcity, very resourceful, and able to do an amazing amount of ministry with the resources they have on hand.”
For Duckworth, leading a mission team was a new experience—one that he believes is important for the life of Dutilh Church.
“Being involved in this TNC mission trip has helped Dutilh to be outward-focused. It’s easy to stay inclusive. To have 13 people represent Dutilh Church 9,000 miles away—to make those relationships—helps us focus on loving God, loving others, and loving to serve in a way that is both external and international,” Duckworth said. “I would hope that this trip is just one more step for Dutilh on our path of loving others, a continuation of our journey as a Christian church.”
Pastor Tom said, “My prayer is that this completed trip will inspire our church to grow our commitment to TNC. I want to see our church help build the next clinic in Mashambanaka, send additional teams to Zimbabwe, and by God’s grace I would love to see a team from Zimbabwe come here, so our whole congregation can learn of their passion for the Lord.”