IOWA: Swaziland companion relationship deepens; clean water and evangelism efforts for 2008

March 24, 2008

As the Anglican Communion prepares for the once-a-decade Lambeth Conference, Iowa Episcopalians are growing deeper into a companion relationship that was born at the bishops' gathering 20 years ago.

This year the Diocese of Iowa will help the Diocese of Swaziland commemorate its 40th anniversary with gifts of evangelism and clean water.

Deepening through the years
Iowa's companion relationship with the Anglican Church in Swaziland dates back to the 1988 Lambeth Conference and a meeting between then Iowa Bishop Walter Righter and the late Bishop of Swaziland Bernard Mkhabela. The conversation also included the bishop of the Diocese of Brechin in Scotland, with which Swaziland and Iowa had existing companion relationships.

Swaziland is located in southern Africa, bordered by South Africa on the north, west, and south, and by Mozambique to the east. The Diocese of Swaziland is part of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa. Slightly smaller than New Jersey, the country is home to 1.1 million people, more than 70% of whom live in rural areas.

The companion diocese relationship was approved by Iowa's convention in the fall of 1988. Soon after his consecration in 1989, Iowa's 8th bishop, Christopher Epting, traveled to Swaziland and worked throughout his episcopate to strengthen the relationship. Both the bishops of Brechin and Swaziland attended the 2003 consecration of Iowa's 9th bishop, Alan Scarfe, who made his first visit to Swaziland the following year.

Scarfe notes that the relationship with Swaziland has been "intentionally two-way" over the years with African clergy coming to Iowa to serve congregations and teams from Iowa traveling to Swaziland to assist with construction projects.

The first such trip was organized in 1998 by Ron and Toni Noah, of Grace Church, Charles City, Iowa, veterans of service with the Peace Corps. They discussed the idea of sending a team of lay people to Swaziland with a visiting priest from the country, who said he would return and discuss it with his bishop. An invitation, and a challenge, was soon received: raise $20,000 and come and build a new parsonage for the parish of St. Matthias.

Both the fundraising and the construction were a success, reported the Noahs, who said that three persons from the Diocese of Brechin also participated in the journey and construction work. That was the first of five mission trips by Iowa Episcopalians to Swaziland.

The Noahs returned to Swaziland, along with 10 other Iowans, on the most recent mission trip in July 2006. There they manufactured, by hand, more than 700 concrete blocks for a new school at the Parish of St. Augustine and began to attack a very serious health problem in the country: unsafe drinking water.

The 2006 pilgrims introduced to Swaziland a small hand-held chlorinating device, invented in Iowa. In a matter of minutes, the device can turn a tablespoon of salt into enough chlorine to disinfect a day's worth of drinking water for 100 people. The 2006 missioners delivered four units. Additional units were taken to Swaziland in 2006 by Paula Sanchini, an Episcopalian and professor of Biology at Coe College, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and three of her students.

2008: "Waters of Hope" and a gift of evangelism
In 2008, Episcopalians from the Diocese of Iowa will help the Diocese of Swaziland celebrate its 40th anniversary with gifts of clean water and evangelism.

In early May -- from the Day of the Ascension to the Day of Pentecost -- a group of Episcopalians will bike 1,000 miles around Iowa to raise funds and educate local congregations about the Millennium Development Goals.

The goal of "Waters of Hope" is to raise $150,000 to purchase additional chlorinating units for Swaziland. The ride is brainchild of the Rev. Mitchell Smith, rector of Trinity Church, Waterloo, Iowa, who was moved to action after hearing a message from the Rev. Mike Kinman, executive director of Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation, at a diocesan convention two years ago.

A group that Smith anticipates will be 12 or more riders, are raising funds through personal pledges and corporate sponsorships. They have also asked Iowa Episcopalians to tithe from the checks received as part of the government's economic stimulus effort. In addition, Scarfe has asked members of the diocese to deposit 25 cents into a special "UTO-like" box for each glass of water they drink during Eastertide.

Scarfe reports that the Diocese of Iowa has experienced an "incredible energy" in raising funds for Swaziland. In May 2007, when news of famine and drought was received, Iowa Episcopalians quickly contributed nearly $40,000. The Diocese of Iowa also gave a scholarship for education to Swaziland in the name of Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, on the occasion of her visit last fall.

Smith reports that efforts to clean up the water in Swaziland work toward three of the Millennium Development Goals: lowering child mortality rates, improving maternal health, and helping stop the spread of disease.

Participants in the 2008 Iowa mission trip to Swaziland, planned for October, will bring the newly-purchased chlorinating units and provide training for their use.

The 2008 Iowa missioners will also bring another gift to Swaziland: evangelism. Scarfe reports that he has received an invitation from Swaziland Bishop Meshack Mabuza for Iowans to participate in a major evangelism effort as part of the diocese's 40th anniversary. In turn, Mabuza has been invited to bring a small team of evangelists to Iowa next year for a diocesan-wide evangelistic mission, Scarfe reports.

These invitations grew out of an experience shared by Scarfe, Mabuza and their wives in the summer of 2005, when the four led a healing mission around Iowa. Scarfe said they witnessed many people coming forward for prayers for healing in services which ran four to five hours. He said that as a result of this experience, a healing ministry has become a regular part of his Episcopal visitations.

Tapping into passion
Scarfe reports that the companion relationship with Swaziland has energized the diocese around doing mission together and a greater sense of understanding the kingdom of God.

"Look around and see what is going on and know that the Kingdom is among us," said Scarfe, paraphrasing Jesus' answer to John the Baptist's question.

"You cannot manufacture this kind of interest, passion and energy without love and a sense of mission together," he said.

Mitchell Smith agrees. "We are tapping into the passions of people in service to others," he said.

-- Joe Bjordal is Episcopal Life Media correspondent in the dioceses of Provinces V and VI. He is based in Minneapolis, Minnesota.