Two decades of mission work in Africa continues with construction of sanctuary

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 25, 2013

This story began more than two decades ago and it’s far from over.
It started in the summer of 1989 when Charles Newsome traveled to Africa for a safari.
During his trip, he delivered medical supplies to Mwandi Christian Hospital in Zambia, which is in central Africa.
When Newsome arrived back in Rowan County, he told members of his Sunday School class at Thyatira Presbyterian Church about the conditions he saw at the hospital. The class had decided to go on a mission trip after completing a reading of the Bible in its entirety.
A generator provided just two hours of electricity to the hospital each day, which meant doctors often treated patients and delivered babies by candlelight. The concrete building with a thatched roof had no windows.
It took two years for members of the church to raise enough money to travel to Mwandi.
“We did everything from cleaning bathrooms at the speedway to selling hamburgers and hotdogs,” Newsome said. “When we finally got the money, we went to help.”
By that time, word about the Mwandi hospital had spread to at least 22 other churches, which sent volunteers along with the members from Thyatira.
The group built a substation to transmit electricity from high-voltage lines about two miles away.
“The people were absolutely thrilled from the beginning,” Newsome said. “Can you imagine electricity for the first time?”
“Not only did we build a substation for the hospital, but for the village too.”
After the substation was complete, the group went to work renovating the hospital.
Since the initial project in 1991, more than 100 churches from across the country have joined Thyatira in doing mission work in Mwandi.
“Salisbury has been magnificent in supporting this project for such a long period of time and the Presbyterian churches have been very active in raising money and people to help.” Newsome said. “Over the years, we’ve built a hospital, a school, an orphan center and a guesthouse.
“It’s amazing to see what’s happened.”
Newsome and friends will break ground on a new project today: the construction of sanctuary with enough seating for 400 people at Mwandi United Church of Zambia.
“We’ve done so much for the hospital, but we haven’t done much for the church,” he said. “We added electricity, painted it and put fans up, but that’s about it.
“Unlike some of our churches, this church is overflowing on Sundays. That’s the driving force for a new sanctuary.”
Jimmy Hite, president the Greenville-based Hite Associates, had his architectural firm design the 5,300-square-foot sanctuary.
“We didn’t do this on the back of a napkin,” Newsome said.
Although the modern building could be tricky to construct, Newsome said the upgrade is necessary.
“Do we need to be in mud huts all our lives?” he asked. “To me, it’s just an outstanding design.”
Newsome left Wednesday to head to Mwandi with Richard Lambert and Chis Rodenbough, who will serve as the project’s construction manager.
Lambert and his wife, Joyce, lived in Mwandi from 1997 to 2000 in a house provided by the hospital.
Richard took care of maintenance and served as project coordinator, while Joyce worked in administration at the hospital.
“I took early retirement when I turned 55, but I wanted something to do,” Richard said. “Charles gave me something to do.”
Joyce took a buyout from the bank where she worked.
The Lamberts, who used to attend Thyatira and now live in Albemarle, sold their house and cars before moving to Mwandi.
“Neither one of us had anything to lose financially and we were young enough that we could go,” Joyce said. “Our parents were deceased, our children were married, there was nothing to tie us down.
“It was a good opportunity and a good decision.”
Rodenbough, who attends Pine Hall Presbyterian near Stokesdale, had gone to Mwandi in 1996.
“It was my first opportunity to go on a mission trip,” he said. “I assumed people who did that were either pastors or doctors, but I found there was a need for the talents that God gave me.”
Rodenbough, who is a self-employed contractor, ended up putting his welding skills to use during the six-week trip.
“That’s all I did the whole time I was there,” he said.
Since that trip, Rodenbough has traveled to Mwandi and Haiti to do mission work.
“At home, everything I do is appreciated by nobody. But there, everything I do is appreciated by everybody. That’s the feeling you get,” he said.
Newsome, Lambert and Rodenbough will spend some time developing a budget and finding sources to buy materials before the actual construction of the new sanctuary gets under way.
Newsome said he hopes to have the project finished in six months, but knows that might not be the case.
“We’ll work on it until it is complete,” he said.
Groups of volunteers from several Presbyterian churches will join the men in a couple months.
The American volunteers will work alongside Africans.
“The Mwandi church has agreed to supply labor,” Newsome said. “It’s always been a team effort, not just the white people from America.”
Rodenbough said the new sanctuary will be welcomed by the Mwandi people.
“People with nothing appreciate so much of everything and have so much joy in their lives,” he said. “They rely on their faith, so this will only strengthen that.”
The current sanctuary will be turned into a training center for ministers who serve 13 churches in Mwandi.
Newsome said it’s no surprise to him that Rodenbough and the Lamberts have continued to help the people of Mwandi throughout the years.
“These are outstanding individuals that give back part of their lives to make life better for other people,” he said. “Once the mission bug really gets you, you continue doing things because you see so much need.”
Richard Lambert said his outlook on life has changed since his first trip to Africa more than a decade ago.
“You look at life differently when you live on the other side of the world,” he said. “You appreciate what you’ve got and you always get more out of it than you put in.”
Rodenbough said he feels a sense of duty to remain involved in Mwandi.
“You can’t teach a man how to fish and then leave and expect everything to be fine,” he said. “We’ve got so much invested in these projects and these people, we can’t just walk away.”
Newsome said it’s been easy to stay involved in mission work.
“It’s a chance to make a difference,” he said. “There’s more to life than making money.”

Contact Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.