Zimbabwean Bishop Visits Episcopal Diocese of Fond du Lac

The goats on the roof of Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant seemed to be perfectly posed recently for the benefit of three visitors from Zimbabwe.

One of those visitors, Rev. Friar Funguyi Nyandoro, was compelled to climb atop a planter to get a better shot of the posing goats with his cell phone.

Rev. Nyandoro’s traveling companions were the Right Reverend Godfrey Tawonezvi, bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Masvingo, Zimbabwe; and his wife, Albertina.

The trio were here for a weeklong visit to the Episcopal Diocese of Fond du Lac, which includes Door County. It was the first meeting of members of the two congregations since an official relationship was established between the faraway dioceses in 2016.

“This is not an uncommon thing in the Episcopal Church, to have a companion church from diocese to diocese,” said Bishop Matthew Gunter of the Fond du Lac Diocese, who hosted the Zimbabwean visitors. “It’s our first chance to meet them in person. We’ve been praying for them, and they’ve been praying for us. It’s just wonderful to see people in the flesh that you’ve been thinking about and praying about.”

Bishop Gunter said the whole idea of the companion-church relationship is to broaden the minds of members on both sides.

“It reminds us that we belong to something more than our community, our local congregations, our diocese or even the national church – that we belong to something bigger than that,” he said.

The weeklong visit that ended with the trio’s 20-hour flight back to Zimbabwe on June 6 included visits to Episcopal churches throughout the very large Fond du Lac Diocese, receptions, dinners, a Timber Rattlers baseball game in Appleton, a boat ride and lunch at Al Johnson’s with about a dozen members of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Sister Bay.

“We are enjoying our stay,” Bishop Tawonezvi told the Peninsula Pulse when he arrived at St. Luke’s before the lunch. “We have received a very good reception from Bishop Matthew Gunter and his wife. This is the first of many exchange visits that are going to take place.”

Bishop Tawonezvi echoed Bishop Gunter in his evaluation of the benefits of the relationship between the two dioceses.

“The church is wider than just the Diocese of Masvingo and the Diocese of Fond du Lac,” he said. “We are going to enrich each other. We will be praying for one another. Prayer is vital for us as Christians, so it’s good to know your brothers and sisters elsewhere are praying for you. If they have challenges, we pray for their challenges, and they pray for our challenges.”

Bishop Tawonezvi said the challenges are many in his diocese and country.

“We have economic challenges, political challenges, health-care challenges – all the same, people are resilient. They move on with their everyday life,” he said. “People continue to come to church and pray, and people tend to support the churches as much as they can.”

Significant health-care challenges include malaria (the diocese spearheaded an effort to distribute mosquito netting because the insect carries the disease) and HIV – 13.3 percent of the population has HIV, and Zimbabwe has the highest orphan rate in the world due to the loss of parents to HIV.

Infrastructure is another major concern.

“Some of our infrastructure is dilapidated. We are hoping that situation will be corrected,” Bishop Tawonezvi said. That caused him to notice the infrastructure of northeastern Wisconsin as his entourage visited different locations.

“The road network is excellent, and the various places that we’ve been visiting, the infrastructure shows there is good management,” he said.

The bishop added that one of the biggest surprises was the pleasant weather that greeted his group.

“I thought it was going to be colder than what it is now. The weather has been very friendly,” he said, adding that it reminds him of the winter season in Zimbabwe.

“We are excited to be in this country,” he said. “The people are very friendly. We are enjoying ourselves. We’ll take back to Zimbabwe very good memories of the people we have met in the diocese.”

Rev. Barbara Sajna, rector of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, said those sentiments are shared by the congregation members who took part in the lunch at Al Johnson’s.

“They were warm and friendly and accessible,” she said. “It humanizes the whole thing; otherwise, it’s so remote and abstract. I’m hoping what people got out of this and what our bishop had in mind [is that] it’s a much bigger church. Americans tend to be perhaps a little parochial. If they haven’t traveled outside the country, they might not be as aware of the bigger picture.”

Bishop Gunter hopes it is the start of an annual exchange, with Zimbabwean congregation members visiting here and Fond du Lac Diocese members visiting Zimbabwe.

“Every time we do it, it weaves the relationship more tightly,” he said. “And if nothing else, knowing there are people in rural southern Zimbabwe praying for us here in northeastern Wisconsin, and we are  praying for them – that is just a remarkable thing to remember.”

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