While in Bulawayo, Theresa Thaete helped out with City Church's women's ministry.

Vision Trip to Zimbabwe Confirms Retiring Couple’s Call to Missions

By Chelsea Rollman, Oct 4, 2022

Tinashe wipes the sweat from his forehead as he forges bricks out of sand and cement with his hands. Several pairs of eyes peek out from under cardboard boxes and plastic coverings in the African bush surrounding the plot of land where he works. On Saturday, the kids living in the bush will crowd under Tinashe’s tractor shed—a slab of cement with four poles supporting a shade cover—which will become the church building in the future —for the weekly children’s ministry program.

But Tinashe’s vision for his local church goes beyond a gathering under a tractor shed. He also sees a space with a church office and library. He imagines a building where people worship with one another Sunday mornings and share each other’s burdens during weekday Bible studies. He wants to provide living quarters for orphan boys whom he can care for and train as fellow church leaders. So Tinashe toils on, assembling the church building one cement brick at a time.

This summer Larry and Theresa Thaete visited Tinashe’s church plant to get a feel for ministry there and to lend a hand. He is just one of the many pastors, interns, and leaders they met at City Presbyterian Church during an exploratory MTW trip to Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.

What’s Next?

After retiring from a career in medical research science, Larry and his wife, Theresa, saw an opportunity to explore their life-long passion for global missions and uncover what God might have next for them. They attended MTW’s 2021 Virtual Missions Conference where they heard MTW staff and missionaries say that MTW can use people at any age and stage of their lives.

“They told us that if we had a certain people group, area of the world, language, or type of ministry we were interested in to tell them and they would find a place for us,” said Theresa. Inspired by the missionaries they had met and optimistic they could use their gifts on the mission field, the Thaetes connected with an MTW candidate specialist.

Thaetes with church planters

“I view retirement not as an opportunity to stop but as an opportunity to do something different,” said Larry. “It gave us the freedom to ask ‘What’s Next? How are we going to use our time productively?’ It was a time to think about other opportunities.”

The Thaetes had ties to sub-Saharan Africa, particularly Zimbabwe where Theresa served in campus ministry for four months after she graduated college, before moving to Zambia for several years. In June 2022, they spent three weeks working with City Presbyterian Church to assess a future longer-term ministry fit.

An Impressive Church Plant

They were impressed by what they saw. The congregants presented a united front in City Presbyterian’s church planting and strengthening mission. This has not always been the case. Political turmoil riddled the country when Theresa was there in 1986—a mere six years after the country declared independence from Great Britain. Tensions ran high between Black and white nationals and relationships in the church reflected this racial division.

But nearly 30 years since Theresa’s first time in the country, God has brought reconciliation through the consistent proclamation of the gospel message of forgiveness. Amazed by God’s work in a short period of time, Theresa commented, “I didn’t notice any animosity. City Church has a white pastor training a multitude of men and women [both Black and white] as church leaders and they are working so well together!”

Under the oversight of Pastor John Stambolie, the 80-person congregation has already planted three other churches. Each of those church plants have planted or are in the process of planting another church.

Pastor John is now emphasizing member care and officer training to develop leaders who will strengthen and grow the churches. The Thaetes observed several of these discipleship ministries during their time there. Theresa discussed strategies to develop women's ministry in the presbytery with City Church's women's ministry leader. They observed Pastor John's preaching seminars and church planters. Larry and Theresa also visited several outreach ministries City Church members were instrumental in starting including an orthopedic children’s hospital, an orphanage, a home for abused girls, and campus ministries for university students. It seems many church members are involved in some type of ministry.

“It was a really fascinating experience,” said Larry. “These people are really seeking to hone their skills and serve the Lord.”

Larry teaching

Larry and Theresa witnessed an unwavering commitment to kingdom work in a country where daily life is hard. The inflation rate hit triple digits this year and most people work two jobs just to survive. Poor infrastructure and an unreliable water supply disrupt people’s ability to access basic necessities. These difficulties are amplified for those pursuing the work of church ministry. But according to Theresa there is a willingness to face hardship, pain, and suffering for the benefit of the kingdom.

For example, Tinashe is planting his church in a village with 6,000 homeless refugees, many of whom are orphans. But he couldn’t begin ministry right away without upsetting the other religious groups in this rural area. In order to make inroads in the community, he gave up a high paying job in the city to work on a local chicken farm. He lived in the chicken coop during some of the colder months of the year, regularly stoking the fire that kept the chicks warm. His hard work gained the people’s trust. He and co-leader, Anu, were able to start the children’s ministry and begin constructing the church building. Slowly, but determinedly, they are moving toward a gospel-proclaiming church. 

Meeting people like Tinashe struck a chord with the Thaetes. They were inspired by City Church’s relentless fight against the desperation in their country with the hope of Jesus.    

“People tell us they could never do what we are doing and give up the comforts of the U.S but there is no comparison to what these guys are doing day in and day out,” said Theresa. “They have made amazing sacrifices for the sake of the gospel. It is encouraging, rewarding, and humbling.

Confirming the Call

Larry and Theresa’s trip to Zimbabwe confirmed some of the things they heard at the Virtual Global Missions Conference. City Church alone can use people of all ages and from all backgrounds to come alongside them in ministry, whether it is young entrepreneurs who can teach pastors bi-vocational skills, or retired couples who can train a new generation of church leaders. Though they are in the process of working out the specifics of their future involvement with missions, Larry and Theresa are committed to helping disciple church leaders. The vision trip showed them that there is a place for their gifts, experience, and interest in Africa.

For others who are sensing a call to global missions, the Thaetes recommend going on a trip to get a better vision of what God is doing in different cultures. They believe a visit to the field is instrumental in discerning the best ministry fit. They also encourage Christians to utilize resources such as Network magazine and prayer guides to stay informed about the Church in other places.

Most importantly pray and ask others to pray for you. “Don’t assume you are too old or don’t have enough training. Don’t say ‘no’ for God,” said Theresa.

Interested in investigating your call to missions? Browse our opportunities, fill out a Get Started form, or connect with your regional hub.

Chelsea Rollman

Chelsea Rollman is a marketing specialist and staff writer at MTW. She formerly served as the girls’ discipleship coordinator at Village Seven in Colorado Springs, and as a marketing assistant at The White Horse Inn. Chelsea graduated from Covenant College in 2016 with her B.A. in English. She and her husband, Hudson, live in Atlanta and attend Christchurch Presbyterian Church where Hudson serves as the youth director.

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