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Church pays tribute to Mark Conard…the Chabadza Ambassador

By: Taurai Emmanuel Maforo                                                    

Oct. 25, 2016 ZIMBABWE, Harare. The message of the death of the Rev. Mark Conard spread like veld fire around the United Methodist Connection, particularly on social media as pages of individuals, churches and conferences shared the sad notice. Mark was a friend and ambassador for the Chabadza program in Zimbabwe.

A memorial service held at Chisipiti United Methodist Church in Harare on Sunday 24 October followed. The Zimbabwe church held the memorial service in honour of the great work done by Mark or Mutendi as he was affectionately known. “Mutendi means someone who is a strong believer as Mark was…” said Simon Mafunda the Zimbabwe East Annual Conference Layleader. Rev. Austern Chepiri the Zimbabwe Episcopal Area Projects Coordinator concurred, “…Mark was a strong force in the Chabadza partnership.”

“Friends, many of you have been touched by Rev. A. Mark Conard’s ministry in the Great Plains and even beyond in our connectional and global church. Today we mourn the passing of our friend, brother and pastor. Please, lift up in prayers Joyce, Mark’s children, their spouses and grandchildren” said Kalaba Sanda Chali on his Facebook page. Chali is the Mercy and Justice Coordinator for the Great Plains Conference.

Charity Mukandi one of the Zimbabwe families that hosted Mark Conard on his trips wrote on her Facebook page “I have received with profound sadness and deep grief the sad news of the passing away of Rev Mark Conard may your soul Rest in Eternal Peace”

“(Mark was) A humble and visionary servant of the most high. He has lots of family in Zimbabwe. He is a loved man, hardworking and honest. May your great Soul Rest in Eternal Peace! You will be greatly missed. Gamba rerudairo! Fambai zvakanaka Baba” said Rev. Lloyd Nyarota. Such condolence messages continued throughout the day.

For the Zimbabwean church the loss gripped all those who ever came into contact with him. “Indeed we have lost a dear devoted friend, Mark Cornard” said Rev. Alan Masimba Gurupira the Administrative Assistant to Bishop Nhiwatiwa.

Mark’s ministry will forever be etched in history pages of the Zimbabwe Episcopal Area as a centre piece in the Chabadza initiative. Rev. Gurupira summarised his involvement with Zimbabwe as follows;
• He was the pillar of strength in the partnership between Zimbabwe East Annual Conference (ZEAC) and the Great Plains Conference
• He visited Zimbabwe on several occasions becoming the Ambassador for the local churches presenting the needs of the people of Zimbabwe to partners in the USA.
• He was present at the Mega event in the Zimbabwe Episcopal Area, the 2014 Ebenezer Convention and took part in the celebrations
• He assisted in the fund raising programs for Chabadza, selling wares from Zimbabwe to congregations in the Great Plains Conference. His wife, Joyce was always by his side doing this benevolent work.
• At the 2016 Great Plains Annual Conference he was awarded a silver plaque by the ZEAC, Zimbabwe Episcopal Area in honour of his tireless efforts in this ministry. As a joyful giver he was, he gave to each of the Zimbabwe Episcopal Area visiting delegation a Bible.

Making Ties

Mark visited Zimbabwe in 2007 as part of the delegation to United Methodist Communication Boards that met at Africa University. From that meeting he established solid connections with his Zimbabwean counterparts.

“I met Mark in 2007 when for the first time a UMC general agency body met outside the USA. He was a member of the United Methodist Communications Boards that met at Africa University” said Rev. Lloyd Nyarota who was the then Communication and Projects Coordinator for Zimbabwe Episcopal Area.

“We had great talk and connected at once we initiated the Chabadza partnership of the then West Kansas now part of the Great Plains Conference with the Zimbabwe East Conference. We first connected his Church with Streamview UMC where I used to attend Church.”

Reporting in his own words to the Mercy and Justice Department in his District, Mark Conard stated, “I have been involved with the Zimbabwe Partnership from its beginning. I visited Zimbabwe in 2007 as a member of the General Commission on Communications and became acquainted with some of the leadership, especially in the Mutare District.”

The determined Mark geared up with the establishment of a relationship between the clergy of the Mutare District and the clergy of the Hutchinson District. The Rev. Tazvionepi Nyarota and the Rev. Rick Saylor were the superintendents at the time, and Mark described their leadership as “essential”.

“This began with sending an offering in December 2008 as well as sending a video clip of Hutchinson District clergy singing Christmas songs (in Shona!)” he added.
Efforts were then made to partner churches or circuits in the two districts. Eventually there was an interest at the conference level, and a team was sent by the Kansas West Conference to see how a partnership between the two conferences might work.

“In turn, Bishop Eben Nhiwatiwa (and Greater) visited the Kansas West Conference. This resulted in the Chabadza partnership being established in 2010. Among other things, it was Bishop Nhiwatiwa’s idea for the partnership to be established on a district-to-district basis” Mark recalled.

The Chabadza Connection

Chabadza is a philosophy espoused by Bishop Eben Kanukayi Nhiwatiwa which implies that one gets support from others while they are also found doing something. It is within the strength of this vision that connections between Zimbabwe and sister conferences in the wider UMC have been sustained.

Chali said Mark’s involvement has been significant in a number of projects done in the Chabadza spirit since signing of the partnership in 2010.
“Mark played a significant role in our fundraising efforts to support the ZEAC Conference Office Building. Advocated support for ZOE ministry in Zimbabwe, the Fairfield Homes, and the Communication Centre at the Zimunya Skills Centre.”

“Through his leadership, the Great Plains and the Zimbabwe United Methodist partnership worked together to learn from each other. The partnership moved from transactional to relational with people, both clergy and laity itinerating in both conferences to share what God has been doing in Zimbabwe, Kansas and Nebraska.”
In addition, “Mark ignited some collaboration between St. Paul School of Theology and Africa University and United Theological College in Zimbabwe.”

Last year, I worked with Mark to create a geographically diverse group of eight persons to serve on the Great Plains Chabadza Leadership Team, which Mark led until his stepping down last June.
Many have described Mark’s shoes as those very difficult to fit in.

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