Beloit College Magazine

Beloit College Magazine

Fall/Winter 2014 (November 4, 2014 at 12:00 pm)

Faith and Limited Resources


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October 31, 2014 at 4:02 pm

Classes McWilliams Zimbabwe
Frances McWilliams'70 poses with students at the United Theological College
near Harare, Zimbabwe. Joining her, from left, are George, Elias, Pascal,
Clarence, Garikayi, and, kneeling, Brian.

When the Rev. Frances McWilliams’70 and her husband decided to spend a month in Zimbabwe, they felt well-prepared, despite having never been to Africa. Part of that mindset, McWilliams says, was her cross-cultural education at Beloit College. The other was that even though the couple would be far from their Breckenridge, Colo., home, they knew they would share a common faith with the community that hosted them last February at the United Theological College near the capital city of Harare.

“You go to the other side of the world, to a very different culture, different climate, different language, but they have the same theology,” McWilliams explains. At one point during her time in Zimbabwe, she participated in the ordination of a fellow Presbyterian minister.

“They used the same words and the same questions as when I was ordained in 1974 in New England. That was emotional for me,” she says.

McWilliams and her husband, Patrick, went to the southern African nation as part of an exchange set up by the Presbyteries of Denver and Zimbabwe.

The intention of the new program was to spend a month in one place and get to know people more deeply, she explains. While her husband, an English teacher, worked in the college’s library, McWilliams participated in the school’s daily worship services, taught a course in pastoral care, and counseled some of UTC’s 200 students.

Education has always been an important part of McWilliams’ ministerial career, which included serving as a chaplain of a children’s hospital in New Orleans. Now she trains other chaplains and hospice ministers. Though she majored in religious studies, she says her early classes in anthropology and archaeology and time abroad in Granada, Spain, came into play in her most recent experience.

“I will never forget something they taught us in Beloit. It was a simple thing: Don’t do what the Romans don’t do,” McWilliams recalls. “They really prepared us well for a cross-cultural experience.”

Though McWilliams has returned home, she’s staying in touch with the students and staff at UTC, who inspired her with their faith. Despite a corrupt government in a country marked by economic strife and a 90 percent unemployment rate, the community at UTC persists in moving forward with its mission of training pastors and teachers.

 “These people live by faith—they do a huge amount with small resources. They’re committed in a very deep way to what they’re doing,” she says.

In turn, McWilliams is committed to supporting them. She’s organizing a book drive, speaking to local churches about the community at UTC, and hoping, at the very least, to raise awareness of the school’s work.

“We committed ourselves to staying connected with them and telling their story,” McWilliams says.

 

—Lynn Vollbrecht’06

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