Daring to be Davids: Akron’s Park UMC Builds a Hospital In Zimbabwe

By Rev. Pamela Buzalka*

Onias Magwe mourned the passing of his father. His grief was compounded by the sad fact that his father had not received adequate medical care because it was simply not available in his town of Gweru, Zimbabwe.

For in this place the nearest medical services are 30 miles away; both a local and national crisis. In Zimbabwe 35,000 children die every year from preventable diseases. Due to economic hardship and political forces, there has been a 40% drop in funding for medical care.

This was one “Goliath” of a problem!

Park United Methodist Church (Canal District) – located in the poverty-stricken Kenmore neighborhood of Akron – followed God’s call to help Onias and his wife Diana, both healthcare professionals, to build a small hospital in Gweru so that others like his dear father would not die from a lack of basic medical care. Instead of crying out: “Lord, we ONLY have five loaves and two fish,” the church and the couple trusted God’s amazing provident hands to supply what was needed. Onias, Diana, and the congregation had witnessed over and over again the miracles God will do when loaves, fishes, and hearts are given freely to His care!

Magwe grew up in Zimbabwe and later moved to the United States. Through the generosity of the people of Park UMC he was able to bring his wife and children to the United States as well. Magwe ultimately earned a business degree from The University of Akron and an RN degree from Stark State College. His vision for this clinic and his passion to bring healthcare services to the community he comes from springs from that fateful day his father passed.

“I was a small boy when my father passed away. He was a long-distance bus driver and developed a back problem. When his pain became unbearable, he opted for surgery. After surgery he was discharged to his rural home where there was no sanitary care. His wound immediately became septic, leading to him eventually succumbing to the sepsis and dying. Knowing what I know now I know my father would not have died had he been given proper sanitary care. This and other similar incidents are still prevalent in Zimbabwe. This led us to ask ourselves the question: ‘Do we have to be rich to make a difference?’ We prayed for guidance from there on and came to the decision to build a clinic.”

His wife Diana added, “After one such trip we came back and shared the idea of building a clinic with our Park United Methodist Church pastor and congregation. After the church expressed its support, we used our retirement fund to buy the land and initial building materials, hence our saying at Park which says: ‘It all started with a pile of bricks.’”

Park is a small but faithful church. It was already engaged in impactful ecumenical ministry in its mission field with a community meal, community garden, free store, a medical mission to Jamaica and a 501c3 mission center. Taking on building a clinic was akin to deciding to face Goliath. The people dared once again to be Davids!

Construction started on the clinic in 2014. “It has been a paycheck-to-paycheck and donations-from-the-Park-UMC project” said Diana. “Together we have walked the journey with faith. We have followed God’s guidance throughout.”

She shared two verses that have driven the vision for this project, which bring comfort and strength to her each day:
“I will instruct you in the way you should go. I will counsel you with my own eye.” Psalm 32:8
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways submit to Him and he will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 13:5-6

“This has been true throughout our whole journey. As the whole process unfolded the greatness of God was bared upon us. With this as our guiding principle we have faith that the clinic will not only serve people medically. We all need God most when our health takes a turn. We want the clinic to be an institution where people can receive not only medical attention, but awareness of the power of the Almighty,” Diana said.

The clinic building structure is now complete. Much has been accomplished. The building has been constructed, doors and windows have been put in place, and hot water tanks installed. The builders are now working in the interior on mainly flooring and plastering. Funding is still needed to complete construction such as installing doors and electricity. There is also the need to raise funding to train staff, to procure supplies and to fund a mission trip so that the work on the hospital can be inaugurated with the shared prayer of the people of Park UMC and the people of God in Gweru, Zimbabwe.

The church has raised about $25,000 of the $200,000 needed to fund the clinic. The Mission Committee has sponsored picnics and potlucks, a little girl did chores for her grandmother to earn money to help this cause. Onias and Diana have inspired all immensely with their joyful yet sacrificial giving. Onias has given his salary and retirement savings to answer this call from God.

“We would like to thank Pastor Linda Sommerville, Pastor Pamela Buzalka, and all past and present Park UMC members for your support,” shared Diana.

It doesn’t matter how large or small a church is in the East Ohio Conference, or even how blessed it is financially, all things are possible with God when the people of God dare to be Davids!

Those who feel led to be a part of this amazing work can offer their prayers and can offer funds through the Park United Methodist Church, 2308 24th Street SW, Akron, OH 44314. Memo: Westside Clinic Ministry.

*Rev. Pamela Buzalka was the pastor of Park UMC from 2016-2020. She began a new appointment at Lodi UMC in July.