Woman on a mission has ties to both northwest Tennessee and southern Africa
By GLENDA H. CAUDLE
Special Features Editor
Francie Markham is awaiting word that it is safe to return to Zimbabwe. Her heart is there already; it is simply waiting for her body to catch up.
Mrs. Markham, sister-in-law of Elizabeth Kendall of Union City, has already made four trips to Old Mutare in that troubled nation and has her fingers — up to the elbows — in several pies there.
Dear to her heart are the children of the country that has been suffering under the heavy hand of dictator Robert Mugabe. His policies have virtually destroyed the nation’s food base and squandered its abundant natural resources. The region’s people — who call one of the most beautiful areas in the world their home — have seen their beloved country decimated and are now in the midst of a bitter election controversy that makes the area even more unsafe than in the past.
In subsequent visits since her first trip with 13 others from her local church in 2001, Mrs. Markham has worked on such projects of school improvement as repairing the chairs used at Hartzell High School in Old Mutare. The school is a natural magnet for this teacher, who retired in 2002 as English Department chairman at Dreher High School in Columbia, S.C. She says as soon as she got a glimpse of the 1930’s-era red brick school in the mission center half-way around the world, she thought of the place where she had invested 28 years teaching youthful minds in South Carolina at Dreher High School.
She describes feeling as though she had found “home” in the beautiful but tortured country bordered by Botswana, Zambia, Mozambique and South Africa.
As a child, growing up at Earle Street Baptist Church of Greenville, S.C., she was fascinated by the stories of missionaries such as the dedicated Lottie Moon, and she dreamed of striding off to the mission fields herself one day.
A commitment to her husband, Dr. Douglass Markham, their children — Aaron and Cassie — and her students in South Carolina delayed the implementation of her goal for a few years. Now, however, with her family’s blessing, she has made four such visits and is waiting on clearance for another.
Mrs. Markham never travels empty-handed to Zimbabwe. Even before she sets foot on the soil of her second home, she is preceded by “supplies” from those who are involved in her efforts on this side of the Atlantic.
The former British colony to which she journeys is beset not only by political problems but also by an AIDS-driven health crisis. When combined with the food shortages and the 1,000 percent mark-up on basic necessities, the illness seems almost impossible to control and the suffering of the people appears an insurmountable obstacle. Still, Francie Markham soldiers on.
Her supplies include items that can be used in the school — modern books, a refurbished computer lab, old blackboards retrieved from the demolition of the Dreher building and other treasurers donated by friends and family and businesses she never hesitates to approach. She has even been known to rummage through road-side piles to locate treasures “her students” at the school can use.
Concerned about the feminine sanitary practices she has seen women and girls using, this modern missionary — who believes in ministering to all the needs for which she is equipped — searched the Internet, found a pattern for making washable and recyclable pads and engaged women she knew in a project to complete 1,200 of them. Not only did she send ahead hundreds of these “unique” gifts, Mrs. Markham also took part in and oversaw the packing of a 40-foot-long cargo container that protected sewing machines and fabric that can be used by the women who people her second home to meet their own needs. These practical gifts are already on the ground in Zimbabwe.
Books and clothing, packets of seeds and more were all part of her pre-trip packing activities last fall as she anticipated a spring 2008 trip. And now, as soon as the ZANU-PF party announces the election results in the bitterly contested voting, she will head for Zimbabwe, as well.
In some of her missionary work, Mrs. Markham partners with Marsha Dorgan. Ms. Dorgan is the recent widow of a United Methodist minister, the Rev. Mickey Carpenter. Carpenter, who had served the Dyersburg District as superintendent and was currently the DS for the Paris District, died in a boating accident April 26. Mrs. Markham and Ms. Dorgan first met on a Michigan mission team and found themselves in sync on many mission issues — including their Zimbabwe work.
In addition to her efforts involving Hartzell School in that area — a place that was first opened to Christian mission work in the late 1800s by United Methodist Church Bishop Joseph Crane Hartzell — Mrs. Markham has been asked to join the U.S. board of Fairfield Outreach and Scholarship Association, which runs a children’s home in Old Mutare. (Visit the site at fosakids.org.)
To contribute to Mrs. Markham’s work, make checks payable to Trenholm Road United Methodist Church and send them to the church at 3401 Trenholm Road, Columbia, SC 29204. Those with an interest in her work may also visit with the South Carolina native and British-lit fan at firstname.lastname@example.org. She welcomes questions about her work and is delighted with offers to supply even more of her far-away friends’ most basic needs: over-the-counter pain relievers, school supplies and robes. Yes, robes.
Local pastors need robes and vestments to call attention to their work and to minister properly. Black or white graduation robes will suffice, Mrs. Markham says. Choirs in Zimbabwean churches would be delighted to don special used choir robes as they lead in worship in their congregations. These may be mailed to Mrs. Markham at 3819 Bloomwood Road, Columbia, SC 29205.
In Zimbabwe, local volunteers are cautiously unloading the large crate that arrived there some weeks ago.
Care has been used so that the articles they remove do not arouse suspicion as “bribes,” given the turmoil that surrounds even the simplest acts these days. Items arriving from America are especially subject to rumor and innuendo and they must be handled cautiously, according to Mrs. Markham.
In Columbia, this champion of the Old Mutare populace waits for word that it is safe to “come home.”
And she dreams of a peaceful future and enjoyment of the natural blessings God lavished on their country for her loved ones on the far side of the globe.