Seeing a 10-year-old American girl giving an orphaned toddler a piggyback ride at the United Methodist Fairfield Children’s Home moved many to tears.
Mikayla Jaissle decided she wanted to accompany her mother, the Rev. Laura Jaissle, when she traveled to Zimbabwe to build and strengthen relations between United Methodist ministries in the African country and the East Ohio Conference.
Mikayla raised her own money for the trip. She spent time at the Old Mutare Mission at the Fairfield Children’s Home — an orphanage — and Hartzell Primary School. Her time there endeared her to the children at Old Mutare Mission, a United Methodist mission that has operated since 1899.
“Mikayla wanted to accompany me, so instead of gifts for her birthday she asked people to give for her trip to Africa University and the neighboring Old Mutare Mission. She was supported by her classmates, Girl Scouts, soccer team, friends and our church,” said Jaissle, pastor of Lakewood United Methodist Church.
Mikayla spent a day volunteering at Fairfield, where she babysat and played with the children.
Fourth-grade pupils at Hartzell Primary School met and interacted with Mikayla, who spent the next two days in class with them. She created quite a stir at the school as everyone wanted to become her “best friends.”
Teacher Nicholas Chidzikwe, who has been at the school for 17 years, said she was the first visitor his class ever had who attended school and participated in all the activities in his class. He had the opportunity to mark some of the work written by Mikayla during class.
“I learned a lot from her, especially on the second day, when she wanted to take photos of the class. She organized everyone into position and even told me where to stand. I was amazed at the way she organized us,” Chidzikwe said.
“The pupils were all excited by her presence, and they shared wonderful moments together. She also helped sweep the class. Mikayla is just good,” he said.
Mikayla found the school different from her own.
“The way they organize their fourth grade is different, and they have very large classes with about 50 children. Each level has four classes, so there are around 1,400 kids at Hartzell Primary.”
Mikayla said the children were better behaved than the children back at her school in Lakewood, Ohio.
“They are very polite and stand up to greet visitors to their classes. They also take school seriously, and the teacher could leave them alone for some time after giving them work to do,” she said.
“They all wanted to be my best friends, but I told them I will be best friends with everyone,” she said.
Mikayla brought two suitcases filled with 54 pounds of gifts for the children at Fairfield. The presents included soccer balls and underwear.
The Rev. Jaissle, who was on her second visit to Zimbabwe, said she was surprised by Mikayla.
“I have been amazed at her maturity. When I first went to leave her in class, she was nervous and scared, but she still went. At the school nobody else looked like her, I saw that she has a genuine heart. I am proud that she stepped outside her comfort zone,” her mother said.
The Lakewood pastor came to Zimbabwe for the first time last year, with a group of 15 other people from her conference.
“I had a culture shock. I met 5-year-old Rejoice, one of the children living at Fairfield, and she held onto my hand and simply wouldn’t let go,” she said.
The memory of Rejoice remained imprinted on her mind and kept tugging at her heart.
Jaissle returned in mid-October to assess needs at Old Mutare and plans to bring medical teams to assist at the hospital.
“At Fairfield, I saw children with smiles on their faces and playing with very little. I saw how the mission does amazing work with meager resources,” she said.
“Rejoice’s name challenged me to look at life differently. Rejoice has become my life song,” she said.
Jaissle said students at Africa University inspired her with their stories and the ways they are making a difference in society.
“There are more similarities than differences with United States universities,” she said.
Jaissle said the East Ohio Conference has a number of endowed scholarships at Africa University and churches have been supporting the institution for more than 20 years.
East Ohio Area Bishop Tracy S. Malone said the conference wanted to be connected to Old Mutare Mission and “explore the needs and opportunities to be in ministry with its schools, hospital and orphanage.”
“Our conference needed to find ways to be in partnership to serve and learn from one another.”
From the first trip, Malone said every member was intentionally chosen to become a champion in mission initiative.
“They were expected to return home and share their experience and dreams and what they hope for,” she said.
Since that trip, special offerings to raise money for scholarships have been collected.
The Jaissles are returning with many stories to share.
Chikwanah is a communicator of the Zimbabwe East Conference.