Missionaries: Roy and Kathi Merritt

THE HISTORY……………The Namwianga Mission was started in Northern Rhodesia (now called Zambia) by Roy’s father, Dow Merritt, back in 1926.   The original plan was to accompany George Benson, (the future president of Harding College) to China, but the country’s new Communist regime quickly squelched the idea as all missionaries were ordered to leave the country.  The Bensons subsequently traveled to the Philippine Islands, whereas the Merritts ventured to Africa to join others to the work in Rhodesia, Africa.  

Originally, the area was three different farms, the first of which was named
Eureka.  It was owned by the Scott (missionary) family that had a private English speaking school there that catered to mainly “white” farmer kids and children of the missionaries.  A primary school for the native black children was built during the 30s which was one of the first works established.  Although apartheid was primarily in the Republic of South Africa and not in Rhodesia, the social awareness of the time was to encourage black children not to go to school with the whites.   Since this was a sign of the times worldwide, the schools were segregated. Thankfully in time, all of this would change.

The two other farms were owned by other missionary families, the Browns and the Merritts, and were consolidated sometime during the 1940s and 1950s.   The entire consolidation of property was around 3000 acres.   Dr. Benson returned back in the 1960s and he and brother Merritt raised enough money to build a high school.  Through their tireless efforts, Mr. Merritt and Dr. Benson kept the school going by their encouragement and constant fund raising.  The seed had been planted for greater things to come!

PASSING OF THE TORCH………………..Roy, who was the fifth of eight children, was educated in Zambia and came to Harding in the mid 1960s for his college education.  While studying at Harding he became the minister of the Balch / Midway Church of Christ in northeastern Arkansas.  I have fond memories of him preaching at our congregation and eating at our house many times.  He and my dad, Jerry Carlew, Sr., remain the best of friends. (I shall never forget the time he came back to our congregation for a visit, after he had returned from Zambia, wearing native clothing with a large head dress.  I was a teenager at the time and was quite surprised at his appearance; but we all were impressed by his genuineness……that was Roy Merritt.   He wanted to show us what his world really looked like and we definitely took notice of that.)  He returned home to Africa to begin his work and married Kathi Ann Brown Kumalo. 

THE WORK CONTINUES……………Roy returned to the Namwianga Mission sometime in 1968 / 1969 to teach at the high school and has been there ever since.   He has continued the work of his father by converting the original private school building into an orphanage.  It is called Eric’s House which houses his family of three, plus five foster children and thirteen others.  He has since built two other “baby” houses with a third currently under construction.  (Click here to view construction progress of the baby house.)  A fourth baby house is planned for the future with the funding coming from a couple from Searcy, Arkansas, whose aunt was the first wife of Dow Merritt.  The house will be named Alice’s House and will more than likely be the last orphanage built.  The four houses will be able to take care of 100 or more infants.   It costs approximately $75.00 per month to fully support a child.

Additionally, a hospital clinic has been built and a radio station under construction is soon to be completed.

There is also a preacher’s college there (named after Dr. Benson) which has trained many of the preachers working in other parts of the country.  One of those preachers is Jerry Sullins in Livingstone who is another missionary work the Prescott congregation supports.  Many of the churches and missions have been started by young men who have come through the Preacher’s School as well as other professionals who have come through the Namwianga High School to be policemen, nurses, and etc. Although a number of these high school graduates are not specifically preachers, they are trained in the Bible and influence as well as teach the New Testament to people they come into contact with.   Zambia has been a huge success for Christianity in Africa and these schools have been major contributors.
Each summer, two groups of American doctors and dentists travel to the area to help with the enormous medical needs of the people in the hard to reach areas and teach the Bible.  Children are being taught, people are being baptized, and the local churches are being strengthened.   The newly trained Zambians serve as helpers.

DESPAIR………………How chilling it was to receive a report last year that featured names…….just names.  The list of names went on and on of children who were part of the orphanages at Namwianga.  At first glance, it appeared to be the new arrival of the infants at the baby houses and I thought how wonderful it must be to be able to accept and take care of so many orphaned children; and then teach them about Christ and give them the hope of a new life.   But as the report came to a conclusion, I learned that this list was not about new arrivals but a list of the infants who had passed away with the AIDS virus.   The stark reality is that one out of three Zambians today is HIV positive, and that many of the orphaned children have already lost their parents to this dreaded disease.  The struggle is long and difficult, but through education and Christianity the battle can be won.

FUTURE…………..The Prescott Church of Christ started supporting this work in late 2006 and has now made the Namwianga Mission a permanently funded work.  Extra funds became available and we decided to support brother Merritt because we knew it would be money well spent.   The decision was simple since we were happy to be a part of the success of this missionary work.

By: J. C.  for Georgia Estes (sister of Roy Merritt)