A Doylestown congregation comes together to help a kidney patient

Pastor Bob Myers anoints Michael Wortell (right) and Rob Chifokoyo with oil during services at Doylestown's Covenant Church on Sunday.
Pastor Bob Myers anoints Michael Wortell (right) and Rob Chifokoyo with oil during services at Doylestown's Covenant Church on Sunday. (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)
Posted: August 26, 2014

Rob Chifokoyo didn't know what to say.

The seconds dragged on for what felt like minutes. Sitting in his living room, the only sound was his wife, Lisa, weeping next to him.

Eight months ago, Chifokoyo, 30, was facing almost certain death. His kidneys were failing, and treatment in his native Zimbabwe was prohibitively expensive.

But he'd been flown to Bucks County at the expense of Doylestown's Covenant Church, then kept alive through dialysis at a local hospital. Eventually, he'd need a kidney transplant.

That's what 22-year-old Covenant member Michael Wortell was with Chifokoyo to discuss.

"I don't know how to tell you this," Wortell said, "but I've been chosen to be your donor."

He was giving up a kidney for Chifokoyo. The news sucked the air out of the room.

As Lisa Chifokoyo sobbed, her husband thought about all he has been through since December, when he collapsed in agonizing pain.

Beyond the flight to America, the free treatment from physicians, and Covenant members opening their homes, Chifokoyo had become a father. He and Lisa named their daughter Hope, so they'd never have to go a day without saying the word.

Now, hope was arriving in another form. After what felt like an eternity, Lisa Chifokoyo turned to Wortell.

"Thank you," she said, "for giving my little girl her dad."

Chifokoyo's surgery is scheduled for Tuesday. He and his wife shared their story Sunday at an emotional service at Covenant, with Wortell by their side. Hundreds in the crowd sniffed back tears. The chamber was packed.

The service displayed just how connected Covenant and the Chifokoyos have become. He told the congregation, "We feel like you are now our family."

Chifokoyo was first introduced to Covenant and Pastor Bob Myers in 2012, when the Doylestown group was looking for a Zimbabwean mission partner. Chifokoyo ran a Christian outreach group in Harare, the country's capital, and Myers said he was drawn to Chifokoyo's passionate, grassroots approach.

After Chifokoyo fell ill in December, Myers shared his story with the Doylestown church. Members decided to fly him and his wife to Bucks County, and have continued to display their affection and generosity in enormous ways ever since.

For example, Chifokoyo's transplant surgery will be paid for from a fund the congregation established. Members raised about $270,000 in just two weeks this spring, Myers said, which should cover the procedure and extensive postsurgery treatment.

Wortell's volunteering his kidney is another example. Wortell says the action is a representation of his faith, and he speaks of his choice with unbridled enthusiasm.

"I get to give somebody a second chance at life," Wortell said after Sunday's service. "I feel such a tremendous peace about the whole situation."

Myers said the church has worked with federal officials to secure visas for the Chifokoyos, ensuring they will be able to stay in the United States as Rob Chifokoyo recovers.

Tracy Lawlor, 32, who had the Chifokoyos over for Mother's Day dinner, said this experience has buttressed her faith in her church and religion.

"Bringing people together enriches all our lives," she said.

The Chifokoyos say they can't express their gratitude enough. After Wortell revealed his decision to donate, Rob Chifokoyo said, "my heart was just so overwhelmed."

They're nervous, too, about the transplant. But both have faith and are hopeful. With some help, they've managed to overcome every obstacle in their way thus far.

"We've just seen mountain after mountain just get thrown into the sea," Lisa Chifokoyo said.


cpalmer@phillynews.com

609-217-8305

@cs_palmer

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