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United Methodists increase support in South Africa

Children gather at the preschool and child care ministry of Central Methodist Mission in Johannesburg, South Africa. A UMNS file photo by Faye Richardson.

By Elliott Wright*
Oct. 11, 2007 | STAMFORD, Conn. (UMNS)

The United Methodist Church is increasing support for a ministry that assists Zimbabweans who flee into South Africa to escape food shortages and economic chaos at home.

Directors of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, meeting in Stamford, launched an appeal for funds by contributing $2,388 at the conclusion of a "poverty banquet." Those contributions and a new grant by the denomination’s relief unit will assist the Ray of Hope program at Central Methodist Church and Mission in Johannesburg.

Central Church cares for more than 700 homeless people at any given time. It provides temporary shelter, food, health services, child care and a job bank to displaced people, most of whom are leaving economic and political chaos in Zimbabwe.

The United Methodist Committee on Relief announced an allocation of $50,000 to Central Church. It earlier sent $25,000 to the ministry.

The new grant will help the mission increase services to the homeless, pay utility bills and improve sanitation facilities. Hundreds of homeless people crowd the church building every night. Come evening, the church literally overflows with people sleeping on every available space.

"I can think of no group of people today who are poorer, hungrier or more in need of help than the unofficial refugees finding their way from Zimbabwe to Central Church," said the Rev. Sam Dixon, UMCOR’s chief executive. "We cannot sit back and do nothing as this situation continues to grow worse."

Mary Gates of Minneapolis, who presented information about the ministry at the poverty banquet, called the board members' offering a concrete recognition of the responsibility that United Methodists have to address the acute issue of poverty.

UMCOR is launching a general appeal among congregations and members for additional funds for Central Mission’s work with Zimbabweans. A new Sunday bulletin insert on the South African ministry will be available online at www.umcor.org within the week.

International respect

Central Methodist Church, led by Bishop Paul Verryn, is a large church in downtown Johannesburg. Once a bastion of affluence and privilege, it is today one of the major Christian social service providers in the South African city, garnering international respect.

"I can think of no group of people today who are poorer, hungrier or more in need of help than the unofficial refugees finding their way from Zimbabwe to Central Church."
-The Rev. Sam Dixon, UMCOR

The Ray of Hope approach is carefully organized. All people seeking accommodations or assistance are interviewed and evaluated based on their particular needs, such as a meal, clothing, medical attention or a job.

The ministry makes systematic efforts to find off-site temporary housing and employment for the transients. Over the last 15 months, some 3,000 people have passed through the program.

Ray of Hope predates the Zimbabwean refugee problems. It also serves homeless and refugees from Kenya, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

A meager meal was served at the poverty banquet of the mission board. Directors spent time around the table discussing ways to effectively engage in ministry with the poor. Creative response to poverty is a United Methodist mission priority for the immediate and long-range future.

Contributions to the Central Methodist ministries can be made through the Advance for Christ and His Church, the designated mission giving channel of The United Methodist Church. Checks should be made out to UMCOR and mailed to PO Box 9068, New York, NY 10087 or also can be placed in local church offering plates. Advance number 199456 should be included in the memo line. Credit card contributions can be made by calling (800) 554-8583.

*Wright is the information officer of the Board of Global Ministries.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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Board of Global Ministries

United Methodist Committee on Relief

Methodist Church of Southern Africa

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