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African United Methodists share ideas on healing ministries
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A Web-only photo by Andra Stevens
Retired Bishop Felton E. May (right) donates a training manual to the Masala High School anti-drug program in Zambia.

July 22, 2005

By Andra Stevens*

KITWE, Zambia (UMNS) — United Methodist leaders from throughout Africa ended 10 days of sharing, training and planning at the Mindolo Ecumenical Center in Kitwe, Zambia with the exuberant sound of African drums and song.

In a moving sending-forth service on the eve of the 25th anniversary of his consecration as bishop, retired Bishop Felton Edwin May urged congregants to set aside their own “addictions to power games, prestige and separation by conference … and reach out to others, love them and treat them as God treats them, and bring wholeness and healing to their lives.”

The July 8-19 conference, “Shaping the Future with Hope, Healing and Deliverance,” brought together clergy and lay leaders from 19 of the 20 United Methodist annual conferences on the continent.

Sponsored by the Special Program on Substance Abuse and Related Violence — known in the church as SPSARV — of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, the gathering offered an opportunity for networking among the annual conferences.

Those with active ministries in the areas of alcohol and drug abuse, HIV/AIDS, counseling, drug-related violence and trauma healing shared their experiences and the resources they’ve developed. Delegates said they were going home with a renewed sense of hope and with ideas and tools that would help them nurture even more effective substance abuse ministries in their annual conferences.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A Web-only photo by Andra Stevens

The Rev. Benoit Mahamudi Ngereza is district superintendent in Kindu in the East Congo Conference.

“This conference has been very beneficial because all the issues we discussed here are part of the situation we are living,” said the Rev. Benoit Mahamudi Ngereza, district superintendent in Kindu in the East Congo Conference.

Ngereza’s annual conference represents in microcosm the spectrum of suffering for which poverty and conflict are root causes in Africa. The United Methodist Church is 25,000 members strong in the area, with 52 churches in Kindu town and the rural zones.

Kindu was at the center of a war between Rwandan forces and Congolese youth, who formed militia groups called the Mai Mai in response to the occupation of their country by outsiders. Between 1997 and 2005 — with only one year of peace — villages were razed, women raped and children left parentless and destitute. United Methodist mission centers and churches were destroyed.

Now the war is over. The youth who, emboldened by drugs, destroyed so much are back as part of the church family, singing in choirs and attending youth groups. The people are trying to rebuild their lives and relationships.

“I’m working with women who have experienced rape, and these women have been infected with numerous sexually transmitted diseases,” said the Rev. Mwayuma Ayenda, the women’s ministry coordinator in the annual conference. “If a woman admits she has been raped, her family will reject her, and if she is married, her husband will throw her out into the street. This conference has given some ideas of how to help these women, especially concerning HIV/AIDS.”

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A Web-only photo by Andra Stevens

The Rev. Mwayuma Ayenda is the women's ministry coordinator in the East Congo Annual Conference.

Linda Bales, an executive with the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, noted that the annual conferences are doing a lot of work to address issues of drugs and HIV/AIDS, poverty and violence, often with few resources.

The challenges confronting annual conferences in the Democratic Republic of Congo are similar to those confronting churches in Angola, Burundi, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Church and Society is one of the agencies that collaborates with and supports the work of SPSARV, and Bales said stories like those from East Congo are persuasive ammunition for its advocacy efforts.

“I had a number of conversations with some young women about the possibility of doing some joint training around HIV/AIDS, sexuality and domestic violence,” she added. “But the greater benefit to being part of this conference are the stories I’m taking back that will open people’s eyes even more to the issues here in Africa.”

Before leaving the conference, delegates laid out the action plans they’d developed to take home to their leadership and churches. Many chose to focus on awareness, education and counseling, with a particular emphasis on youth and young adults. Others plan to tackle HIV/AIDS prevention and interventions to support people living with AIDS.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A Web-only photo by Andra Stevens

The Rev. Cynthia Abrams stands outside Masala High School with two students who recently quit smoking marijuana.

“The church is critical, and these action plans that are coming out with peer counseling and other programs will indeed be instrumental in providing accessibility, especially to those who cannot afford to pay,” said the Rev. Cynthia Abrams, a Church and Society executive.

A key outcome of the conference is the formation of a United Methodist African Task Force on Substance Abuse and Related Violence. The Rev. Vienna Mutezo from the Zimbabwe Area was elected chairperson of the task force. She will be supported by a team that includes Monga Joseph Ilunga of South West Katanga as vice chairperson, Beatrice Fofanah of Sierra Leone as treasurer and João Manuel da Graça of West Angola as secretary.

The task force is the administrative arm of the substance abuse prevention work that has been launched in Africa. Its mandate is to equip, support and document the ongoing work of the annual conferences.

*Stevens is director of information and public affairs at United Methodist-related Africa University in Mutare, Zimbabwe.

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

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