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Church acts on pension needs in Africa, elsewhere

Legina Mabunda (right), a widow of a United Methodist pastor, conducts Bible classes in her garage in Maputo, Mozambique. UMNS photos by Kathy L. Gilbert.

By Kathy L. Gilbert*
March 20, 2008 | MAPUTO, Mozambique (UMNS)

It is 6:15 on a cool Wednesday evening, and people are streaming into Legina Mabunda’s garage.

Behind the tin door, people are sitting in white plastic lawn chairs and wooden kitchen chairs, and they are packing together tightly on a long bench that runs along one wall. Children cover every inch of a mat spread on the floor. At the end of the room, a small table serves as a podium for tonight’s Bible class. A woman is preparing to give a sermon, and the room can’t accommodate all those who want to hear.

Mabunda, 83, opens her home to people from her local United Methodist church every evening. She used to rent out the garage for extra income but decided the church needed the space more than she did. That’s pretty amazing, since Mabunda, widow of a retired United Methodist pastor, has been receiving only $20 a month in pension since his death in 1989.

Legina Mabunda holds a photo of her and her husband, the Rev. Elias Mabunda, on their wedding day.

“My life is very much occupied,” she says. “I like teaching, leading women and children. We really have the whole week occupied.”

Her husband, the Rev. Elias Mabunda, served the church for 40 years before he died. His widow still leads the active life of a pastor’s wife, with church-related classes in her home every night of the week. She gives lectures on church history to newcomers and is president of the program for children at Liberdad United Methodist Church.

“I teach them the importance of loving Jesus Christ so our church will benefit from our small classes,” she says. She also tells them about the importance of contributing to the church in hopes a pension fund may someday grow large enough to help retired pastors and their spouses live comfortably in their retirement years.

Dreams coming true

The United Methodist Church, directed by its 2000 and 2004 General Conferences, has been working to develop pension models to help pastors and church lay workers in annual conferences in Mozambique and elsewhere retire with dignity, hope and an adequate pension.

Even though the denomination's greatest growth is in Africa, Eastern Europe and the Philippines, pension funds are minimal or nonexistent for pastors in those areas. Many clergy have served for 20, 30, 40 or more years. When they retire, they find survival difficult.

The committee guiding the church's Central Conference Pension Initiative has approved Mozambique for the denomination's second pilot pension program. The action, taken Nov. 3, will provide additional pension benefits to 132 ordained clergy, 32 deacons and 278 evangelists. Mozambique follows Liberia, where the first pilot pension project was launched in 2006.

The Rev. Amina Isaias lives with her children and grandchildren because her pension does not cover her living expenses.

The Central Conference Pension Committee consists of members from the denomination's Board of Pension and Health Benefits, General Council on Finance and Administration, Board of Global Ministries, United Methodist Publishing House and United Methodist Communications.

Beginning in Africa, the Board of Pension is developing different models for each country's circumstances, trying to determine how best to support the different governmental and church systems and respond to cultural differences and economic situations.

The additional funding for retired Mozambique pastors and surviving spouses will begin in 2009 after the initiative raises $2 million in seed money.

"This news is just like a surprise that makes me collapse with joy," says Mozambican Bishop João Machado. "This will completely change the lives of the people who gave all of their lives to the ministry of The United Methodist Church. This is a joy."

$20 million campaign

Mozambique has a program similar to the U.S. Social Security system, in which a retiree's government benefits are based upon the length of time paid into the program. Three percent of every active pastor's salary is withheld for the federal program, and the employing church pays 12 percent of that salary into the pension program.

When funded, the United Methodist pension plan will provide an additional $100 per month to the 50 retired pastors and $70 to 41 surviving spouses in the two annual conferences. Combined with federal funds, pastors will receive up to $150 a month from the two programs. The average income of Mozambique citizens is $300 a month.

A campaign to raise $20 million is under way to fully fund pensions for retired central conference clergy and surviving spouses. More than $4.6 million has been raised, "putting us off to a tremendous start in this campaign," says Chad Peddicord, who is working with the Board of Pension as its campaign director. Peddicord is vice president of CCS (Community Counseling Services) of New York.

Life is not comfortable

Mabunda, like many pastors and widows, does not blame the church for her financial condition. She looks forward to any money the church can give her.

“I have no health benefits, and in my old age, the whole body is painful, nothing seems to go right,” she says. Getting the extra monthly payments “is heaven,” she says.

Mabunda is more fortunate than most because she receives a pension from her years as a registered nurse. She also has income from renting three rooms in her home to tenants.

"I am grateful for what I get. However, if the amount (of pension) could be doubled, I would be more comfortable," says the Rev. Francisco Mastela Macie, 83.

The Rev. Amina Isaias is a retired pastor, and her husband was also a United Methodist pastor. She served for 23 years, and her husband served 17 years before he died in an automobile accident. She lives with her children and grandchildren because her pension does not cover her living expenses.

She asked to retire at 61 after her husband’s death because she wasn’t in good health, and “a pastor’s life is hard.”

“I am happy to be retired,” she says. “I keep busy with domestic work and taking care of the house.” It comforts her to get visits from people in her former churches.

‘Grateful for what I get’

The Rev. Francisco Mastela Macie, age 83, served 27 years before he retired in 1993. He says he enjoyed his life as a pastor, and he thinks his preaching helped many people.

A missionary taught him how to garden, and that knowledge is coming in handy now that he is retired. He lives alone in a home he built before he retired. His seven children help when they can, but if he gets sick, he has no money for hospital care.

“I am grateful for what I get,” he says. “However if the amount (of pension) could be doubled, I would be more comfortable.”

For more information on the initiative, go to www.ccpi-umc.org or write to ccpi@gbophb.org. Donations can be made online or by calling (847) 866-4230.

*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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