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Church must emphasize Africa in 2005-08, bishop says

5/5/2003 News media contact: Tim Tanton · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn.

NOTE: A photograph of Bishop Felton Edwin May is available.

DALLAS (UMNS) - When Bishop Felton Edwin May looks at Africa, he sees widespread "weapons of mass destruction": HIV/AIDS, poverty, lack of education.

That's why he wants the United Methodist Council of Bishops to make Africa a mission emphasis for the church for 2005-08. May, chairperson of the Holistic Strategy for Africa Team, will bring a report to the international council's meeting next fall, detailing what the church is doing in ministry on the continent and identifying areas of need. Its many programs include the bishops' "Hope for the Children of Africa" appeal.

"I know where weapons of mass destruction are that are not hidden," May told the bishops at their spring meeting, April 28-May 2 in Addison, Texas. HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, poverty and the lack of education - these are weapons of mass destruction that are out in the open, he said.

May, who leads the church's Washington Area, wants the bishops "to affirm the need to constantly lift up Africa as a missional priority" for the church. "We dare not step back from our commitment to sub-Saharan Africa. Our investment has been great, and the dividends are about to be realized through the establishment of a strong United Methodist presence and witness on that continent.

"The weapons of mass destruction can be dismantled and shalom can come forth if we stay the course," he said.

The church's General Council on Ministries is voting on whether to affirm the Holistic Strategy for Africa as a missional priority for 2005-08. It also is voting on similar requests related to a Holistic Strategy for Latin America and the Caribbean and an emphasis on Children, Poverty and Violence. The voting, being done online, will end May 7.

Besides missional priority status, the Council on Ministries also has the options of supporting an emphasis as either a special program or a theme for the church, said Daniel Church, top staff executive. After consultation with the Council of Bishops, the ministries council would make its recommendation to General Conference, the denomination's top legislative assembly, for the next four-year period of work. The assembly convenes again next spring in Pittsburgh.

If Africa becomes a missional priority, the church's boards and agencies would be asked to prioritize their program work to support a holistic approach to ministry there, May said.

The task force has identified more than $42 million in money committed by those agencies for programs directed toward needs in Africa in 2005-08, according to a report presented by May to the council.

While beset with staggering problems, Africa is also a continent where the United Methodist Church is experiencing strong growth in membership. It accounts for 16 percent of the denomination's total members, according to 2002 figures from the General Council on Finance and Administration.

United Methodists have a long history of ministry in Africa through churches, hospitals, schools, orphanages and relief programs. Volunteers In Mission teams provide hands-on help with health care services, building construction and other ministries. The church's Africa University in Zimbabwe is training future leaders for the continent. Other programs are aimed at resettling refugees and getting rid of the countless landmines in countries recovering from civil war.

The denomination's boards and agencies have cooperated "magnificently" in programs for Africa, May told the bishops. The task force's meeting in Dakar, Senegal, last September drew more than 55 people representing the top staff executives, bishops and general church lay people to review the work being done in Africa.

He commended the general agencies' top staff executives and thanked the Board of Global Ministries for its help in pulling together information for the task force. The board would have administrative responsibility for the mission emphasis, according to a report from May.

When the task force's report is presented to the council next fall, he said, "it will stagger the imagination that we are doing far more in Africa than we had ever dreamed or imagined."

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