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Bishops' appeal changes lives in Africa - and the U.S.

5/1/2003 News media contact: Tim Tanton · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn.

NOTE: Photographs of the bishops quoted in this story are available.

DALLAS (UMNS) - Thousands of people in the Democratic Republic of Congo -- most of them children and teen-agers and their families -- can attest to the power of the United Methodist Church's "Hope for the Children of Africa" appeal.

The appeal, launched by the denomination's Council of Bishops in 1998, has resulted in five new schools in the denomination's North Katanga Area, according to Bishop Nkulu Ntanda Ntambo, who leads the churches in that region. Those schools, erected since 2000, are educating more than 4,000 young people, from primary school children to college students.

"There is hope now," Ntambo told United Methodist News Service. "We are living that hope."

The North Katanga story was one of many shared in a report on the appeal at the international United Methodist bishops' gathering April 27-May 2 meeting in Addison, Texas. The appeal grew out of the Bishops' Initiative on Children and Poverty.

"When we as a council proposed the appeal, we set for ourselves a very ambitious goal: $12 million," said Bishop Elias Galvan, chairperson of the council's Hope for the Children of Africa Committee and leader of the church's Seattle Area.

Galvan said he is confident that the goal will be met by the time the church's four-year period of work toward it ends in 2004. He noted that $10 million has been raised already, with $8 million donated through the Advance Special for the appeal, and the remainder given directly from European and U.S. conferences to their counterparts in Africa.

The council approved three recommendations from the committee. The first reaffirmed an earlier decision by the bishops to give priority to building two schools for children in each of the church's African episcopal areas. The committee asked that the committee make future decisions regarding undesignated money based upon recommendations from the bishops of Africa.

In each of Africa's episcopal areas, at least one school is finished or is about to be finished, and in some cases, two have been built, he said.

Two schools had been envisioned for North Katanga in 2000, when the council gave the church in that area $500,000. The results exceeded expectations, with the opening of a primary school, secondary school and three colleges.

Because of the denomination's emphasis on schools, 10 of Africa's 11 episcopal areas now have equipment for making building blocks not only for schools but also churches and parsonages, Galvan said.

Besides changing lives in Africa, the appeal is changing the lives of people in places like Missouri, where 362 churches have formed covenant - and personal - relationships with United Methodists in Mozambique. Those ties began forming a year before the appeal was actually launched.

"We've raised $1.3 million over the last seven years," said Bishop Ann B. Sherer, who leads the church's Missouri Area. Last year alone, the Missouri churches sent $250,000 to Mozambique, she said.

The Missouri churches pledge $900 for every pastor in Mozambique. The money goes to Bishop Joao Somane Machado for allocation where needed. Sherer's area supports the entire staff and the district superintendents in the southern African country. Missouri congregations also are working to support the pensions of retired pastors, which are currently $35 a year.

The relationship has changed the Missouri congregations. "It's made Mozambique part of our family," Sherer said.

A staff person on each side of the Atlantic keeps the information flowing back and forth. "We know when there's a death in the church. We know when there's a train wreck. We know when there's a flood," Sherer said.

"It has been life-changing for us," she said.

Ntambo reported that his pastors once had to walk 10 days to get to the annual (regional) conference gathering. Today, travel time is down to one or two days, thanks to the gift of 2,000 bicycles from other conferences. Churches also have enabled North Katanga to buy 243 cows, ensuring not only a source of nutrition but income for many people.

Bishop Robert Fannin of the Birmingham (Ala.) Area and Bishop Alfred Johnson of the New Jersey Area shared accounts of how their churches are responding to the appeal. Johnson's congregations have forged a close relationship with churches in Liberia, while United Methodists in Alabama are doing the same with their brothers and sisters in Mozambique.

In an interview after his report to the bishops' council, Galvan said the most important objective of the appeal has been establishing relationships between Africa and the rest of the United Methodist Church. That is key to educating people about Africa, and he urges churches to continue emphasizing partnerships.

"Every conference has raised money," he said, "but not every conference has established a partnership."

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