TOP PHOTO: Rev. Randy Cooper (right) and his United Methodist clergy friend, John Paul, at the East Congo Episcopal Area Conference Round Table. BOTTOM PHOTO: Cooper (left) and Kinshasa, daughter of Bishop Unda Yemba Gabriel.
Two Martin First UMC youth heard Bishop Bill McAlilly of the Nashville Episcopal Area announce last year at the Memphis Annual Conference his goal of raising $87,000 for the East Congo Annual Conference. Our two young people returned to Martin, Tenn., and challenged our congregation to raise $5,000. I thought the goal was beyond our reach, but we surpassed it.
Our interest in the Congo continued. We invited Bishop Unda Yemba Gabriel of the East Congo Episcopal Area to our church this past summer. He preached for us on Pentecost Sunday in June when 400 Martin First UMC and McCabe UMC (also in Martin, Tenn.) people crowded into our sanctuary for a service that lasted nearly two hours. We were blessed by Bishop Unda’s presence and spirit.
Four days later I received an email from Bishop Unda, inviting me to come to the Democratic Republic of the Congo to witness firsthand the work and presence of United Methodist people in his land. I accepted the invitation in the full knowledge that those two young people and the youth group of my church deserved all the credit for this unfolding chain of events.
My journey to the Congo in August 2014 was a mixture of adventure, heartbreak and inspiration. Adventures aside, let me share with you a few of those heartbreaking moments and one inspiring moment that has been written onto my heart.
It is one thing to see dying children on television during the evening news. It was quite another to stand in hospital rooms in Kindu and Wembo Nyama, Congo near children who were dying from dysentery as their silently-grieving mothers comforted them. Also, I shook hands with United Methodist preachers who don’t own a Bible and who can’t afford a bicycle. I met a wonderful pastor who lived in forests with his people during the recent civil war in order to escape militias who intended to kill, maim, rape and destroy. I heard a widow of a Methodist pastor express heartfelt gratitude that the new Methodist pension program would keep her from the dangers of starvation. My complaints about the challenges I face as a pastor paled in comparison to theirs. These and other encounters will remain with me.
There was one moment that has come to represent to me the whole of my pilgrimage. Bill Lovell (translator and retired elder from the Tennessee Conference) and I left one of the hospitals with a United Methodist pastor who had been showing us around. I believe he sensed the sorrow weighing upon our hearts as we loaded into the back seat of a car. He sought to comfort us as he said, in his Otetela language and with Bill translating, “When we think of all our challenges and sufferings, if we are not joyful and grateful to God, then we are truly walking in the valley of death.” I will never forget those words. They have become a sign to me of the hope that United Methodists in the Congo have.
Since my pilgrimage, I have often recalled Paul’s words about faith, hope and love in 1 Corinthians. I must say I don’t believe I saw more faith in Congolese United Methodists than I see in my local congregation. I doubt, too, that United Methodists in that part of the world are any more loving toward one another than we are. Yet I do believe I met people whose hope is richer and deeper than ours. The United Methodists of the Congo are a people who hope in God, who have nothing else and no one else to depend upon. If the apostle Paul were writing to them, I believe he would write to them about hope.
Any ongoing relationship we in the Nashville Area (Memphis and Tennessee Conferences) have with the East Congo Annual Conference in years to come will be a blessing to them, and also to us.
Youth at Martin First UMC show us all how it’s done! There is still time to raise $87,500 to build parsonage in East Congo.
Wow! The youth at Martin First United Methodist Church know how to respond to a challenge.
My request at the 2013 Memphis and Tennessee Annual Conferences in early June was for an additional $250 contribution per church to help us meet the Nashville Episcopal Area goal of $87,500 to build a parsonage (home and office) for the Methodist bishop of the East Congo Episcopal Area in Africa.
It seems youth delegates from Martin First UMC in the Dyersburg District were paying attention. Their youth pastor, Rev. Rebecca Alexander, reported to me this week that they raised more than $5,000 for this project!
Want to know how they did it? Alexander said the youth delegates heard me speak at Annual Conference in Collierville and then returned to Martin with “passion and conviction” to do their part … and more!
“(Martin First UMC) youth chose to raise $5,000 – not only the $250 for our church, but also $250 for 19 other small congregations that might not have the means to give,” said Alexander.
In a span of 72 hours, the youth sold baked goods, washed cars and gave out bottled water for donations. They promoted their events via social media and on a local radio station. They even knocked on doors.
I am so proud of these youth. I want to thank them on behalf of Bishop Gabriel Unda Yemba whose East Congo Episcopal Area in Africa so desperately needs this parsonage to continue to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
As I’ve shared before, the East Congo Area includes three conferences, 17 districts and more than 349,000 members. By comparison, the Nashville Area is two conferences, 14 districts and 201,000 members. This $87,500 is obtainable. Unfortunately, as of July 31, our collective total is just $47,000. That’s an approximate figure based on money received and more gifts we know are on the way.
The youth of Martin First UMC have set a stellar example of hard work and devotion to a most worthy cause. I appreciate them and all who have made and will make contributions.
The Memphis and Tennessee Conferences have each been operating with different deadlines on this initiative, but today I want to announce we are extending the deadline for more donations through Sept. 15. Please, if you have not contributed so far OR if you are able to make an additional gift, read below how you may do so in your conference (online or by mail).
TENNESSEE CONFERENCE DONATION
Online: CLICK HERE
By Mail: Make out checks to “TN Conference UMC” with “East Congo Episcopal Area” in the memo line. Mail to Tennessee Conference Treasurer, 304 South Perimeter Park Drive, Suite 6, Nashville, TN, 37211.
MEMPHIS CONFERENCE DONATION
Online: CLICK HERE
By Mail: Make out checks to “Memphis Conference Treasurer” with “East Congo Parsonage” in the memo line. Mail to Treasurer’s Office, Memphis Conference-United Methodist Church, 24 Corporate Blvd., Jackson, TN 38305. Churches should use line 50 of the remittance form. Personal checks should include church name to receive Advance Special credit.
~ Bishop Bill McAlilly