Delegates to consider mission strategies for Africa, Latin America

In Angola, the United Methodist Church was the first denomination to establish schools for young people.

In Honduras, 12 new United Methodist congregations were established during the past four years. Other new Methodist congregations have been developed in Colombia, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Venezuela.

To continue such vital mission work, special programs for Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean are being proposed to delegates at the 2004 United Methodist General Conference. The denomination's top legislative body meets April 27-May 7 in Pittsburgh.

Recommended by the General Council on Ministries, the programs have been endorsed by others in the denomination, including directors of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries during their March 22-25 meeting. Funding will be provided through the budgets of participating church agencies.

The "Holistic Strategy on Africa" focuses on the needs of the church in sub-Saharan Africa. United Methodists are present in 21 countries south of the Sahara Desert.

"United Methodist disciples in sub-Saharan Africa are committed to and involved in the evangelistic and humanitarian spectrum we identify with Wesleyan spiritual holiness," according to the "Report and Recommendations for Themes, Missional Priorities and Special Programs."

Recognizing rapid membership growth as a blessing, the report also points out that such growth "places heavy responsibility on the leadership of the churches, increasing the need for trained leaders, clergy and laity. It also requires increased activity to nurture members and empower them in witness and outreach that now defines their discipleship," the report said.

The United Methodist legacy in Africa includes the establishment of primary and secondary schools, seminaries, Bible colleges, hospitals and clinics, as well as Africa University. In 2000, the denomination's Council of Bishops initiated "Hope for the Children of Africa" to help address critical human needs on the continent, as well as the needs of the church.

Primary goals of the Holistic Strategy on Africa are to assist the African church in strengthening and expanding its witness and ministry and strengthening connections among annual conferences of Africa, Europe and the United States.

The $35 million estimated cost of the special program for Africa for the next four years would be funded from budgets of participating agencies.

Another $8 million in funding from agency budgets is requested for the "Holistic Strategy on Latin America and the Caribbean."

MARCHA, the church's Hispanic/Latino caucus, is urging delegates to consider mission programs that respond "to the growing number of impoverished persons in the Caribbean and Latin America, with women and children being the most affected."

Churches in the regions serve as prophetic voices as well as advocates for justice and the preservation of human rights, the caucus said. The complex relations between the United States and Latin American/Caribbean countries "demand a closer working relationship between the churches in the United States with the churches in the Caribbean and Latin America to amplify our effectiveness in our prophetic witness."

Besides poverty, other social concerns include the use of child labor; the suffering caused by political and economic turmoil; and the treatment of Afro-Latin, Afro-Caribbean and indigenous peoples.

"The dethroning economic and political contexts increase the demand for social assistance from the churches in the Latin America and Caribbean region," the report said. "Regretfully, most churches are suffering financial crises similar to those that their countries are experiencing. For example, in Argentina, pastors' salaries are not paid in full, even if they serve large congregations."

The mission strategy calls for church agencies to coordinate their efforts with the Council of Evangelical Methodist Churches of Latin America and the Caribbean (CIEMAL), representing 19 countries; the Methodist Church of the Caribbean and the Americas and other Methodist churches and ecumenical organizations in the region.

News media can contact Linda Bloom at (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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