Judicial ruling sought on East Africa funds

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For almost six years, unanswered questions and accusations have clouded several mission projects by U.S. United Methodist conferences working in the denomination's East Africa Annual (regional) Conference.

Some of those questions and accusations will be front and center when the Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference puts its case before the Judicial Council, the supreme court of The United Methodist Church.

During its Oct. 24-27 meeting in the Chicago area, the council will hear concerns about whether funds given to the East Africa Annual Conference by the former Pittsburgh East District were used in accordance with the intent of the donors as required by the 2008 Book of Discipline (Paragraph 258.4.f).

Concern about the possible misuse of funds began in 2005 after the Pittsburgh East District started funding projects in Uganda, said the Rev. Jeff Greenway, district superintendent from 1999 to 2004 and now lead pastor of Reynoldsburg (Ohio) United Methodist Church. In 2005, the conference was realigning districts, and there no longer was to be a Pittsburgh East District. Members of that district wanted to give one last gift before the dissolution. The money was raised before 2005.

The district said it raised about $90,000 - nearly enough to construct the Namboole United Methodist Church and two other churches, dig three wells and fund three mobile maize mills. The denomination-wide Africa Church Growth and Development Committee also provided nearly $20,000 for the effort in Kampala, Uganda.

Greenway said the Rev. Daniel Wandabula, a district superintendent at the time but now the bishop of the East Africa Conference, told him a church would cost $25,000 to build, a well would cost $5,000 to dig and a maize mill would cost $5,000.

Nancy Denardo, a former Western Pennsylvania Conference lay leader and co-leader of the Pittsburgh East District effort, said the funds were sent directly to Wandabula, who was serving as project director at that time.

Those numbers are in dispute with the East Africa Conference numbers. Wandabula said the total was $86,000. But Denardo said the $86,000 was sent before the arrival of the Western Pennsylvania team and the balance was delivered by team members.

When a 25-member Western Pennsylvania team arrived in Uganda in January 2005 to put the finishing touches on the Namboole United Methodist Church, it found nothing there except an unfinished foundation, Greenway and Denardo charged. Photos were taken of the unfinished foundation.

United Methodist Bishop Daniel Wandabula. A UMNS photo by Larry Nelson.
Bishop Daniel Wandabula.
A UMNS photo by Larry Nelson.

One maize mill had been constructed, but it did not work, Greenway said. A well had been dug in the village where Wandabula's father lived, although there was no United Methodist church in that village.

"We used the bank account that (then) Bishop (J. Alfred) Ndoricimpa gave us," Greenway said. "The resident bishop at that time did not want us to go through GBGM (the General Board of Global Ministries) because it took too long for funds to get to the project. He instructed us to send it directly to Daniel Wandabula who was the project coordinator at the time. Wandabula said he was not sure the money would get to the project otherwise." Ndoricimpa of the East Africa Conference died in 2005.

Western Pennsylvania has included copies of the wire transfers in its brief to the Judicial Council,Greenway said.

After not being able to obtain satisfactory accounting for the money, Greenway also contacted members of the Council of Bishops and eventually filed a formal complaint with the Central Conference College of Bishops. UMNS has contacted the central conference bishops to whom the complaints were sent but hasn't received a response yet.

Contacted by UMNS for a comment, Bishop Rosemarie Wenner, who became president of the council in April 2012, said the council has no authority over individual bishops' areas.

"The interactions in the Council of Bishops are a collegial and spiritual way of helping each other to act according to the call to be an episcopal leader in the UMC," Wenner said in a statement. "Because of the character of our conversations, I cannot announce publicly what we are knowing and doing. Be assured that the bishops are committed to hold each other accountable.

"The policy as outlinedin the Book of Discipline gives no authority to the Council of Bishops to conduct oversight in the various areas the individual bishops are assigned to," she said. "If people approach us with complaints, we have to follow the procedures due to the Book of Discipline."

An unfinished church

In 2006, Wandabula was elected bishop at a special central conference meeting. He was re-elected for life this summer at the 2012 Africa Central Conference meeting. The East Africa Annual Conference, which is part of the Africa Central Conference, includes Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and the new nation of South Sudan. The East Africa Conference office is in Kampala, Uganda.

Wandabula told UMNS that $86,888 from the East Pittsburgh District and $19,994 from the Africa Church Growth and Development funds were used to "pay part of the Namboole United Methodist Church land, pay attorney expenses, pay the land surveyors, land transfer fees, seal, architectural drawings, a maize mill and bore hole. All these investments were accounted for."

The church remains unfinished today.

In September 2007, Denardo, along with four Ugandans, created Uganda Christian Solutions, a nonprofit group registered in Uganda. The ministry is an approved Advance Special of the Western Pennsylvania Conference. Funds given through this ministry are sent directly to the mission projects and do not go through the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries or the East Africa Annual Conference.

Questions about the conference's use of funds are among "the major reasons" for starting Uganda Christian Solutions, Greenway said.

The problem "has led us to find another, reputable, trustworthy way to get monies to the people and projects that we want/need to support," he said.

Since 2007, Denardo says, the ministry has dug 14 water wells for $43,000, and purchased land and constructed a 100-by-40-foot church building for a total cost of $59,000. Uganda Christian Solutions also built a 120-by-32-foot elementary school for $37,000; the school has 150 students and a 12-person staff. The ministry also built a 3,000-square-foot clinic for $35,000.

Mission board suspends funds


Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference petition

The Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference petition asks the Judicial Council to hear and determine the legality of the following actions in regard to Petition 06 in accordance with Paragraph 2609.5 of the 2008 Book of Discipline.

  1. Were the funds given by the Pittsburgh East District of the Western Pennsylvania Conference to the East Africa Annual Conference used in accordance with Paragraph 258.4.f?
  2. Were the funds given by members of the Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference in the payment of Isaac Sebit, a pastor in South Sudan, in compliance with Paragraph 258.4.f and Paragraph 613.13?

(Sebit is the pastor of the Yei United Methodist Church in Yei, South Sudan. John Foster and his wife, Pearl, were both former missionaries. John Foster was a mission ambassador to Sudan from the Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference and was with a United Methodist Board of Global Ministries study team in March 2009. He met and was moved by Sebit and decided that he and his wife, both now deceased, would support Sebit monthly with their missionary pension check, which was about $175 a month, said Nancy Denardo, a former Western Pennsylvania lay leader and co-leader of the Pittsburgh East District effort. She said Foster told her that he arranged with Wandabula to send Sebit's support through the episcopal office, and Wandabula assured him that he would see that Sebit received the funds. Sebit said he never received any of the funds. That is why the question is included in the request for Judicial Council action.)

Was the complaint filed by one member of the Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference (Nancy Denardo) properly dealt with in accordance with Paragraph 413 of the 2008 Book of Discipline?

In September 2011, the Board of Global Ministries suspended funds for the Humble School and on Aug. 8, 2012, after three audits in 18 months, the mission agency accepted a recommendation from its audit committee to suspend all funds to the East Africa Annual Conference.

"Humble" is an acronym for "Helping Ugandan Mwana by Loving Example." "Mwana" is the Lugandan word for children. The school was started in 2004 to serve children from war-ravaged areas and those from homes affected by HIV/AIDS.

Bishop Peter Weaver, chair of the audit committee since 2009, told UMNS that regional auditors found "unsatisfactory accounting practices."

Weaver said this was the first time the audit committee has recommended suspension of funds for an entire episcopal area since he has chaired the committee.

The bishop said auditors will continue to work with Wandabula to try to correct the problems. A final decision will be made by the board or during a conference call with the executive committee.

"We carefully monitor how our funds are being used through routine audits, and we also have regional auditors in place," said Thomas Kemper, top staff executive of the mission agency.

UMNS has submitted a formal request for a copy of the audit report that led the Board of Global Ministries to suspend funds to the East Africa Conference. The board has forwarded the request to the independent audit committee, and the committee has not yet responded to the request.

Besides the Humble School, other projects reviewed and affected by the suspension of funds include the Hope for Africa Children's Choir Music Academy in Mukono; Namunkanaga HIV/AIDS and Malaria Awareness; Trinity United Methodist Church in Wanyange; the United Methodist Women Center in Jinja; and the United Methodist Empowerment Center of Jinja.

The amount on hold in the Humble School Advance on Sept. 21, 2012, was $49,229.26, said Melissa Hinnen, public information officer for the mission agency. Those funds are designated for scholarships, she said.

Hinnen also said an additional $320 is in the Humble Vocational School Advance that is designated for building-related expenses.

Other financial issues

Another issue, which is not among those before the Judicial Council, was raised by the Rev. Julius Mugabi, pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church in Jinja and a former superintendent in the East Africa Annual Conference. Mugabi said the conference received $300,000 for a secondary school from several sources. "But we have nothing to show for it," he said. "The bishop told me the school was about to be built, but nothing has happened."

Asked about the funds for the secondary school, Wandabula told UMNS that the East Africa Conference received $362,327 in May 2008. He said the conference used $84,000 to purchase 14 acres of land at Nabikabala, some 100 miles east of Kampala City, as a site for the school.

Wandabula said trustees of the Humble United Methodist School later learned of the availability of 17 acres of land adjacent to the school site, 15 miles from Kampala. With support from Board of Global Ministries staff, the bishop said, the board of trustees purchased the land for $277,610. "The balance of the monies from the land acquisition remains in a designated secondary school account," said the bishop.

Kentucky Conference issue

In 2006, the Kentucky Annual Conference employed Linda Gardella as the coordinator of mission work in Uganda. She told UMNS that she was on six mission teams to Uganda in 2007 and 2008 and led two of those trips. Part of her work, she said, was to find Kentucky churches willing to send $100 a month to individual Ugandan pastors.

Gardella said the conference sent several quarterly checks for $4,200 each to the Board of Global Ministries to provide $200 a month to six Ugandan superintendents and to David Muwaya, the project coordinator. "There was an earlier amount sent for individual pastors, but we never received any accounting, and some pastors said they didn't receive the money," Gardella said.

Wandabula and the Hope for Africa Children's Choir were at the 2008 Kentucky Annual Conference. At that conference, Gardella introduced a "memorandum of understanding" that asked the East Africa Conference for accountability "along with other matters of concern to both parties."

Gardella said the conference unanimously approved the memorandum, but Wandabula refused to sign, even though the conference sent the bishop a copy of the proposed memorandum before the 2008 meeting.

Wandabula said he needed more time to consult with East Africa church leaders about the memorandum of understanding. "I therefore requested Linda for some time to enable me to share the contents with the leadership team prior to signing the memorandum," he said. "I could not and therefore she was not happy."

"The arrangement for sending the funds to district superintendents and pastors differed," Wandabula said in an email to UMNS. "Funding for the district superintendents was certain and regular. However, the funds for the pastors depended on finding a church/pastor in Kentucky who would commit to support the respective pastors in the East Africa Annual Conference. While some pastors were able to offer support on a regular basis, others could not afford to do so depending upon their own unique financial situations."

Gardella, who left the post with Kentucky Conference in January 2009, said, "The failure of the partnership with the East Africa Annual Conference broke my heart."

Difficulties in mission work


How are contributions monitored?

Conferences, churches and individual members support projects around the world through The Advance, "an official program of The United Methodist Church for voluntary, designated, second-mile giving" administered through the Board of Global Ministries. All Advance projects are related to annual or central conferences, partner churches or interfaith organizations.

The Advance promises that 100 percent of each gift is forwarded to the project. The Board of Global Ministries monitors funding through routine audits. However, some United Methodist entities also establish their own relationships and send money directly to a project or missionary.

In 2009, Wandabula said, an anonymous emailer calling himself "Journey Jonah" alleged in emails to Wandabula that the bishop had "embezzled" more than $100,000 donated by Holston Conference for the construction of a mission house, drilling boreholes and a health center. The email author said, "Holston Conference is demanding him to refund every penny, but he is reluctant."

The Holston Conference has a partnership with the East Africa Annual Conference to provide support for ministry in South Sudan. Bishop James Swanson, bishop of the Holston Area at the time and recently appointed to the Mississippi Area, says Holston has not demanded any money be returned.

"We have worked diligently with Bishop Wandabula and the General Board of Global Ministries to establish practices that allow us to serve together in ministry across the many miles and cultural and technological differences," Swanson said. "We continue in an ongoing partnership with the East Africa Annual Conference, (and) we pray for Bishop Wandabula and the people of South Sudan."

Pittsburgh Area Bishop Thomas Bickerton, who leads the Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference, noted that understanding different cultural contexts is sometimes hard.

"It is important to maintain a spirit of sensitivity in matters dealing with the church across the globe," Bickerton said. "Different geographical and cultural contexts often make it difficult to understand ministry in a different setting. That is true for both Africans understanding the dynamics at work in the U.S. church as well as people in the U.S. understanding the work of the global church in a context different than our own."

Bickerton said the request for a Judicial Council ruling was driven by the sensitive feelings around the money raised for specific ministry projects in Uganda.

"A legislative committee at our annual conference session agreed to ask the council to review how money has been spent in Uganda," Bickerton said. "This petition was passed by members of the Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference."

The bishop says he is maintaining a neutral position as the matter "involves not only people that I care deeply about and serve here in Western Pennsylvania, but also a colleague with whom I share ministry in the Council of Bishops. I am praying for Bishop Daniel Wandabula, the people of Uganda, as well as Nancy Denardo and others here in Western Pennsylvania who are concerned about this matter.

"I am attempting to urge everyone involved in this situation to maintain a non-anxious presence so as to allow the Judicial Council the opportunity to do their work," he concluded.

*The Rev. J. Richard Peck wrote and reported this story, assisted by Heather Hahn and Linda Bloom. Peck is a retired clergy member of New York Annual Conference. Hahn and Bloom are staff reporters for United Methodist News Service.

News media contact: Tim Tanton, Nashville, Tenn. (615) 742-5470 or [email protected].

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