United Methodists ready to Change the World

Change the World volunteers of all ages from Wayne United Methodist Church in New Jersey plant raised garden beds in nearby Paterson in May 2011.

Don't just go to church. Be the church!

That's the message on May 19-20, when - for the third year - United Methodists throughout the world will get involved in their communities and participate in a global push to fight malaria. Through this Rethink Church event, United Methodists share existing or new ministries with their communities. This gives congregations a chance to engage new people on behalf of the gospel while making a physical difference locally and globally.

The Louisiana Annual (regional) Conference was the first to get on board in 2012, offering a "fun run" earlier this year to benefit Imagine No Malaria. Some 2,000 runners in eight cities raised more than $45,000.

"As United Methodists," said Margaret Johnson, "we put feet to our faith. The Louisiana Skeeter Run is a great example of who we are. Each of our volunteers played a key part in sharing the story for Imagine No Malaria." Johnson is chair for the conference initiative and Skeeter Run director.

Members of Marsden First United Methodist Church in Bermuda use Change the World to do community cleanup, home repair and a special run to collect funds for an area autism center.

Change the World weekend is the perfect time for a Church World Service-related CROP Hunger Walk at First United Methodist Church, Modesto, Calif. The event, said Erin Littlepage, coordinator, raises "awareness about people around the world who must walk to find food, water, firewood, freedom and other necessities of life and funds to help stop hunger wherever it exists."

Sharing faith, stories

Faith sharing is important to members of Shelbina United Methodist Church in Missouri. "Instead of the pastor preaching," said the Rev. Thad H. Carter, "the congregation will be invited to share their faith story. The challenge will be to go into the community that week and share their story with one person."

"We continue to be a presence in the community, educating about river blindness in the Congo," said the Rev. Jana Purkis-Brash, senior pastor of Princeton United Methodist Church in New Jersey. Onchocerciasis is caused by a parasitic black fly that breeds in rapidly flowing waters along fertile riverbanks. "We will move around the community, sharing information about how we reach out globally," she said.

Hunger is on the radar at Living Hope Church, Durham, N.C., according to the Rev. Christopher Lanier Brady, pastor for new church starts. "We will draw attention to food insecurity issues that the children of the world face by engaging in a food drive and a possible walk/run/bike race to raise awareness and collect food to stock local school food pantries." He added that 65 percent of the local public school students come from families who are food insecure.

Connecting communities, congregations

Through Change the World, United Methodist congregations connect with new people and build bridges with individuals and organizations as they address common needs.

Here is how to keep up with how the church is changing the world:

In Dayton, Ohio, United Theological Seminary students, faculty and staff are training to walk and run the Flying Pig marathon (26.2 miles) in Cincinnati. "We are raising money for each mile walked," explained the Rev. Penny Stacy of Caldwell Memorial United Methodist Church, Marysville, Ohio. "Pennies for Potties," funds will build permanent enclosed bathrooms with running water for schools in Nepal.

And 9,000 miles away, First United Methodist Church, Baguio City, Philippines, sponsors Run for Mission a "fun run," trekking the community's main thoroughfares. A companion event, "Wellbeing Day," focuses on healthy living through a medical mission program. A church spokesperson said, "We have done this in the past, but this year, we'll invite the community where Baguio General Hospital is situated (across the street from the church). We hope and pray this event will revive the hospital ministry of the church."

Engaging in mission

Youth at Palacpac Central United Methodist Church, Candon City, Philippines, strive to keep their community clean and green. Through the tudok (Ilocano word for "stick") program, they plant trees and other vegetation to beautify the area and restore the environment.

As registrations for Change the World are added to a voluminous spreadsheet, one finds references to other ministries popular with United Methodists. One is Habitat for Humanity, whose tagline says it all: Simple, decent affordable housing. Another is the Society of St. Andrew. SOSA is a Christian hunger ministry that salvages fresh produce and delivers it to soup kitchens and food banks across the United States.

A similar program popping up on the spreadsheet is Stop Hunger Now, an international hunger-relief organization that coordinates the distribution of food and other lifesaving aid around the world. United Methodist Committee on Relief kits also make the list.

Many other Change the World events focus on fighting malaria, reducing local hunger, building homes and coordinating clothing closets. As local churches fan out across towns and cities to address a variety of needs, United Methodist Communications provides advertising that directs people to the events. Change the World embodies the Rethink Church message that church is not just a place to go on Sundays, but a 24/7 lifestyle.

"Vital congregations are engaged in mission, and Change the World illustrates the power of our interconnectedness," said the Rev. Larry Hollon, chief executive of United Methodist Communications. "Last year, more than 2,000 events took place in 15 countries. Change the World presents an opportunity to transform lives in connection with others."

*Dunlap-Berg is internal content editor, Content Team, and Hicks is assistant director, Communications Ministry Group, both with United Methodist Communications, Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Maggie Hillery, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org

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