Fund offers opportunities to inspire, heal, transform
Can the world still bank on the hope offered by area United Methodists? The leaders of a three-year campaign to combat AIDS, rebuild hurricane-damaged churches and address the heartbreaking poverty in Zimbabwe believe it can.
A world without hope just might resemble a world without Christ, mused the Rev. Daryl Williams, the director who launched the Baltimore-Washington Conference HOPE Fund in May 2006.
“As Christians, we’re called to make tangible the body of Christ, we are called to offer Christ to the world. We’re called to offer hope,” he said.
The HOPE Fund was created as a brainchild of Bishop John R. Schol of the Baltimore-Washington Conference, who noted the convergence of three distinct missional needs calling for the attention of the conference’s 679 churches.
The conference had pledged to contribute $200,000 to the denomination’s Global AIDS Fund. While relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 had focused on the rebuilding of homes, many churches that had been destroyed were having trouble coming back to life. The HOPE Fund contributed $200,000 toward their restoration.
And thirdly, the people in Zimbabwe, with whom the Baltimore-Washington Conference has covenanted to be in partnership, were being destroyed by political unrest, unprecedented hyperinflation that threw the entire country into poverty, and epidemics of AIDS, cholera and malaria, which were creating a generation of orphans.
The conference pledged $600,000 to United Methodists in Zimbabwe, bringing the HOPE Fund goal to $1 million.
“While we proclaim resurrection life, many people in our world are battling despair,” said the bishop. “What would happen if we took a stand beside these suffering brothers and sisters, with the knowledge that when we reach out to our neighbors, we encounter the risen Christ? The HOPE Fund is a concrete response to the needs to support, rebuild and fortify hope in three places of great challenge.”
Hope reaches for a goal
While organizers of the HOPE Fund were anticipating that the
$1 million would be collected by 2008, that hasn’t been the case.
Bel Air UMC helped to launch the campaign with a $100,000 gift. Over the past three years, the youth of the conference, at the annual ROCK retreats, have contributed $49,142 and individuals have given $76,114 to the HOPE Fund.
In addition, in 2006, 76 churches gave $79,155; in 2007, 160 churches contributed $131,140; and in 2008 346 churches gave $146,789.
Bishop Schol also raised $1,400 from pledges he received from running a half-
marathon. In addition, an offering at this year’s annual conference raised $72,078.
These gifts and others came together, and as of May 5, totaled $682,708.
The pledge to the Global AIDS Fund was paid, and the money to rebuild churches along the Gulf Coast was delivered. What’s been collected of the remaining $600,000 for Zimbabwe has already begun to transform lives there.
HOPE Fund coordinators are hopeful churches may still fulfill their promise to the people of Zimbabwe by collecting $317,292 before the end of the year.
“One million dollars is a nice round figure, a ‘reach for the sky’ figure,” said Jo Chesson, the project manager of the HOPE Fund. “The BWC is a conference of hope, whether we’re reaching out to people in our backyard or across the span of the earth. Our arms are big enough to embrace the world, our hearts are too. I want to believe we’ll reach our goal.”
Hope offers healing
Conference was among the very first of the denomination’s 62 annual conferences to pay its $200,000 pledge to the World AIDS Fund and one of only 17 to pay its commitment in full.
The intention of the World AIDS Fund, begun in 2004, was to raise $8 million, $1 for every United Methodist in the United States, to help fight the global HIV and AIDS pandemic.
When the Baltimore-Washington Conference submitted its check, nearly 40 million people were living with HIV/AIDS. Nearly five people each minute were dying from the disease.
Of the money contributed, one-quarter of it was allowed to stay in the region where it was raised for HIV/AIDS ministries locally.
This money for ministry took on an added poignancy when it was announced last March in the Washington Post that at least 3 percent of Washington, D.C., residents have HIV or AIDS, a total that far surpasses the 1 percent threshold that constitutes a “generalized and severe” epidemic. “Our rates are higher than West Africa,” one health official said.
Baltimore ranks second in the nation’s reported AIDS cases, ahead of Philadelphia, New York, Detroit and Chicago.
“United Methodists have an opportunity to create life-saving programs of prevention and education within a climate of Christian compassion and care, said Donald E. Messer, a member of the World AIDS Fund’s board of directors. “Since the days of John Wesley, we have been on the frontiers of health and hope, love and life. We favor action, not apathy.”
Hope builds the Kingdom
This spirit of faith in action is perhaps most apparent in the conference’s mission work in the Gulf region, where volunteers work to restore the $105 billion in damage done by Hurricane Katrina.
The August 2005 storm was the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history. Last year, 3,549 area United Methodists on 262 teams took Volunteers in Mission trips, most of them to the Gulf Coast region to assist in the repairing of homes there, said Sandra Ferguson, conference Director of Social Justice and Missions.
However, while “the focus of many volunteers has been on rebuilding homes, the Baltimore-Washington Conference wanted to focus on rebuilding lives,”
Williams said. “Churches are an important part of that.”
“When congregations can rebuild lives, lives can continue to build the Kingdom,” said Bishop Schol.
The conference teamed up with the Seashore District in Mississippi, where Katrina damaged or destroyed 37 of the district’s 92 United Methodist churches. One-third of the United Methodist population in the area was displaced.
Last year, Chesson went on a VIM trip and received a tour that highlighted the work the money from the HOPE Fund has made possible.
After the hurricane, one church she visited in Moss Point, Miss., was nothing but a slab of concrete. With HOPE Fund contributions the congregation moved into a storefront and bought pews, a pulpit, altar, windows, hymnals and a Bible. “They were able to open their doors and be the church again,” Chesson said.
Chesson also met with several
Hispanic women who came to Biloxi, Miss., to help clean up after Katrina and stayed. A United Methodist Hispanic ministry started a Bible study in a local laundromat for them, installed microwaves and brought food to feed the women’s bodies as well as their souls. They outgrew one facility and have moved into another, growing from a dozen women to almost 80 in attendance.
“The Baltimore-Washington Conference has been a partner in ministry through the HOPE Fund enabling us to continue to strengthen our community through their gifts, prayers, hearts and hands,” said the Rev. Bill McMcAllily. superintendent of the Seashore District.
Hope builds a future
Hope is also being brought to life in Zimbabwe.
In recent years, political unrest under the regime of President Robert Mugabe, hyper-inflation that boggled the imagination, unemployment rates of 80 percent, drastic shortages of food, coupled with an ongoing HIV/AIDS pandemic and outbreaks of cholera, have brought Zimbabwe to the brink of being a failed state, threatening the survival of its people.
United Methodist leaders at Africa University in Mutare acknowledge in the church press that they are “living the ‘unprecedented’ and coping everyday with the hitherto unimagined economic reality.”
But in the midst of it all, said Bishop Eben Nhiwatiwa of the Zimbabwe Episcopal Area, there is a devout and joyous faith in God, and a hope bolstered by a partnership with the people of the Baltimore- Washington Conference.
Bishop Nhiwatiwa selected 60 essential projects that would benefit the people of Zimbabwe. The Baltimore-Washington Conference has pledged, through the HOPE Fund, to assist with 10 of them. They include the building of churches, the creation of health clinics and the repair of orphanages.
One of these projects is the construction of Muradzikwa UMC. Bishop Schol and leaders from the Baltimore-Washington Conference, who were teaching at a pastors’ school in Zimbabwe, participated in the groundbreaking of the church in 2007.
During the past two years, the women of the church made the bricks and the men built the walls. The money for the supplies came from a financial partnership between the HOPE Fund and the Muradzikwa congregation. When economic hardships hit the church, the HOPE Fund stepped in to ensure there would be enough money for the roof.
This summer, when the bishop returns for another pastors’ school, he will witness the dedication of the church to the glory of God.
Hope generously given
“While we are living in an economic downturn, it’s nothing compared to the economic tsunami in Zimbabwe,” Williams said. “People who have given once need to give again and even exceed their previous gifts.”
“If we don’t get this HOPE Fund money, a congregation will go without a roof, orphanages won’t have doors or windows, it could be that a clinic doesn’t get built, or a pregnant woman will have no safe place to deliver her baby,” Chesson said. “I care about the schools. I care because this makes a very big difference.”
She thinks back to her visit to Mississippi and remembers the words of the Rev. David Newto