United Methodist Agency Increases Support
For Zimbabweans Fleeing into South Africa
By Elliott Wright*
STAMFORD, CT., October 9, 2007—The United Methodist Church is increasing its support for a ministry that assists people from Zimbabwe who are fleeing into South Africa to escape food shortages and economic chaos at home.
Directors of the denomination’s General Board of Global Ministries, meeting in Stamford, launched an appeal for funds by contributing $2,388 at the conclusion of a “poverty banquet.” Those contributions and a new grant by the denomination’s relief unit will assist the Ray of Hope program at Central Methodist Church and Mission in Johannesburg.
Central Church cares for more than 700 homeless persons at any given time. It provides temporary shelter, food, health services, child care, and a job bank to displaced persons, most of whom at present are leaving the economic and political chaos in Zimbabwe.
The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) announced an allocation of $50,000 to Central Church. It earlier sent $25,000. UMCOR is the humanitarian aid arm of the global ministries board, which is the international mission agency of the denomination.
The new grant will help Central Church increase it services to the homeless, pay utility bills, and improve sanitation facilities. Hundreds of homeless people crowd the church building every night. Come evening, the church literally overflows with people sleeping on every available space.
“I can think of no group of people today who are poorer, hungrier, or more in need of help than the unofficial refugees finding their way from Zimbabwe to Central Church,” said the Rev. Sam Dixon, a deputy general secretary of the Global Ministries board assigned to lead UMCOR. “We cannot sit back and do nothing as this situation continues to grow worse.”
Mary Gates of Minneapolis presented the Central Church ministry to her colleague global ministries’ directors. She called the offering a concrete recognition of the responsibility United Methodists have to address the acute issue of poverty.
UMCOR is launching a general appeal among congregations and members for additional funds for Central Mission’s work with Zimbabweans. A new Sunday bulletin insert on the South African ministry was introduced at the “poverty banquet” and will be available online at www.umcor.org within the week.
Central Methodist Church is a large facility in downtown Johannesburg. Once a bastion of affluence and privilege, it is today one of the major Christian social service provides in the South African city, claiming international respect. It is led by Bishop Paul Verryn.
The Ray of Hope approach is carefully organized. All people seeking accommodations or assistance are interviewed and an evaluation is made of their particular needs, such as a meal, clothing, medical attention, or a job—or all of those.
Systematic efforts are made to find off-site temporary housing and employment for the transients. Over the last 15 months, some 3,000 people have passed through the program.
Ray of Hope predates the Zimbabwean refugee problems. It also serves homeless and refugees from Kenya, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
A meager meal was served at the “poverty banquet” of the mission board. Directors spent time around table discussing ways to effectively engage in ministry with the poor. Creative response to poverty is a United Methodist mission priority for the immediate and long-range future.
Contributions to the Central Methodist ministries can be made through the Advance for Christ and His Church, the designated mission giving channel of The United Methodist Church. Checks should be made out to UMCOR and mailed to PO Box 9068, New York, NY 10087. Please include the Advance number, 199456, in the memo line. Checks may also be placed in the offering plate of any United Methodist Church. Credit card contributions can be made by telephone, 800-554-8583.
*Elliott Wright is the information officer of the General Board of Global Ministries.