By Kara Witherow, Editor
The United Methodist Church is a connectional church bound together by a central mission – to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
In January, members of Grace United Methodist Church in Vidalia, Gilchrist Park United Methodist Church in Waycross and St. Peter United Methodist Church in Columbus traveled to Africa to help strengthen the connection between South Georgia United Methodists and those in Uganda.
The central purpose of the trip was to conduct a five-day discipleship conference for adults and a Vacation Bible School-type of program for children and youth.
Held at Wanyange Central United Methodist Church in Uganda’s Jinja district, nearly 500 people showed up each day, with bigger crowds on Friday, the program’s last day. Some attendees walked nearly 75 miles – and still others came from as far away as Kenya and the Congo – and slept on the church’s dirt floor.
For nearly seven years, Grace UMC and Wanyange Central UMC have partnered together in mission and ministry. As Wanyange Central UMC’s sister church, Grace UMC supports the church financially and has sent several mission teams to Uganda. They provide Wanyange Central UMC’s pastor, Isaac Kyambade, with a monthly stipend and give funds to provide for a security guard.
“There’s a real need for that partnership and support,” said Grace UMC pastor Rev. Allen Cason.
One way in which Grace UMC is helping support Wanyange Central UMC and the other churches in the Jinja district is by organizing the discipleship conference. Each day featured two teaching sessions followed by times of small group discussion, music and prayer.
The small group setting was new for many Ugandan United Methodists – most of the teaching they receive comes in the form of preaching, and little emphasis is made on small-group discussion.
“I don’t think they do much small-group type of learning, so they really responded well to that,” Rev. Cason said.
One thing that struck team members was that during the discussion time, every answer given referenced and was reinforced with scripture.
“When they gave you an answer, they gave you scripture to back the answer up, and in our churches today you rarely see that,” said Grace UMC member and team leader Harold Brown. “Some of them didn’t even own a Bible. A lot of them know scripture without even owning a Bible!”
Grace UMC member Pam Tippett organized and led the children’s sessions, which focused on the fruits of the Spirit. After three tubs full of supplies were lost by the airline, team members had to improvise.
Despite the setback, God provided what they needed and they were still able to teach, play games, create crafts and connect with the children.
“We had what we really needed and the children were happy and everything worked out perfectly fine,” she said.
Brown, whose life verse is Matthew 28:19-20, has a passion for missions and discipleship. Close friends with Kyambade, the two talk almost weekly. He and another small team will return to Uganda in August to film footage of the 10 Jinja District churches. The footage will help create a documentary, which will be made available to churches in the South Georgia Conference.
He hopes that other churches will join Grace UMC in partnering with Ugandan churches.
“They’re looking for a lasting relationship. The relationship they need is with the body of Christ,” he said.
Brown’s son Jonathan, a seminary student and St. Peter UMC’s youth pastor, echoes his sentiments.
“We say that we’re a connectional Church, and I think this was just one of those ways that we see that that’s possible and how it works,” he said. “We hear about the Church in other places, but it’s wonderful to be able to put faces with the people and know that … even though there’s an ocean between us and we speak a different language, we get a better sense of and a bigger picture of Christ’s Church.”
Volunteers in Mission Awareness Sunday is on Feb. 19. United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM) exists to promote, encourage, and enable Christians to exemplify “Christian love in action” through short-term mission service in the United States and abroad. You can help support the work of UMVIM in the South Georgia Conference by giving an offering to support this vital ministry on this special Sunday.