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'Encounter with Christ' in Latin America and Caribbean

by Linda Bloom

A desire to shift more decision-making about mission in Latin America to Methodist churches in the region has led to the successful development of a permanent fund to support projects in those countries.

The Encounter with Christ in Latin America and the Caribbean Permanent Fund, administered by the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries, uses the interest from nearly $1.5 million in principal to finance the projects.

By the end of 2006, 24 projects in 14 different countries had received support through $150,000 in grants. The projects included:

  • A program of the Methodist Church of Brazil to increase awareness and provide tools and skills to combat racism against people of African heritage and to promote racial equality in both the church and community.

  • An emphasis on mission formation and leadership for Methodist youth in Argentina, designed to reach 120 youth in the church's seven regions.

  • A training program for indigenous Methodist leaders in Bolivia to help them acquire the necessary skills to understand the country's social and political dynamics.

  • A plan by the Methodist Church in the Caribbean and the Americas to develop and produce a common church school curriculum for the region.

  • A project to train health care workers in Venezuela to manage small health centers in four isolated communities in the Andes Mountains.

Mission priorities
The vision behind the permanent fund began with a 1991 meeting in Antigua, Guatemala, according to the Rev. Wilson Boots, the fund's director of interpretation. The meeting brought together 60 clergy and lay leaders from the region and representatives of the Board of Global Ministries, United Methodist Council of Bishops, British Methodist Church and United Church of Canada.

The fund was established a year later. "This fund provides the flexibility and the resources to seize the moment for special opportunities," he explained.

Mission priorities are evangelism and new church development, community-based health care and the needs of women, children and youth. One of the programs in Bolivia, for example, resulted in the training of 450 youth in workshops on mission and social justice.

Boots said he saw the impact that the grant had while attending the 100th anniversary of the Methodist Church in Bolivia last August, an event that took place "with the active involvement and leadership of the youth within the church. It had an immediate, direct connection for us."

Decisions regarding grants from the dispersal of interest money are made by a committee with equal representation from Latin American/Caribbean churches and Global Ministries - a process that Boots considers "historic and bold" for a new mission age.

Appeals for support
Several direct appeals for donations to Encounter with Christ are made annually to a mailing list of more than 1,000 people, according to the Rev. C. Rex Bevins, the fund's director of financial development. "Normally, our gifts come in from local churches and individual donors," he said.

United Methodist Volunteer in Mission teams also have become involved in projects in Latin America and the Caribbean. Over several years, for example, about 76 volunteers from the New York Annual Conference helped build 120 rural homes in Bolivia, with a tithe on each home dedicated to Encounter with Christ, Boots reported.

Churches in Western North Carolina, Texas, Oregon, Nebraska and Eastern Pennsylvania also have incorporated gifts to the fund as part of their mission trips. Conference-wide promotions in the Texas and Florida annual conferences resulted in significant gifts as well, according to Boots. The denomination's Southeastern and South Central jurisdictions have appointed people as Encounter fund advocates.

Even individuals are contributing to the Encounter with Christ Fund. A bequest from John L. Carl of Philippi, West Virginia, provided a gift of some $600,000 - the largest donation from an individual so far. Carl, who was moved as a youth by a call to missionary service, was never able to become a missionary himself, but still wanted to support global mission, Boots said.

Encounter with Christ also has received financial support from the region's churches themselves, especially through the Council of Evangelical Churches in Latin America and the Caribbean (CIEMAL) and the Methodist Church in the Caribbean and the Americas.

Contributions earmarked for the Encounter with Christ Permanent Fund No. 025100 can be dropped in church collection plates. Checks payable to the General Board of Global Ministries also can be mailed directly to the agency at 475 Riverside Dr., Room 1449, New York, NY 10115.

Those interested in deferred giving or who want to order a DVD about Encounter with Christ can contact Bevins at rexbevins@alltel.net or (402) 742-9010.

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.


 
 
 

Date posted: May 22, 2007