The Council of Bishops of The United Methodist Church believes that a new moment of decision in the church's witness in Africa is upon us. With the Bishops' Appeal, Hope for the Children of Africa, the Council is answering God's call to witness for peace, justice and compassion by leading the global United Methodist family in the rebuilding of the church in Africa and the renewal and restoration of spiritual and material ministries for children. This appeal is a significant extension of the ongoing Episcopal Initiative on Children and Poverty that is revitalizing our church. It is being developed as a result of a request from, and consultation with, the African Bishops.
The nations of Africa have faced the forces of racism, drought, disease, war and economic hardship. Country after country and ministry after ministry has been hobbled by the devastation -- families are torn apart and children are left to fend for themselves; hope is battered and dreams are trampled. Fallen buildings left in the wake of fighting are mute testimonies to disaster. The damage to the ministries once housed within the buildings --- ministries that served God's children -- is an assault to the Spirit.
The Eastern Pennsylvania Conference has been linked with the Conference of Nigeria as part of its participation in the Hope for the Children of Africa Initiative. Bishop Done Peter Dabale of Nigeria said, "The church has begun building an orphanage in Jalingo, where it also has a primary and secondary school." He added "We need to build about four (orphanages)."
In addition to hunger-related issues, children of Nigeria are suffering from the effects of the AIDS epidemic. During his August 2000 visit to Nigeria, President Clinton called upon the Nigerian people to confront the disease. According to the White House, approximately 5.4 percent of the country's population of 114 million are infected with the AIDS virus. This is one of the highest infection rates in Africa.
Children and youth make up a large percentage of the United Methodist Church in Nigeria. Of its 392,000 members, Dabale said, 80 percent are under 30 years old. About 65 percent of the 225 pastors are under 35. With central offices in Jalingo, the church spans 15 districts in nine states. "The church is growing because of its inclusiveness," the bishop said. "We were the first to ordain women."
The Eastern Pennsylvania Conference will work to develop a strong relationship with the Nigeria Annual Conference as part of its participation in the Bishop's Initiative---Hope for the Children of Africa. Goals for our Annual Conference include:
The Hope for the Children Team will lead the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference's effort. The Rev. John R. Schol, pastor of the West Chester United Methodist Church, is team leader. Rev. Schol is a former staff member of the General Board of Global Ministries and has made three trips to Africa to lead denominational efforts for mission and ministry. Presently, he is organizing a team of five to seven people who will be responsible for planning, organizing, implementing and evaluating our Conference's response to the Bishop's Initiative.
The team will be comprised of individuals with skills in one or more of the following areas: cross cultural education, communication, fundraising, mission team planning/organization, and strategy development. Team members are to understand the dynamics of working within diverse mission contexts and the missional issues of racism, cultural dominance, paternalism, and empowerment. Individuals who would like to participate on the team or through another avenue with the initiative are encouraged to contact Rev. Schol at JRSchol@aol.com.