Miracle Offering meets needs of rapidly growing Malawi United Methodist Church
By Sandra Brands
It has become an annual tradition. Every year, the congregation of Belmont United Methodist Church in Nashville, Tenn., can celebrate the season by giving to the church’s Christmas Miracle Offering.
Every other year, that offering goes to the church’s In Mission Together partners, the Malawi United Methodist Church. The offering has been used to build churches for the rapidly growing United Methodist Church in this southeast African nation and to purchase a truck needed for the mission conference’s farm.
This year, funds raised by the 2012 Christmas Miracle Offering will help build much-needed parsonages.
“The Malawi Provisional Conference has 25 pastors', and only four are in parsonages, leaving 21 in rented houses, some of which are in deplorable conditions,” said Daniel Mhone, Malawi district superintendent. “More parsonages are basic to our development in terms of clergy placement.”
The lack of parsonages, he said, makes it difficult to send pastors where they’re needed, “hence we don't use pastors gifts according to the gifts of grace. The three parsonages will make a huge difference. We are moving towards our goal to have standard accommodation, and pastors can be transferred without hurdles according to their gifts of grace.”
It was the stories of these pastors, their families, and their ministries that inspired the congregation of Belmont United Methodist Church, said the Rev. Adam Kelchner, Belmont’s associate pastor of Mission and Outreach.
“We knew about them and their call to ministry and their families,” he said. “This wasn’t just about building parsonages in rural Malawi; this was about building parsonages in an area where the church is growing like wildfire.”
The parsonages, Kelchner said, not only will provide stability for pastors' and their families, but, as Mhone told the Belmont congregation, will serve the needs of the community. The offering was a genuine response to the need expressed by the Malawi Methodists and celebrates the indigenous leadership that has grown the church in Malawi.
“We trusted [Mhone] knew best what the next steps of the Malawi church were,” Kelchner said.
That trust reflects a shift in the congregation’s mission outlook, moving from supporting short-term, individual projects to building long-term relationships focused on “the gifts and assets of the community and how we can come alongside them," Kelchner continued.
“We continue to be cheerleaders and supporters for the sustainable ministries that are led from there,” he said. “It’s a ministry of encouragement and presence in being alongside the people. That gives them great energy to know they have partners here. There’s a real excitement that we’re able to work alongside Daniel and the Malawi church’s leadership, that they’re able to say this is important to us, this is where we think the church needs to move.”
Challenged to raise $30,000 for the parsonage building project, Belmont United Methodists far exceeded the goal, giving $45,000.
“I think people are searching for ways to express their discipleship, to be in Christian service, to change the hearts and lives of people around them,” Kelchner said. “With Belmont’s relationship with Malawi, we’ve seen the fruit there, so people continue to invest and give generously and continue that work.”
The congregation has a history of responding generously to the annual offering.
In 2010, the congregation raised enough money to buy a pickup truck and pay for its maintenance, gas, and upkeep. The truck was needed to support the work of the church-run farm, the United Methodist Mission Center, said agricultural manager Lester Mhone.
“Our farms are way out in the bush,” he said. Transportation is not readily available, so the truck makes it possible for him to visit the fields, bring supplies, and help harvest the farm. Created to serve the needs of the community in an area that is hard to plant, the farm produces soybeans, cabbage, tomatoes, maize, potatoes, and cassava. Volunteers from the community help work the crops.
A church is also growing at the farm. “We have started a preaching point at the farm and have about 50 members,” the farm manager said. “The numbers keep on growing. Belmont Church has made our goals feasible.”
The Miracle Offering is an act of discipleship among Christians who share a passion for mission and ministry as they invite new people in new places around the world into a relationship with Christ.
Learn more about the work of the General Board of Global Ministries, its ministry with the poor, and opportunities to partner in mission with a global church.
Contact: Melissa Hinnen, public information officer, 212-870-3833, MHinnen@umcmission.org.
Photo (right): A poster about the Christmas Miracle Offering at Belmont United Methodist Church showed the congregation how their gifts would build parsonages brick by brick.
Courtesy of the Belmont UMC