Global Ministries

The United Methodist Church

Connecting the Church in Mission

Senegal United Methodist Mission to Become A District of Church in Côte d’Ivoire

By Elliot Wright and Ivy Couch*

The United Methodist Church in the West African country of Senegal has started the process of transitioning into a district of the Côte d’Ivoire Annual (regional) Conference.
Senegal was one of a dozen United Methodist “mission initiatives” in the last decades of the 20th century and in 2006 became an official Mission, a status requiring the assignment of a bishop and giving it special ties with Global Ministries. Bishop Benjamin Boni of Côte d’Ivoire has been the presiding bishop of Senegal since it became a mission. The Senegal Mission Initiative started in 1989.

Senegal-Annual-Gathering-UM-Mission-2017-00022.jpgAnnual Gathering and Context Visit-UM Mission in Dakar, Senegal. PHOTO: JOSEPH BLECK

“A Mission cannot remain a mission forever,” said the Rev. Edgar Avitia, Global Ministries’ Global Area Liaison who is in charge of the transition process. “It must eventually become part of the United Methodist connectional system or seek autonomy. Some Missions become provisional annual conferences, but the Senegal Mission—even though is strong—is simply not large enough for that option. Becoming a district of the Côte d’Ivoire Conference is the best choice for a vital future.” Geographical contiguity is not required for district designation.

The Senegal Mission has some 1,000 members, about evenly divided among women, men, and children, Avitia explained in an interview after returning from a mid-August annual gathering of the mission. “There are nine ordained ‘local elders in mission,’ a special clergy category for such situations approved in church law. There are 40 local lay preachers and Senegal has eight United Methodist circuits with 15 chapels and numerous preaching points.

“Senegal’s population of 15 million is 90 percent Muslim, and 50 percent of the United Methodists are former Muslims. Conversions take place without pressure and usually with no disruptions in families. Our pastors have good relations with local imams.”

One pending challenge is that of the legal status of both the mission and the forthcoming district. The United Methodist Mission is legally registered at present, and must try now to shift over to a local registration as a religious corporation.

The mission offers several ministries that are open to people of all faiths. Those include health services, a microcredit program, prison ministry, vocational schools, and sustainable agriculture.

“A small, free clinic in Dakar, the country’s capital, operates with assistance from local doctors and nurses and with mission teams that come from University United Methodist Church in San Antonio in the Rio Texas Annual Conference,” Avitia said. Two vocation centers specialize in cooking and tailoring. Prison ministry is focused in institutions for women and youth, and there are three laywomen endorsed for such ministries by the local prison system. The United Methodist Church is the first denomination in the country to have a woman clergy person. Small microcredit groups are comprised primarily of women, Avitia indicated. The church has organizations for men, women, and youth.

Senegal-Annual-Gathering-UM-Mission-2017-00011.jpgAnnual Gathering and Context Visit-UM Mission in Dakar, Senegal. PHOTO: JOSEPH BLECK

Bishop Boni was unable to preside at the August Senegal Mission meeting because of the death of a sister, but a delegation of the Côte d’Ivoire Annual Conference attended. The Rev. Joseph Bleck, mission superintendent, presided.

The details of the transition to district status are still being discussed with Bishop Boni and the leadership of the Côte d’Ivoire Annual Conference, said the Rev. Yollande Yambo, the Africa Area Representative Liaison for Global Ministries who attended the annual gathering in Senegal. “We hope that this transition from Mission to district will take place in the near future as a strong expression of our connectional church.”

*Elliott Wright is information consultant for Global Ministries. Ivy Couch is the Global Mission Connection program area liaison.