Elsa Noemi Meza reaches out to an elderly Peruvian woman during a Christmas visit to a senior housing facility in Peru.
Scholarship Allows Women to Make Difference in Their Communities
By Sandra Brands*
The World Communion Scholarship Program of The United Methodist Church supports United Methodist students and students who are directly related to Global Ministries mission partners so that they may carry out their master’s or doctoral studies at universities or seminaries. United Methodists are encouraged to support this program and observe World Communion Sunday on Oct. 5. What follows are examples of how this scholarship program is impacting the lives of others.
The three women have much in common.
They are all from the United Methodist or Methodist Church. They all actively work toward justice in their communities. They are experienced in working with marginalized people. And, they are all Global Ministries World Communion scholarship recipients.
But each is at a different place in their journey.
Annie Solis Escalante: Hoping to Connect Church and Society
The Global Ministries World Communion Scholarship gave Annie Solis Escalante the support she needed to complete a master’s degree in social management at the Cayetano Heredia University in Peru. Not long after her graduation, the Leadership Development Office recommended that she apply to be a Global Mission Fellow, a young adult program that could continue her exposure and build her experience in working to support marginal communities. A Global Mission Fellow since 2012, Solis Escalante put her education to use immediately by developing and managing projects addressing maternal and child health, human sexuality and HIV/AIDS with the Health and Healing Program of the World Council of Churches in Geneva, Switzerland.
“That experience helped me to understand the current needs of churches and the boundaries that need to be crossed to reach justice and peace,” she said. “Social justice issues are not yet properly addressed by churches, especially at the grassroots level. It seems like there is a divorce between churches and society.”
Annie Solis Escalante holding the white bag attended a United Nations AIDS meeting with church leaders as part of the fifth World Council of Churches Assembly. Photo: Courtesy of Annie Solis Escalante
To address that gap, she plans to return to school to study theology and social development. “To have a theological and biblical basis will help me work with church leaders and strengthen the presence of churches in society as a prophetic voice. Being a World Communion scholar means being part of a big fellowship of Christians trained and committed to transforming themselves and the communities they serve,” she said.
Now in the second stage of her Global Mission Fellowship, Solis Escalante is serving back in her home context in social work projects through the Methodist Church of Peru. Those projects include strengthening and enlarging the role of women and girls in the church and society, focusing on health, reduction of violence and community organization.
“I hope that other Global Ministries’ scholars can enroll in the Global Mission Fellows program and help the church on addressing the different social issues in an effective way,” she said. Her studies and her work as a mission intern tells her that God equips people with the courage, patience and skills to help people get better opportunities in life.
Ofelia Duldulao: “I am a scholar of the church…”
As it did with Solis Escalante, the World Communion Scholarship made it possible for Ofelia Duldulao to be able to finish graduate studies uninterrupted, instead of being forced to take time off to earn money so she could return to school.
A teacher by profession, Duldulao currently attends the University of the Philippines in Quezon City, preparing for a master’s degree in environmental education, a passion that Duldulao has as an environmental activist. She has a B.S. in biology as well as a degree in secondary education.
In August, Ofelia Duldulao presents a report to an Environmental Scholars Gathering at Africa University in Zimbabwe. She reported back from her learning at the Summer Institute on Climate Change held in the Philippines, which was principally sponsored by the General Board of Church and Society, and co-sponsored by Global Ministries and the General Board of Discipleship. Photo: Courtesy of Duldulao
The scholarship, she said, has been an inspiration. “I am constantly reminded of the opportunity and the trust given to us scholars,” she said. “The support comes from people, from churches believing we will serve the people through God’s ministries.
“I am not a scholar of just another agency,” she said. “I am a scholar of the church and I see myself working with the church and the community as long as I am able.”
The scholarship has also allowed her to be active in the church and community while attending school. While attending graduate school, Duldulao also serves as a speaker and educator for a variety of campaigns in Nueva Vizcaya, helping them find solutions to problems they have identified and training leaders in speaking, teaching and community organizing skills. Duldulao has also just recently returned from Africa University in Zimbabwe where she attended an Environmental Scholars Gathering with seven other Global Ministries-funded Environmental Studies and related scholars. All worked to explore the underpinnings of creation care ministry and to come up with concrete environmental programs that might be offered to local churches around the globe.
“I believe that God provided me with this opportunity of being a scholar of Global Ministries to work in church and the community … to be part of the church’s work and to lead church members to help in the community work,” she said.
Elsa Noemi Meza: Empowering the Latino Community
The most recent recipient of the World Communion scholarship, Elsa Noemi Meza, is working on her master of divinity degree at Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary in Chicago. Currently an exploring candidate in the Northern Illinois Conference, Meza admits she is not sure if she will pursue ordination as an elder or a deacon. Later, through praying, fasting and guided by her mentor and pastor, she will discern where and how she will serve in Christian mission.
Right now, though, she is concentrating on her studies and on her volunteer projects, many serving the local Latino population. “Through my studies, I am learning that as Methodists we need to put into practice the Wesleyan concepts of the living core: scripture, tradition, experience and reason.”
“My ministry is growing as I gain confidence as a result of my learning experiences and internship opportunities through the seminary,” she said. “This means that my impact on the community is seen daily as I observe the power of the Holy Spirit working to empower these women with whom I interact.”
A member of St. John's United Methodist Church of Oak Park, a mission congregation of first and second-generation immigrant families, Meza dreams of creating a United Methodist-connected women’s Hispanic leadership program in the Chicago area that “welcomes dialogue connections with Hispanic Christian women and other faith traditions. The goal is to reach low-income women to empower them spiritually and equip them with skill sets to become self-sufficient,” she said.
In addition to her work with migrant communities, Meza also works with Family Bridges, an Oak Park-based nonprofit organization that promotes healthy marriages and positive interpersonal relationships, Latina Women in Action, and the Women-to-Women Group at her local church. She has an undergraduate science degree from Universidad Nacional del Centre del Peru and a master’s in plant ecology at Lehman College, New York.
“As a scholarship recipient, I plan to encourage other ethnic minority women to consider a seminary education to become vital members of the Hispanic community in ministry,” she said.
Though the three women are at different points in their journeys, each has already made a difference in their communities. Thanks to support from United Methodists and the World Communion scholarship, they will be able to continue their ministry of outreach and social justice.
*Sandra Brands is a writer and regular contributor to www.umcmission.org