The North Alabama Conference has a long history of love for and work in churches in Africa.
Bishop Willimon says, “We have been part of one of the areas of fastest church growth in the world and Africa has been good to the United Methodists in Alabama.”
The late Mildred Taylor, a missionary from North Alabama serving in Africa, helped lead Dr. Thomas Muhomba’s mother to Christ. Now Thomas has come to North Alabama from Zimbabwe to lead our Conference Ethnic and Multicultural church growth efforts. He is also serving a cross-racial appointment at Pleasant Grove UMC in the Central District.
“Thomas has infused our Conference with some African evangelistic fervor,” says Bishop Willimon.
In the early 1980s, North Alabama Conference churches helped a student names Peter Mudiwa during his studies at Birmingham-Southern College. Peter went back to Zimbabwe, became a pastor of growing churches; he retired as a District Superintendent after 12 years of equipping pastors to start growing churches.
Rev. Patrick Friday is continuing the work of Mildred Taylor in Africa. As a staff member of the General Board of Global Ministries Patrick is working with new church initiatives in Africa. Through his work, we have a new Conference in Côte d'Ivoire, a missionary Conference in Malawi and new churches in Senegal.
As part of this work, Patrick recruited a former North Alabama District Superintendent Rev. Paul Messer to be a missionary in Senegal. Paul has partnered with the Senegalese to start numerous growing churches. Many North Alabama Conference congregations have supported this ministry with prayers and financial contributions. When Paul’s old-old mission truck was reported stolen, the people in North Alabama raised money to the Senegalese mission field a new truck.
Bishop Willimon says, “I’m so proud of the work that Paul and Kitty have done in Senegal.”
Last year the Northeast District contributed $500 to the Zimbabwe West Conference to help with pastors’ salaries. This contribution was enough to pay one pastor’s’ salary for five months. This pastor had gone for eight months without a salary.
The connection with Zimbabwe continues. Director of Connectional Ministries Rev. Dale Cohen recently met with Zimbabwean District Superintendents in London, England, to train them for more effective leadership.
Many North Alabama churches and individuals have helped train African leaders through their prayers, connectional giving (apportionments) and additional monetary contributions to Africa University.
Such contributions helped produce leaders like Dr. Emmnuel Kanunu Busambwa (Kanunu) from the Democratic Republic of Congo and a graduate of Africa University in Zimbabwe. Kanunu now serves as a pastor in North Alabama and has led Central Park UMC into being a vital cross racial appointment and a church back in touch with its surrounding community. [North Alabama also helped Kanunu financially during his studies at ITC in Atlanta.]
The Rev. Tiwirai Kufarimai (TK), a native of Zimbabwe, serves as pastor of Haven Memorial UMC in the Southeast District. TK is making a great contribution in leading a church toward reaching a new generation as well as challenging and equipping the church for growth.
Rev. Richard Stryker, from Liberia, has been a wonderful gift to the North Alabama. He has served in leadership for our Conference in several roles including as the Conference Disaster Response Coordinator for several years. He now serves as a transformative leader in his role as District Superintendent of the Southeast District.
“All of these Africans are God’s gift in the revitalization of our Conference,” said Bishop Willimon. “They are our ‘missionaries’ who have come to us from Africa and are bringing a vital gospel to us from one of the fastest growing Christian places in the world.”
Now North Alabama is continuing it’s ministry in Africa and other countries of the world. Under the leadership of Dr. Neal Berte, we are now raising funds for the Central Conference Pension Initiative (CCPI).
“Sadly, the fastest growing segment of our church suffers from a lack of pensions for its clergy. We have raised about three hundred thousand from our churches for this $25 million dollar effort of the UMC,” said Bishop Willimon.
The goal of the CCPI Campaign for the creation of pension programs is $25 million. There has already been $19.3 million committed from Annual Conferences and individuals from throughout the United Methodist Church. There is currently $304,000 committed from churches and individuals in the North Alabama Conference.
“At this year’s Annual Conference we will receive a special offering for the CCPI during the Ordination Service on Friday night. I encourage all churches to receive a special offering for the effort. Patsy and I are thrilled to be part of the CCPI and are thankful for what this can mean to the churches of Africa and elsewhere.
“Our pastors enjoy generous pensions and we are grateful. I hope that all North Alabama United Methodists will join us in this effort,” said Bishop Willimon.