Participating Church Stories

No longer a generation of anguish but a generation of hope

Ending the AIDS pandemic is a collective responsibility. It is a life-saving ministry and movement in which the church plays a vital part. There are eight projects under the Abundant Health banner that have leading roles in reaching young people who are least aware, most at risk, and perhaps most afraid of stigma. 

United Methodist Health Board section marches in the parade, World AIDS Day 2019, Kitwe, Zambia. Photo: Courtesy Zambia UM Health Board

The United Methodist Church’s Health Board in Zambia joined local partners in Kitwe, and the rest of the world, to organize and commemorate World AIDS Day 2019 in December. It was themed “Communities making a difference, pressing toward ending AIDS.” 

The celebration began with a candlelight service, helping participants remember people lost to AIDS and to have renewed hope for life. The district commissioner, Binwell Mpundu, gave an inspiring message. He said, “We are no longer a generation of anguish but a generation of hope. A hope that by 2030, Zambia will have zero new HIV infections.” He declared the goal attainable with collective action from all stakeholders. 

United Methodists taking part in World AIDS Day activities in Kitwe, Zambia, started off their participation with a candlelight service of remembrance for those who lost their lives to AIDS. Photo: Courtesy Zambia UM Health Board

The day was filled with activity for the people of Kitwe – aerobics, a march, a fun run and tug-of-war, but also with HIV education, counseling and testing, and condom distribution. Everyone was called upon to participate in the fight against AIDS; everyone can offer a hand to stop it. The general public was encouraged to go for testing, refer others for testing, take preventive measures and take antiretroviral medication consistently. 

The church is part of the wider community. It can make a significant difference in this life-saving campaign. The health board actively works with the Zambian Ministry of Health and other organizations in the mining city of Kitwe to spread information to prevent HIV, improve access to testing and treatment, and to work against stigma. It recently trained 74 young people as Peer Educators. They are starting to reach out to their friends at school, college and university, establishing clubs and communicating through drama, song and radio, urging everyone to know their status and to treat each other with dignity. The health board is the only organization there reaching out to adolescents. 

Project manager, Mrs. Phiri, describes Zambia Health Board HIV and AIDS projects to the district commissioner and other delegates at the World AIDS Day 2019 commemoration in Kitwe. Photo: Courtesy Zambia UM Health Board

The Zambia UMC Health Board is part of a national campaign to pursue UNAIDS’ 90–90–90 target. The objective for this campaign is: 90% of people living with HIV know their HIV status, 90% of people who know their HIV-positive status access treatment and 90% of people on treatment have suppressed viral loads. In 2019, the health board launched the U=U campaign: The Undetectable virus is Untransmittable. 

As the Zambia Health Board, we are proud of being part of this noble cause and making contributions to Zambia’s vision of ending new AIDS infections by 2030. 

Betty Tshala, Health Office/Board Coordinator 

Kathy Griffith is the program manager for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health, Global Ministries. This article was adapted from a report by Betty Tshala, who serves as the Health Office/Board Coordinator, Zambia UMC Health Board, and as a UMC missionary with the Mujila Falls Project in Zambia.

Inviting Deaf and Hard of Hearing People to Church – Deaf Awareness Week

By Rev. Leo Yates, Jr.

Deaf Awareness Week is soon approaching, and United Methodist churches should extend their hand of welcome to Deaf, hard-of-hearing, late-deafened, and Deafblind persons in their community. This week is observed during the last week of September (in 2019, the 23-29th), beginning on Monday and ending on Sunday. Deaf Awareness Week originated in Rome, Italy in 1958 through the efforts of The World Federation of the Deaf. Deaf communities around the world began adopting this international observance as a way to honor the history and heritage of Deaf and hard of hearing people, affirm diversity, to educate society about deafness, and celebrate Deaf culture.

 Historically, Deaf ministries have been an extension of their Deaf community, in part, due to their support of Deaf education and mission. For instance, during the mid-nineteenth century, The Episcopal Church ordained its first Deaf deacon in the U.S. The Methodist Church was the fourth denomination to have a Deaf pastor to serve a Deaf congregation in Chicago, which was close to the turn of the 20th century. Click here for a brief outline of Deaf Christian history and click here for a more comprehensive account. 

Photo courtesy of The UMC Committee on Deaf and Hard of Hearing Ministries

Communication barriers and cultural differences often exclude Deaf and hard of hearing persons from the life of the church. For example, when this writer’s Deaf parents moved from Maryland to Virginia, the fourth church that was contacted agreed to provide a sign language interpreter. Recently, a Deaf couple in the Southeastern Jurisdiction shared they are only able to worship twice a month because their church is unable to afford a sign language interpreter on a weekly basis. In most cases, there is a cost for sign language interpreters. While it’s the church’s responsibility to hire and pay for interpreters, most Deaf and hard-of-hearing people donate to their congregation, and thus support the cost indirectly (click here for a brief guide about interpreters). One Deaf ministry holds an annual fundraiser to support their interpreting ministry. Certainly, budgeting and prioritizing the Deaf ministry is vital to sustaining it. So is awareness; a cultural difference can be seen during a Christmas Eve service when lights are dimmed and candles used. This makes it challenging to see a sign language interpreter.

The Apostle Paul emphasized to the church in Corinth (and us) that the body of Christ needs all of its members (1 Cor 12:12-31). Like other denominations, The United Methodist Church recognizes the need for Deaf, hard-of-hearing, late-deafened, and Deafblind individuals to be better represented in the life of the church. General Conference continues to support funding for Deaf ministries. This funding is overseen by Global Ministries, which includes small grants to support new Deaf ministries. 

Deaf Awareness Week is a strong reminder for churches to be accessible and inviting for Deaf and hard of hearing people. For example, offer captioning (display it on a TV screen or project it with PowerPoint), have all-encompassing bulletins (Scriptures, prayers, announcements, music), use multimedia (Deaf people can’t hold hymnals while signing), ensure adequate lighting, and consistently use a sound system during worship: all of these are inexpensive ways to improve accessibility. Click here for more ideas. After all, 1 in 3 persons over 65 have some degree of hearing loss and improving communication access in worship and in the life of the church can support hard-of-hearing and late-deafened people to remain active, some of whom are the bigger givers.

So, how can your church observe Deaf Awareness Week?

As a part of its Disability Ministries, Emmanuel UMC in Laurel, MD, is observing Deaf awareness by offering a month-long sign language class, has a sign language interpreter on most Sundays, uses multimedia, and will include Deaf awareness in its announcements. For activities and ideas, check out the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Ministries Committee’s Deaf Awareness Weekweb page. For general information about Deaf Awareness Week, click here. For a series of brief guides and congregational resources, click here

Rev. Leo Yates, Jr. is the consultant for the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Ministries Committee.

Improved mobility, a gift that transforms lives

Global Health grants reach people with physical disabilities in remote places

By Christie R. House

August 28, 2019 | ATLANTA

Mobility is key to a person’s independence. The ability to go to market, get to the doctor, take the kids to school or travel to work can be daunting for people with physical challenges. While technical advances have helped people in Western countries gain independence, people in countless remote and rural areas across the world would find a wheelchair of little use on the rocky, unpaved terrain they might travel.

Animato Kargbo is a recipient of a prosthetic limb from the Bo center. Photo: Lappia Amara

Addressing physical disabilities may mean providing new ways to travel or new prosthetic limbs for those who need them. Global Ministries meets the challenge of immobility in a variety of ways through Global Health initiatives. Support for United Methodist health clinics and hospitals in rural areas may provide early diagnoses and treatments that ultimately prevent physical disability. But often these clinics operate in areas where the population has experienced trauma from violent conflict. Landmines, irreversible injuries, poor nutrition and poverty contribute to the permanent loss of mobility.

A prosthetic solution in Sierra Leone

Global Health has partnered with the United Methodist Health Board in Sierra Leone and the United Methodist Prosthesis Center in Bo District to support a prosthesis initiative for amputees. In 2002, an overwhelming need for prosthetic devices in Sierra Leone caused the United Methodist Committee on Relief to create a project to manufacture and fit a simple, lower-limb prosthesis developed in India, called the Jaipur foot. The materials and technique produced a strong and reliable prothesis. Lappia Amara, director of the center since its founding, helps amputees regain mobility and reintegrate into their communities. The center supports those who have become amputees for a variety of reasons, including accidents, war and sickness.

Lappia Amara, director of the Artificial Limb Clinic in Bo, Sierra Leone, fits a limb for Animato Kargbo. Photo: Courtesy Lappia Amara

Amara says the center served 79 patients in the first quarter of 2019: “Working with both lower and upper limb patients, our most recent group included 51 men and 28 women. Of those, 53 received below the knee protheses and 26 above the knee. We repaired 50 old limbs (requested by returning patients) and 22 wheelchairs and treated 30 stroke patients. We conducted several visits to amputee camps. Counseling and preparation of artificial limbs are our major activities. Provision of wheelchairs is a new opportunity made possible by a partnership with the government and other agencies.”

“While losing a limb is a challenging experience, it doesn’t have to define your life in a negative manner,” Amara continued. “All of these people have taken circumstances outside their control and used them to be a positive influence on those around them.”

Aminata Kargbo, from Shenge, lost her leg because of an accident traveling to Bo. Kargbo’s first thought was: “How can I live without my foot? I am a pupil and an athlete.”

While she still bears emotional and physical trauma symptoms, the center in Bo has given her hope. “I would like to continue my schooling and my athletics, but the pain was too much using a crutchI try and put on a brave face among my friends, but soon, thanks to this project, I will have a prosthetic to help me. I have really been encouraged by this support and I am so grateful to donorsbecause I can use this limb to go to school and do other things for myself.”

Personal transportation in Zambia

A second ministry receiving a Global Health grant this year is PET Zambia (, part of the New Life Center ministries of the UMC Zambia in Kitwe. Zambia is one of the more stable countries in Africa, but because of that, it has received refugees from neighboring countries. The PET (Personal Energy Transportation) ministry started in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire) in 1994 and then moved to Zambia during the political upheavals in the DRC in the late 1990s.

This recipient of a new PET in Lufwanyama, Zambia, in June 2019, was recommended to PET Zambia by a government partner that coordinates services for people with disabilities across the country. Photo: Emily Padilla, PET Zambia

Josephine Mbilishi, a United Methodist deaconess, is the director of the New Life Center, which provides training for spiritual development, community leadership and community health, including the PET ministry. Delbert and Sandy Groves serve as missionaries with the center. They began missionary service in 1991 in the DRC, and they have worked in Zambia since 2000. One of Delbert Groves’ responsibilities is the PET workshop.

A PET is a three-wheeled chair with wide, durable wheels, a cart and hand pedals to propel the device. The PET project was started after the Rev. Larry Hills, a UMC missionary in the Congo, accidentally stepped on someone crawling through the fields. Hills pulled back the weeds to find a young woman with a baby on her back going about her daily chores. Hills worked with Mel West in Iowa and other friends in the U.S. to develop a PET prototype. The U.S. ministry, which is now called Mobility Worldwide, has expanded to 22 workshops in the U.S., making carts and then shipping them internationally to areas where they are needed.

Kennedy, one of four workshop employees, works with PET as a welder at the New Life Center, Kitwe, Zambia. Photo: Emily Padilla, PET Zambia

PET Zambia is currently the only African workshop making the carts. Careful monitoring of materials, ordering in bulk and delivering within Zambia brings the cost down to about a third of the U.S. PETS. All PETs are provided free of charge to the people who need them.

Groves says building a PET is the easy part. “The hard part is identifying people in need of a PET,” he explains. “Over 25 years, we have developed a wonderful resource of partners in Central Africa, which includes other missionaries and churches, government disability departments and individuals that help us find people who need a PET.”

PET Zambia builds and distributes at least 500 PETs each year. In Zambia alone, they estimate 150,000 people still need them.

“Because the need is so great, we have bought land in south Zambia in a town called Livingstone, near the border to four other African countries,” Groves continues. “We’re hoping to break ground early in 2020 to build a new PET Zambia facility. It will also be used to help build the UMC in the southern provinces of Zambia. That’s our main reason for being missionaries in Zambia, evangelism and church development.”

Reaching isolated people

Helping people to overcome the barriers that keep them from joining in daily activities of life can go a long way to restoring their independence and self-esteem. While finding people tucked away in their villages and even in larger cities may be difficult, Methodists connect in amazing ways to reach them.

Methodists across the connection can join in this life-restoring ministry through theAbundant Health Initiative, Advance #3021770.

Christie R. House is the senior writer/editor for Global Ministries.