First United Methodist Church in Omaha is working to develop city housing policies that support racial equity. Their partners include the North Omaha Neighborhood Alliance, Omaha Together One Community, and Claire United Methodist Church.
Strong race relations requires a commitment to engage in sacred conversations so that civil rights can become a reality for the next generation. To empower the residents of North Omaha to improve their quality of life, they begin by get acquainted. They meet in one-on-one conversations with individuals and house meetings with neighbors to build trusting relationships with residents in North Omaha.
Together, they hope to influence the city council to change specific housing policies that are perpetuating poverty in North Omaha. They encourage members and other supporters of this initiative to live their faith in mission and service fueled with the spirit of God’s love. “We have a diversity of ways that we work to make the world a better place,” their website on ministries of mercy and justice says.
The congregation’s efforts are being supported with a $34,575 grant from the General Commission on Religion and Race. The Iowa Conference contributes gifts from United Methodist churches throughout the state to support these efforts through our General Church apportionments.
Okitakoyi “Michel” Lundula, the pastor of the United Methodist Church of Le Mars, is originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo. He has served three other churches in Iowa communities, including Nashua, Ionia and Dubuque. His passion for ministry is “to proclaim Christ to all God’s people, meet people in their context of life, celebrate with those who celebrate and cry with those who cry.”
Before completing his Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry degrees at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois, he received a Bachelor of Science degree in Agriculture and Natural Resources from Africa University in Mutare, Zimbabwe.
The United Methodist churches of the Iowa Conference are supporting Africa University in 2018 with a $38,195 general church apportionment gift. This helps the university pursue its mission “to provide quality education within a Pan-African context through which persons can acquire general and professional knowledge and skills, grow in spiritual maturity, develop sound moral values, ethics and leadership qualities.”
Another Iowa connection to Africa University is Larry Kies, a United Methodist missionary supported by many of our churches, who is serving as technical advisor to the Africa University Farm. The farm operation recently made news with an upgraded water system that minimizes water loses from irregular and inefficient methods of irrigation.
“If you have something new you want to try,” says Pam Kranzler, the pastor at the Wapello United Methodist Church, “find two or three other people and let’s talk.”
The church has been cultivating a spirit of ministry experimentation since their involvement in a Healthy Church Initiative study group in 2014. During that time, they learned about a community meal that the neighboring Letts United Methodist Church had started. The Wapello church had recently built a new social hall that was ideal for starting a similar ministry. Now several other groups in town participate as hosts and sponsors of the monthly meals.
Soul Sisters is another example of this spirit of experimentation. A group of working women began meeting out of a need for fellowship. They couldn’t meet during the day with other groups, said Crystal Wiley, so they started meeting on Monday evenings for about an hour to “chat about life.”
The group’s ministry to each other has grown to include a shared devotional life together and community service projects. This experiment in ministry has blossomed. “We’ve become a tight-knit group,” said Katie Walker.
The Iowa Conference is investing $70,000 in the Healthy Church Initiative in 2018. These funds are made possible from the apportionment gifts of United Methodist churches across the state.
On this Christmas Day we celebrate the ministries of the church that have “filled the hungry with good things” (Luke 1:53). The Bidwell Riverside Center in Des Moines raised more than $30,000 in a fundraising event on November 2nd to reduce food insecurity among the people of central Iowa. Nearly 170 attendees enjoyed live music from the Nella Thomas Band and selected a unique handmade bowl to take home and remind them to find ways to fill the bowls of others every day.
United Methodist Women’s groups across the state donated bowls, promoted the event, and attended that evening. Additonal sponsors of the event included UnityPoint Health Des Moines, Duncan and Pam Gallagher, Bankers Trust, and Casey’s General Store.
The Polk County Board of Supervisors and their work for The Partnership for a Hunger-Free Polk County was honored as the community partner of the year that evening. In addition, Arlina Pearce, was honored for her hours of commitment to Bidwell and her regular donations of toiletries to stock the shelves.
Bidwell Riverside most recently received a $42,500 grant from the Iowa Board of Global Ministry in support of their ministries to break the cycle of poverty among families in need. The funds were made available from the apportionment gifts of United Methodist churches across the state.
Three students received $1,000 Student Day Merit Scholarship awards presented by the Board of Higher Education and Campus Ministry (BHECM) in 2017.
Jonathan Cox is a member of Salem United Methodist Church in Council Bluffs and plans to prepare for a career in youth ministry while a student at Simpson College.
Leandra Martins from Cedar Rapids and a member of First United Methodist Church in Marion is a second-year divinity student at Duke.
Annika Wasson is a member of St. Mark’s United Methodist Church in Iowa City, majoring in elementary education at Simpson College.
Awards are for merit in terms of academic performance; church, campus, high school and community involvement; financial need; and special vocational preparation for ministry or other service. The most recent Student Day Offering was on November 25, 2017. The board will use 10% of the total amount raised for 2018 awards in Iowa. The other 90% supports scholarships across the United Methodist connection.
BHECM helps to promote higher education and campus ministry throughout our conference and around the world, including Africa University and the Black College Fund. In 2017 the board has received $635,000 to support the campus ministries at our colleges and universities in Iowa. These funds are made possible with the apportionment gifts of United Methodist churches throughout the state.
“There is a message in our bricks,” declares Wesley United Methodist Church in Mason City. “They aren’t your usual bricks. They are rejected bricks—the ones that had flaws and imperfections, the ones who had been judged to be ‘not good enough.’ ”
This understanding of themselves has helped them embrace ministry to care for persons struggling with mental health issues. Their Wesley Family Outreach Ministry offers free, informal consultations with a trained and experienced clinical social worker at no cost to anyone in the community.
Ken Zimmerman, a licensed independent social work with forty years of experience who serves as the ministry’s director, is a difference maker. “Life isn’t easy,” he explains. “A lot of us struggle and have questions.” When individuals are feeling overwhelmed with worries or hang-ups, he is available to talk.
The Wesley Family Outreach Ministry has been supported in part by a Matthew 25 grant of $3,000 from the North Central District, which is made possible with apportionment gifts from United Methodist churches across the state of Iowa. “If you are looking for a church of people just like you who want to experience God’s love and be transformed by that love,” their website boldly states, “welcome to Wesley United Methodist Church!”
Diana is a high school junior from Osceola and a member of El Pueblo de Dios United Methodist Church who is teaching nutrition classes to elementary students in her area. She learned that her county has one of the highest rates of overweight children in the state of Iowa, and she wanted to address the problem.
She has been participating in the Simpson Youth Academy at Simpson College. The program challenges students to design and implement a project to make a difference in their communities as an expression of their faith.
Diana’s project also includes connecting members of her community to an immigration lawyer so they can have access to the resources that they need. “I want to take action and advocate for things that really matter,” Diana says.
“Everything that we have learned and discussed in the program has unleashed in me a deeper desire to follow Christ.”
El Pueblo de Dios works in partnership with the Osceola United Methodist Church. Members are working with their pastor, Rosa María Rodríguez, to develop new communities of faith among Hispanic residents of the South Central District. The Iowa Conference has committed $84,500 to this ministry in 2017 with apportionment gifts from United Methodist churches throughout the state.