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.