2015 Advance Special: Missions Team Seeking 25 ‘Hope Companions’ for ZOE’s Unique Ministry
Having witnessed the ZOE mission's "Acts" type supportive community, the conference mission team wants Texas Annual Conference individuals, churches or districts to pledge to support 25 Working Groups by August this year.
Heart-warming stories unfolded before their eyes. When the Texas Conference mission team saw firsthand how ZOE’s empowerment program equips orphans and vulnerable children to succeed in self-managing groups, they returned to Texas inspired to support additional working groups. “We witnessed the formation of a completely new group while we were there,” shares Rev. Lani Rousseau, Perritte Memorial UMC, Nacogdoches, “and our group became excited about being their ‘Hope Companions’ for the next three years.”
Pat Brown of Edgewood Tx. was amazed how the Zoe project ministry trains the youth to be food secure and self sustainable. “These children are often heads of households, and agree to invest themselves in the ZOE process for a three-year period,” explains Pat. “The TAC team experienced the stories, and home visits of youth at the third, second and first-year levels. We could bear witness to the grace of our good God as they declared "Bona ah seFe way," Praise be to God before they spoke about their accomplishments. We heard stories of despair and listened how God their working group and U.S. Hope Companion partners have lifted them up to be successful, respected members of their community.”
We’ll Take 25!
In fact, the mission team thought it would be very feasible and admirable for the Texas Conference to recruit commitments --by August --for 25 ‘Hope Companions’ for these youngsters who would otherwise be alone, hungry and ostracized. “Hope Companions come alongside their working group with financial support of $7,500 a year and encouragement in a three-year partnership,” Lani explains. In turn, the Zoe group members elect their own leadership, select a group name and choose a volunteer adult mentor from their community to journey with them. Together, each group chooses and manages an income-generating project, with the goal of working together toward self-sufficiency and ‘graduation’ after three-years of support. She is excited to report that Executive Director Gaston Warner’s goal is 94 committed Hope Companions in time for budget preparation in August. "To support the 2015 Conference Advance Special,” Lani urges, “the TAC Missions committee is urging congregations throughout the TAC to commit to a fourth of those new groups!”
Leading by Example
Witnessing the program in action during their mission experience in Africa was a powerful catalyst to this idea. “In the short time we were there,” Lani adds, “it was incredible to see how much our group, (which named themselves the Blessing group) transformed. I would personally partner with several of the groups as their Hope Companion if I had the money to do it singlehandedly – that’s how strongly I feel about this impactful opportunity through ZOE.” The companion model facilitates a two-way relationship. While Western partners often have resources and encouragement to share, the orphans and vulnerable children in ZOE’s program have courage and a deep spiritual vitality to share with their working group partners. ZOE works hard to create avenues for church groups and for individuals to be inspired, challenged, and transformed through their relationship with ZOE children.
Upon returning from Africa, Rev. Jon Thornsbury, First UMC Canton shared, “The most amazing aspect that I observed during our time in Kenya was seeing firsthand the difference in the young people that were involved in the different work groups. Youth in the third-year working groups were confident and sure of themselves, demonstrating initiative in showing us their work and shops. They appeared healthy and were proud of their accomplishments. However, those young people we met in the first-year working group rarely made eye contact or spoke to us. It was striking to see how empowered the third-year group was. I saw the transformative power of God through the lives of these young people who had been empowered to be who God had created them to be.”
One of the laity representatives on the 21-person Conference team, Bob Ford from Lufkin, helped the mission team realize they could adopt a working group if they each contributed $375 a year, or about $30 each month over three years. “We quickly realized that was doable for us and possibly for a District goal or for several of our Texas congregations to split,” adds Lani. “It really is exciting to understand that your support will enable one or more working groups of 60 or more orphans and vulnerable children to participate in the ZOE empowerment program as far away as Kenya, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Liberia, Guatemala and India.”
Parritte Memorial UMC members are considering their commitment to a working group, and in fact started fundraising during Lent. “Even though we are a small church, it is so touching to see our people taking this to heart. Instead of giving up something, we took something on during Lent and held a coin drive that has raised almost $700 so far, with more trickling in,” shares Lani.
Committed Hope Companions so far
Lani shares, “It is clear to see, the Holy Spirit is working on people. Groups that understand the magnitude of this empowerment ministry model catch on and sign up to do this –with great joy at the transformative power both for Hope Companions and orphans.”
- (2) St. Luke’s UMC, Houston
- St. Mark’s Pecore, Houston
- Texas Conference Mission Committee and ZOE mission ‘Texas travelers team”
- Chapelwood UMC, Lake Jackson
- A&M UMC, College Station
- Faith UMC, Spring
- Memorial Drive UMC, The Journey worship community
Call to Action
According to Center Director Rev. Diane McGehee, the Center for Missional Excellence has been working hard to help congregations move more fully into a model of mission that empowers the local church in the local community in all of our partnerships around the world. “This is a paradigm shift from models that create dependency on U.S. teams to models that help lift the local community into self-sustainability in partnership with the local church,” Diane explains. “When we can help local churches create jobs and provide training and opportunities that meet the needs of the local community in conversation with that community, we help the church bring the whole gospel to a community and its members. ZOE is a great example of a model that is doing that well and from which we can learn a great deal.” The TAC Missions Committee is seeking “to put flesh on the prayer, 'Thy kingdom come, they will be done, on earth as it is in heaven' for whole persons and communities.”
“The ZOE Helps plan is simple and so Biblical,” shares Lani. “They share everything and in effect form a new community within one where they would normally be devalued. We witnessed the creation of a brand new group who are beginning to understand they are not orphaned because they have a Heavenly Father that loves them dearly.” Lani and others from the Texas Travelers hope leaders from across the Conference will stop by the ZOE table at Annual Conference in May or contact ZOE for more information. “We need God to call us out to impact these lives in an eternal way – and in the process begin to better understand how this model can be leveraged to impact needs within our own communities in Texas.”
To read about Zoe please see Paula Arnold’s blog reports from the February, 2015 at http://www.txcumc.org/blogs. You may also visit www.zoehelps.com.