From Poverty to Self Reliance in Just Three Years
ZOE’s unique mission model offers congregations a way to take part in a three-year empowerment program to help vulnerable children and orphans build a better life for themselves. Bishop Janice Huie appointed Rev. Gaston Warner as Executive Director of ZOE and encourages churches across the conference to explore this unique global change initiative, and participate in the blessings.
Faith Karambu, age 18, has three younger siblings living with her in Kenya. They became orphans several years ago living in poverty until they joined a unique ministry called ZOE. Through ZOE, Faith connected to an orphan named Catherine who had recently graduated from ZOE’s three-year mentoring program and started a tailoring shop. Catherine is now teaching Faith how to generate an income for her family.
Meanwhile, back in Houston, Contemporary Worship Leader Faith Ayers is still talking about her unforgettable journey to meet the orphans that St. Luke’s UMC members are helping to move from extreme poverty to self-sufficiency in partnership with ZOE.
“St. Luke’s supports three working groups of about 230 African orphans,” shares Faith. “Our kids are doing amazingly well as they approach the third year of the program. When we arrived to meet them last summer, they were cultivating a field that is the responsibility of one of the orphans in the group. In this program, they support and help each other just like a family. The ZOE model teaches them how to create business plans, learn life skills, and learn about child and human rights.”
Faith was further touched when the orphans offered their visitors a beautiful celebration of millet porridge from their crops, a passionate praise song to God, and they expressed their commitment to praying for St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Texas every day. She adds, “I pray that we continue to work with ZOE so that we can empower a generation that otherwise might be lost. I think that this generation can lead its community out of poverty and change the trajectory of the country’s future for the better.”
How you can become an “Inside Out” church with ZOE
ZOE’s empowerment approach, developed and initially implemented by Africans in Kenya, Rwanda, Malawi and Zimbabwe, has already changed the lives of over 30,000 orphans across Africa.
Woodlands UMC Missions Pastor John Hull also has great confidence in this ministry model. “From start to finish, they utilize practices and principles that are Christ-centered, that empower rather than conform, and it is all done within the contextual African setting and worldview,” he says. “Our church began supporting ZOE in 2010, sponsoring a working group in Kenya with approximately 73 orphans in 24 family groups. In three years, the children grew in their faith in Jesus Christ, in their ability to survive, in their status in the community, in their sense of personal worth, and in their hope and vision for the future.”
Adds John, “This year, we have doubled our support. In this three-year commitment, there are 54 family groups (151 orphans) who live in Rwanda. On June 25, we are taking a mission team to meet them, hear their stories, and pray with them.”
“What excites me about the ZOE program,” adds Rev. Diane McGehee, Director of TAC Center for Missional Excellence, “is that it honors the dignity of the children, families and communities with which ZOE works. By calling forth and developing the God-given gifts and skills of these children and connecting them deeply with their own communities, ZOE helps these children learn that they have the power in Christ to manage their lives and contribute to their families and communities. It’s a relational, empowering model rather than a model of dependency. It’s the model of the church, the body of Christ, in which each member has a valuable contribution to make which is just as important as the contribution of any other member of the body. It’s a model that the Center for Missional Excellence is encouraging all churches to emulate in their missional work.”
Through the support of congregations like Woodlands UMC, St. Luke’s UMC -- and a new partnership with the Texas Annual Conference -- this effective program for eradicating extreme poverty among vulnerable children is expanding to new areas.
Executive Director Rev. Gaston Warner is eager to do presentations and introductory meetings with churches across Texas and create partnerships customized to each location’s circumstances. Alice King, Outreach Director for St. Luke’s UMC, says, “In one day, Gaston visited with our Men’s Life group, Board of Stewards, staff chapel service, the youth department and other groups to give them tangible ways to involve the congregation in this relational ministry. Additionally, St. Luke’s has dedicated Advent offerings and hosted fundraisers to help ZOE expand and develop a different model for vulnerable children in Guatemala. “I so much appreciate St. Luke’s, Woodlands UMC and the Texas Annual Conference for being willing to risk involving the congregation with a mission that is outside of the typical framework,” adds Gaston.
“ZOE involvement is transformational for each of us on the church side,” adds Alice. “We love creating a list of ways that every department, ministry and individuals can be involved far beyond just writing a check.” “I would encourage other United Methodist churches to join in the work with ZOE,” says John. “By empowering orphans within their own cultures to become confident, educated, self-sufficient, and Christ-centered, we can help provide them with a solid future that includes becoming leaders within their villages and their churches.”
Jeff Boyer, who heads up the Outreach Committee for St. Luke's UMC loves the transformative nature of this ministry. "I think one of the amazing things about ZOE is that the transformation requires action.
The transformation of the church comes by seeking to understand the program, and then being fully engaged. Following along with the children's stories through the website helps us understand what change is happening, and the "Stories of Hope" really spotlight individual children and the transformation they are going through."
Call to Action
The Center for Missional Excellence encourages churches across the Texas Annual Conference to participate in, and learn from, ZOE. If one church is unable to support the full 3-year program for a working group of child families, churches can combine together to support one group. Last year, churches throughout the TAC joined together to contribute $80,472, to launch and fully support three new TAC-sponsored ZOE working groups, empowering hundreds of children to move out of poverty and build strong supportive ties with each other and their communities in and through the love of Christ. Look for the ZOE table at Annual Conference and/or contact the Center for Missional Excellence to learn more about how you and your church can participate.
Learn more by visiting the website: http://www.zoehelps.org/.