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Annual Conference offering to help lift people out of poverty

Annual Conference offering to help lift people out of poverty

One of the highlights of the 2012 Florida Annual Conference will be the offering, which supports the church’s missions and its local and global connections.

This year, 70 percent will go to ministries of the East Angola Conference and its partnership with the Florida Conference and 30 percent will go to Alfalit, a nonprofit organization that promotes literacy in 24 countries around the world. Both missions have deep roots in the Florida Conference.

For example, Alfalit was founded 50 years ago with Florida Methodist support and has had a retired Florida Conference pastor, Rev. Roberto Perez, at the helm since 1967. The organization has helped more than 7 million people learn to read, which prompted President Barack Obama to award Perez a prestigious Citizens Medal last year at a White House ceremony. 

Some of Harvest UMC mission team members, left to right:  Vaughan Harshman, Christopher Byal, East Angolan student Jorge Mucuta, Michael Baker, Eric De Grave. -Photo by Christine Ann Monroe-Loomes

And when eight members of Harvest UMC in Bradenton leave this week on a 13-day mission trip to East Angola, they will continue an eight-year partnership between the Florida Conference and that war-torn African country. The program has provided missionaries, scholarships, studies, transportation, building and systems repairs and vacation Bible schools.

Last year’s total offering of almost $86,000 yielded more than $60,000 for the East Angola/Florida Partnership.  Rev. Dr. Armando J. Rodriguez, Jr., chairperson of the partnership, listed results that include three Quessua High School graduates pursuing higher education. The current high school enrollment tops 900 students, and another 850 boys and girls are enrolled at the Hope of Africa Elementary and Middle schools.

Rodriguez and his wife, Icel, director of Global Missions for the Conference, lived and ministered in Angola for a year in 2009-10. Icel Rodriguez said the three current scholarship students have come a long way from their days in Quessua’s orphanage, as they now pursue business, law and medicine degrees.

“When they arrived in Quessua [in 2008], little did they know that God was going to give them such wonderful opportunities through the generosity of Christian Methodists in Florida,” she said, adding that a college degree in Angola is much more affordable than in the U.S.

“When we talk about investments for the transformation of the world, this qualifies as a top one.  As we make a difference in the lives of these young adults, they will make a difference in the lives of the next generation,” she said.

In addition to education, this year’s offering will provide for the orphanage feeding program and defray expenses for Florida mission teams in East Angola.

Also key is support for the missionary team of Dr. Leonardo Garcia and his wife, Dr. Cleivy Garcia, who went to East Angola in October 2011 from the Methodist Church of Cuba. The Garcias’ presence in East Angola represents the start of a three-way partnership between Florida, Cuba and East Angola conferences.

The Garcias are professors at the School of Theology in Quessua, where she is vice dean.  She also is director of the girls’ boarding house in Malange, and her husband is chairperson of the Board of Ordained Ministry and director of the boys’ boarding house.  Also co-pastors of Quessua UMC, they keep records of how Conference money is spent and provide reports every six months. Their presence makes it possible for Florida missionary teams to visit Quessua.

Harvest UMC member Vaughn Harshman, who went on a 2008 mission to East Angola, will lead the Harvest team in Quessua, where they will hold a vacation Bible school and work on housing for the older boarding students at the former parsonage.

Harshman said they’re taking window screening along to keep the malaria-causing mosquitoes out and will be painting and installing light fixtures.

“It’s a great opportunity for us to share with our brothers and sisters in another country and to realize that we’re all one in Christ,” he said.

Rev. Roberto Perez

This year’s Annual Conference attendees also will help celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Alfalit program with a presentation at 2:30 p.m. Friday.

Perez, the organization’s president, noted that Florida Methodists were there in the beginning, as women from the church gave a gift of $5,000 to help start the program. Today, Alfalit teaches people in Africa, Latin America and Portugal to read, write and do basic math.

Perez will review the organization’s latest achievements and once again thank the conference for its generosity and faithfulness.

“At the conference, I will be thanking God for the seed that was planted all those years ago and I will be showing The United Methodist church how their offerings have touched the lives of others,” Perez said.

“I will show how their gifts helped bring people from darkness to light.”