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A virtual mission trip? Sign up, buckle up, and experience Zoe Empowers

A virtual mission trip? Sign up, buckle up, and experience Zoe Empowers

Missions and Outreach


This is not another "how can we cope in the age of COVID-19" story.

Yes, it's about virtual meetings, but it's more about sharing good news and contributing to the success of people you don't know and may never meet in person. Believe this: You will be inspired.

So, sign up, buckle up, and prepare to be lifted up by something free but priceless. It's a three-day "international virtual mission trip" to Rwanda, Kenya, and India under the banner of Zoe Empowers.

It runs via Zoom from Dec. 1-3 from 9:30-11 a.m. Click this link to register and spread the word. The experience is free to everyone.

Watch by yourself or with a virtual group, such as a Sunday School class. Tell friends who attend churches of other denominations, or maybe don't attend church at all.

No, you won't be asked to make virtual repairs on broken-down homes or any such manual labor. Instead, you'll be introduced to young people who rose from despair so deep that anyone except those inspired by God to offer a helping hand might consider it hopeless.

That's what Zoe Empowers does. It's a non-profit headquartered in Raleigh, N.C. that seeks, as its website says, to turn abandoned and vulnerable children from beggars into bosses within three years.

"Guided by the core belief of not doing anything for these young people that they can be taught to do for themselves, we equip orphaned and vulnerable children to overcome extreme poverty by addressing multiple barriers simultaneously," Zoe proclaims.

Volunteers go to serve those with one foot over the edge of despair and, through a three-year empowerment program fueled by grants and education, watch children with nothing develop and operate their businesses.

They turn into productive, leading citizens of their villages and towns.
It transforms a generation and breaks decades-old cycles of hopelessness.

"Each day you're literally speaking to the orphaned children and seeing how God has changed and empowered their lives," said Molly McEntire, Mission Training and Volunteer Coordinator at the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church.

Participants on the virtual mission trip won't just watch and listen to these stories. The children and young adults on the other side of the world will have questions of their own to ask those watching. They'll make you laugh, maybe cry a little, but mostly they will open your eyes to the possibilities.

COVID-19 forced churches to adapt through technology in many cases over in-person meetings. The same goes for mission trips. Maybe you're unable to fly 18 hours, slog through mud, and endure hardships that can be part of such visits. But as this virtual mission trip shows, vocal support is important too, even from afar.

Ann Eppinger of Orlando is Vice-Chairperson on the Zoe Empowers Board of Directors. Like many in the program, she volunteers her services.

"Jesus commanded us to go all over the world. This is a healthy and cost-effective way to do that. Even after the pandemic subsides, these virtual meetings aren't going away. There's no turning back," she said.

This former investment banker learned the truth of that statement during a 2014 trip to Rwanda. The journey took her down a dirt road, winding past little piles and shacks until they arrived at their destination.

It was like a little compound, complete with mud huts.

She met a young woman named Winifred, about 18 years old, who in a flash had the world thrust upon her shoulders. When she was 12, her father died, her mother abandoned the family, and she was left to care for four younger siblings.

But how?

The house left by their parents was little more than rubble and had no electricity. It was, in a word, unlivable.

When Winifred was 18, she couldn't make eye contact while telling her story.

"She couldn't make eye contact with us," Eppinger said. "She was hungry. She was not healthy. Extreme poverty is very isolating. You're so busy trying to find a meal a day, or every other day, that you don't have time for anything else."

Fortunately, she made time to participate in the program.

Eppinger picks up the story here.

"I saw her 18 months later, halfway through the program. She had bought a grocery business and sold groceries to the community. That gave her the capital to buy land to grow her own vegetables," she said.

"Speed up another year later, now 2 ½ years into the program. She had cows, pigs, chickens. She had become such a powerhouse in her community and was integrated into council meetings. That house her parents left her that was rubble is repaired, and the family has a place to live, with electricity."

An unusual story?

After 18 months, Winifred exudes confidence and runs her own business.

Hardly.

"I know about hundreds of stories like that one," Eppinger said.

Go straight to the source and discover for yourself the impact of Zoe Empowers.

"One of the most important things to me is hearing the stories of the orphans and vulnerable children," Eppinger said.

"You really get that. You hear their transformation, and that's really neat. It's always the most impactful thing."

A cycle was broken, and hope replaced hopelessness. The light crowded out the darkness. And everyone can have a part to play in fulfilling Jesus' command to go forth in service and love.

--Joe Henderson is News Content Editor for FLUMC.org.


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