By Jessica Brodie
This year, United Methodists across South Carolina are gearing up to tackle two major conference-wide mission projects, and leaders are hoping everyone will get involved.
The South Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church is committing to what they call the “Homeless Initiative,” partnering with Upstate-based organization Homes of Hope to build two to four houses for homeless families in Greenville, and the “Bikes for the World Project,” asking youth in each district to collect and donate 1,200 bikes (100 bikes per district) to help people who can’t afford a bike—many for basic transportation.
The mission projects are designed to reflect the theme of Annual Conference 2017, “A More Excellent Way: We Walk by Faith, Not by Sight.” Set for June 4-7, 2017, in Greenville, conference leaders are hoping their time in the Upstate will not just be one of conferencing but one of truly making a real impact in the community.
“It’s a good way to make a tremendous impact,” said Greenville District Superintendent Dr. George Howle.
“Annual Conference is more than just a business meeting, but an opportunity for United Methodists across South Carolina to experience ministry in the communities that host our Annual Conference event,” said South Carolina Resident Bishop Jonathan Holston. “Our 2017 annual conference Homeless Initiative is an opportunity for us to make a positive impact in the Greenville area that will last beyond our time of meeting there. The goal of our Bikes for the World project is to invite youth to be in mission in our state and around the world and that youth can make a difference in ministry at any age of life or stage of faith. My hope is that every church will commit to participate in these two initiatives. By doing so, United Methodists in South Carolina will learn the impact we make when we ‘walk by faith and not by sight’ in ministry.”
This project asks United Methodists across the state to pledge $100 by the end of September to help the conference sponsor homes for homeless families in the Greenville area.
The UMCSC is partnering with Homes of Hope, an agency with a mission to transform lives and break the poverty cycle. The conference sponsors 25 percent of the cost, and Homes of Hope pays for the rest, Howle said.
In order to sponsor a home, the conference needs to sign a letter of commitment for $39,000 for each home. Two churches in the Greenville District—Buncombe Street and Covenant UMCs—have already committed to funding two of these homes, and the conference is hoping individuals across the state will chip in resources to help the conference sponsor two more homes.
“Our motivation is how do we reach those in greatest need, and we have a rather large homeless population here in Greenville,” Howle said. “We had the tent cities, which the city did away with, so now we have a lot of people who have no place to go.”
Indeed, the need is great, not only in Greenville but across South Carolina. Numbers show 787,788 people in South Carolina are living in poverty, and 268,467 (25.3 percent) of South Carolina children are living in poverty.
“What pulls at my heart is how many children live below poverty level‑32.4 percent in Greenville,” Howle said.
Statistics say at least 850 children in Greenville County schools are considered homeless.
Churches are asked to complete a pledge card at www.umcsc.org and return it to Conference Treasurer Beth Westbury by Sept. 30 committing to $100 or however much they or their church wish to contribute. Funds should be paid by Dec. 31 so the homes can be built by Annual Conference 2017. For those who wish to help with labor, leaders will be organizing volunteer teams to do painting, landscaping and other tasks prior to or the week of Annual Conference, Howle said.
The request is intentionally low, just $100 each, because leaders know many United Methodist are still paying on pledges they made to support the UMCSC’s Imagine No Malaria initiative, which pledged $1 million to the global UMC’s effort by 2018.
Bikes for the World
This projects asks youth to collect and donate 1,200 bicycles to Bikes for the World, an international bike charity that ships used bikes to low-income families across the world. Each district is asking youth to contribute 100 bikes. Of the 1,200 bikes collected, 200 will go to Triune Mercy Center in Greenville and the South Main Chapel and Mercy Center in Anderson to be given to children and adults who cannot afford a bike—many who need one for basic transportation.
They are also collecting $10 per bike for the shipping charge.
The UMCSC will celebrate this mission with a family bike ride on Greenville Health System’s Swamp Rabbit Trail the Saturday before Annual Conference.
“I think its important because it’s going to be able to allow folks in other parts of the world who don’t have transportation to have something we take for granted: a bicycle,” said congregational specialist Chris Lynch, who is coordinating the bikes project. “On a conference level, it gives the youth the chance to come together, work together, connect, accomplish something together and get young people involved in being the church. That’s not just important for young people but to young people, and gives them a tangible way to get involved and celebrate that.”
He said even though it’s being organized as a youth project, adults can help, too—particularly by donating the $10/bike needed for shipping charges.
Howle said Bikes for the World is a great program, and the bikes will be shipped to countries mainly in Africa. New and used bikes are welcome, both youth and adult sizes.
“In my experience a lot of people cannot afford automobiles or even a bike, a bike can be diff between getting a job or not get a job can make a huge difference,” Howle said.
Bike collections will be organized in each district. Those looking to get involved now or learn more should contact Lynch at 864-590-4628 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tying in with conference goals
Leaders say the two mission initiatives tie in nicely with the UMCSC’s “bold goals” for 2017. Those goals are to reach out to those in greatest need, to break the poverty cycle, to make a difference in the lives of children and to share hope in our community.
“We are walking by faith and not by sight,” Howle said.
For more information: www.umcsc.org.