By Rev. Kathy Dickriede*
We are called to make and mature disciples of Jesus Christ so that we can transform the world – but that transformation doesn’t always happen overnight. The congregation of Fitchville UMC (Firelands District) is excited to see that a decision made in 2015 will soon make life easier for people it has been praying for but has not met – at least not yet.
In 2015, Fitchville UMC leadership chose a new way to be a blessing to others. The congregation had been challenged to tithe gifts and investments, so, after receiving a gift from an estate, the people of the church answered the call to be God’s agents of transformation. The Leadership Council voted to give $23,000 to The Starfish Project, a local ministry to help people with life controlling addictions, which funded sending people to Teen Challenge. Another $23,300 was given for solar power at Camphor Mission Station in Liberia.
The donations were the fruit of seeds that had been sown decades earlier and the resulting plants that grew from them and were watered and pruned by many over the ensuing years. Those actions will enable a local community to transform lives on the other side of the world. There were many people over the years whose ministries helped influence the decision to donate money to these two projects, including:
- Mary Tillson who was part of the congregation as a child. She was born in the New London area, raised there on her family’s farm, and then moved away after she got married. She and her husband Gardner never had children. She was a lover of the earth and all that it produced. Fitchville UMC was one of the non-profits that received money from her estate.
- Rev. Georgette Gaston, pastor of Fitchville UMC in 2015, advocated often during her ministry for relationships, needs, and partnerships in the mission field – a passion she had discovered while part of a United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMMVIM) team trip to Liberia.
- Not too long before the Council made its decision, Brian Sheetz, executive director of the Methodist Foundation of Ohio, met with leadership about a small investment the church had. During his talk, Sheetz encouraged leadership to consider tithing gifts that the church receives.
- Rev. Doug Winner and Huron County Sheriff Dane Howard began The Starfish Project to help young people out of addiction.
Today, Fitchville UMC Pastor the Rev. Ted Buehl is strengthening the partnership that began long before his appointment to the church. I look forward to being with Ted and his congregation on Sunday, June 13. I will preach the message and thank the Fitchville UMC congregation for its generous gift – and for its patience. It’s been a long and winding road, but the destination is within sight!
When the funds for solar energy were received in 2015, they couldn’t be used immediately because the 3Cs Task Group, wanting to be good stewards of the gift, wouldn’t use the money until it could ensure that the solar power would be secure and reliable. Then, the Ebola pandemic happened in Liberia followed by a terminal illness for the onsite leader at the Camphor Mission Station and ensuing changes in leadership and ministries.
In late 2019, the time was right for solar products to be available in Liberia and for leadership to submit applications for consideration for the use of those funds. In early 2020, the UMVIM Committee reviewed applications for the solar funds and the decision was made to support two such projects in Liberia: one at Farmer to Farmer in Harrisburg, which provides farming equipment and training to farmers in Liberia; and the other at New Life Recovery Center Drug Rehabilitation Center Sundaygar Town, Marshall, Margibi County, through which 121 persons have celebrated sobriety and been reintegrated into society. Then the COVID-19 pandemic happened, and the funds, and the forward progress, were stalled again.
In the meantime, Buehl worked with the Fitchville UMC Leader Council to expand the reach of the solar gift to all of Liberia. The good news is that today, the funds are being released. A church’s dream and vision will be realized, and partnerships will be formed and strengthened. A community will have lights for learning in the evening hours, a cold chain for medication, hope for internet and connections to the world, and progress for capacity building, for thriving, and for justice.
“Isn’t the way God works simply overwhelming?” asked Gaston, amazed that the solar work that is soon to begin had humble beginnings as, “Dreams that began over 100 years ago in the heart of a child … to God be all the praise and glory!”
Christ is alive:
- when churches live out their faith in bold risk-taking ways,
- when the Spirit leads prophets to speak truth and to challenge,
- when leadership rises-up to bring healing to brokenness and addiction, and
- when we walk with each other into the future with hope.
*Rev. Kathy Dickriede is director of Missions & Community Engagement for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.