I shouldn’t be surprised anymore, but miracles still take my breath away, and I am left speechless. Such was the case last week when Betty Bourn from the United Methodist Women at Caledonia United Methodist Church called to say that the UMW had decided to make a $15,000 contribution to our $500,000 Ubuntu Gathering Center project at Africa University in Zimbabwe. This was in addition to a previous $5,000 pledge that the UMW made last year.
139 local churches, hundreds of individuals, and all 6 districts have made contributions to the Ubuntu Gathering Center, which is a mission project led by the Grand Rapids District on behalf of the West Michigan Conference. However, Caledonia UMW is the only woman’s group to make a $20,000 pledge.
The story is amazing. Martha C. Breckon, a member of Caledonia Methodist Episcopal Church, died in 1930. The widow of a physician, Martha had no heirs and left 3 shares of stock from the State Bank of Caledonia to the Women’s Home Missionary Society of Caledonia Methodist Episcopal Church.
Those 3 shares divided and split over the years, with the Women’s Home Missionary Society using money from dividends as their working capital for mission giving. In the late 1990’s Chemical Bank bought the State Bank of Caledonia, and the United Methodist Women, as it is now called, received a sizeable lump sum. Over the years the UMW made a generous contribution to the Caledonia UMC Endowment Fund, helped with appliances in the church kitchen, and funded several other church projects. Most of the income generated, however, went to numerous mission projects around the world and in the Grand Rapids metropolitan area, including United Methodist Community House, Mel Trotter Mission, the food bank, and Access 6, a local organization providing emergency relief for those in need.
In May 2011 Jenny Kroeze, a member of our Africa University Task Force who is active in UMW leadership, made a presentation to the Caledonia UMW about the Ubuntu Gathering Center, and the women responded with a $5,000 pledge. Since then the UMW discussed the fact that with interest rates so low, perhaps now would be the time to dip into principle because, after all, the needs are so great around the world.
Last week a UMW member suggested that it would be a marvelous tribute to the generosity of Martha Breckon if they would add $15,000 to their previous pledge of $5,000. This would enable the UMW to fund a $20,000 room at the Ubuntu Gathering Center in Martha’s memory. Betty said that part of their reasoning is the ripple effect of the Ubuntu Gathering Center. Not only will it help Africa University by providing retreat accommodations and meeting space, but the Ubuntu Gathering Center will also empower AU to further its mission to create moral, ethical, and spiritual leaders for the entire continent of Africa. Because of the Caledonia UMW’s gift, we are well over our $500,000 goal, and ground will be broken shortly at Africa University.
A faithful Methodist and disciple of Jesus Christ died 82 years ago, and her gift is still changing lives today. There is no doubt in my mind that disciples of Jesus Christ have Holy Spirit power. We have the financial, human, and spiritual resources to change the world. Why is it, then, that some dreams, like the Ubuntu Gathering Center, take root and grow, while other equally worthy projects never fulfill their potential? Why do miracles happen in some places and not in others? How can you and I do great things for God and our world that others would deem impossible? The secret is in the process.
Anatomy of a Miracle
ü A Vision: All great accomplishments start with a dream and a vision of what could be. What drives miracles is a vision of God’s preferred future, imagining what others can’t yet see.
ü Inspiration: Vision leads to inspiration, which means that the dream is “God-breathed.” Without the power of the Holy Spirit, we can do nothing.
ü A Team: Once a vision is in place, leaders need to gather a group of people who are committed to the dream and have a single-minded passion for accomplishing it.
ü Prayer: Prayer undergirds all great undertakings because God yearns to be our partner. By intentionally seeking God’s will and direction, we work together.
ü A Plan: Most great ideas fail because we don’t spend the necessary time formulating a realistic yet challenging “game plan,” which includes specific steps and a timetable for how we will accomplish our goal.
ü A Clear Strategy: The most critical element of fulfilling a vision is strategy. Exactly how will we get from here to there and pull off our plan? Who are our greatest allies and how do we get them on board? What people with specific expertise are not yet sitting at the table and need to be there?
ü Telling the Story: If we want others to become enthusiastic about our vision, we must find ways to tell the story that are compelling and touch people’s hearts. With an inspiring vision and effective communication, your project will sell itself.
ü Perseverance and Adaption: Every worthwhile ministry has its ups and downs. It took three and a half years to articulate the dream, strategize around a plan, and raise the money for the Ubuntu Gathering Center. Along the way we experienced numerous setbacks, which demanded flexibility and the ability to adapt. Whenever we stalled, we had to encourage each other and remind ourselves of the vision.
ü Taking Advantage of Momentum: Success builds upon success. When you achieve a milestone in your project, communicate that joy to your constituency and encourage others to hop on the bandwagon. Our momentum built in the several months before the 2011 and 2012 West Michigan Annual Conferences as we reported on our progress.
ü Patience: Nothing great happens overnight. Most human beings have to hear things multiple times before responding. If we are persuasive and persistent, however, eventually the light will go on, and others will become convinced of the merits of the project.
ü Broadening the Scope: As worthy and transformative projects gain momentum, people and groups that we do not expect will want to become part of something great. Through the influence of Dr. Jim Salley, Vice-Chancellor for Institutional Advancement at AU, The Ubuntu Gathering Center caught the attention of an anonymous donor, who has agreed to match our $500,000 goal, enabling us to build both Phase 1 and Phase 2. Don’t be afraid to solicit and include organizations and individuals outside of your target groups. You may be surprised by the enthusiasm.
ü Cultivation of major donors: When raising money for a large project, a significant percentage of the total must come from a small number of donors. Discern who might have a special interest in your project and seek them out. Meet individually with prospective donors, and don’t be afraid to ask for a specific amount. If you tell the story with conviction and explain why your project fits their interests and passions, who knows how the Spirit will move?
ü Saying thank you: We can never find enough ways to say thank you to contributors. Make phone calls, write handwritten letters, host dinners, and recognize major donors with naming opportunities.
ü Staying focused on the mission: The bottom line of all great endeavors is that they transform structures and institutions, change individual lives, and bring God’s shalom to our world. When churches forget their mission and turn inward, potential miracles easily dissolve into turf wars, ego trips, or resentment at the time demands.
ü Remembering that it’s not about you: Our AU Task Force made many mistakes along the way. What kept us going, however, was the reminder that all miracles are ultimately God’s doing, and God call simply calls us to be faithful.
Miracles don’t happen haphazardly in the church or anywhere else. They happen when passionate people intentionally dream, strategize, and accomplish great things for God and our world. With the Olympics now in full swing, we’ll see many miracles over the next several weeks. But those miracles don’t come out of thin air, either. They occur precisely because of the long term commitment of athletes to bring their vision to reality by sacrificing all, working their game plan, inspiring us with their determination, and going for the gold.
Most important, miracles happen when people partner with God to fulfill a dream that will bring our world closer to the kingdom of heaven on earth. “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not reply on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” Proverbs 3:5-6
Thank you, Martha Breckon and Caledonia United Methodist Women!