Award Honors New Jersey Covenant Church for AIDS Work

Post a Comment » Written on August 7th, 2009     
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BARRINGTON, IL (August 7, 2009) – Willow Creek Community Church presented Metro Community Covenant Church with its Courageous Leadership Award to honor the congregation’s work in combating AIDS in Africa.

The award was presented to Pastor Peter Ahn and Ron Kwak, director of the ministry, on Thursday during Willow Creek’s worldwide Leadership Summit. Metro won in the category for churches under 1,000 members. The Fort Lee, New Jersey, congregation has an average Sunday attendance of roughly 350, Ahn says.

Metro, which began in 2004, has been helping to combat the AIDS epidemic in Kwazulu Natal, a province in the eastern part of South Africa, for several years. Ahn, pictured in the accompanying photo during one of his visits, says 300 people a day die of AIDS in the region.

AhnIn April 2007, the church helped a South African woman named Rosetta start a nonprofit enterprise called Zimele. Ahn already knew Rosetta from a previous ministry with which she worked in South Africa.

Zimele – “to stand on one’s own feet” – empowers residents of the region to help themselves. Ahn emphasizes the work is not about charity. Zimele’s work includes three primary initiatives: micro banking, starting micro enterprises, and community mentoring.

The micro bank savings program involves 50 active savings groups with a total of 600 program participants. Each group goes through an eight-module training program that provides training in finances and group dynamics. Zimele staff monitor the performance and provide additional training to underperforming groups. The groups have given out 1,300 loans for the purpose of purchasing food, gaining more education, completing home renovations and starting and/or growing small businesses.

Micro businesses provide women in the savings groups with training and materials to start their own small businesses and access markets to sell their products. One of the businesses includes a catering company.

In the Zulu tradition, people gather for meals following a funeral, but the people in the Kwazul Natal region frequently have little food to serve, nor do they have the cookware in which to prepare what food they might have. The catering company is able to provide that service, Ahn says.

The community mentoring program partners with small, locally based nonprofits to provide training and tools necessary to implement community initiatives. The program is involved with establishing the first community library and computer center, food parcel distribution system for those in extreme poverty, home hospice care and support, and community gardens.

Ahn says, “Zimele has become part of the fabric of our church.” He adds, “One of the reasons we started the church was we really felt a big part of Christian discipleship was to meet Jesus Christ through the hurting, the oppressed, the least and the lost.” He explains more about the ministry in the accompanying video.

Congregation members constantly are considering how they can raise funds for the ministry. At least one couple getting married did not do wedding favors at the reception because the money was going to be used to support Zimele, Ahn says.

As many as 35 people from the church have traveled to South Africa, and two more teams are scheduled to go this year. The trips enable church members to more fully understand the importance and impact of the ministry as well as develop relationships with the people.

In making their decision to honor the church, competition judges said, “As a young, relatively small church, Metro is putting on a clinic on how to do affective, holistic AIDS ministry.”

The awards committee noted that dozens of congregation members have been to Africa “to serve and learn” and “provide resources, both in terms of money and people, way beyond what a smaller church ‘should’ be able to do.”

Committee members also told Ahn that they were impressed with the way the church was leveraging its leadership. Metro has invited leaders of other churches to participate in trips and those participants have returned to encourage their own congregations to assist the ministry.

World Vision also sponsors the award. This was the last year for the award, as originally planned when first offered three years ago. To read more about the award, click here.

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