For a small church, Union United Methodist gets big results.
The South Conway church regularly sees about 150 worshippers on any given Sunday. Despite that, the congregation has brought in close to $120,000 to fund water wells in Africa as well as improve its own facilities for effective ministry environments.
The more than 200-year-old church located on U.S. 701 South hopes to add more to that figure as it plans for its seventh annual Union with the Congo Golf Tournament.
The tournament, set for September 26 at Burning Ridge Golf Club, is the flagship fundraiser Union uses to provide clean water for drinking, bathing, cooking, cleaning, waste disposal and agriculture to a people who don’t have access to it. The tournament’s main funding is through sponsorships, and it has already secured two premier level sponsors.
This is the third consecutive year Lee Lewis Heating and Air Conditioning has been a premier sponsor of the event.
“I’ve just been blessed in my life,” Lee Lewis said. “That’s why I do it.”
Lewis believes in giving to the church and helping the community, even those communities that are on the other side of the ocean.
“They are God’s children, too,” Lewis said.
Coastal Asphalt is also a longtime golf tournament sponsor, with this being the second year at the premier level.
“We are grateful to be a part of something so vital and necessary as providing clean water to those who don’t have access to it,” said Sherry Winburn, president of Coastal Asphalt. “It’s awesome to be able to give back and share out of the blessings God has given us. It’s just the right thing to do.”
This past year’s tournament raised $9,000, but the mission-minded folks at Union doubled their fundraising efforts.
The increase in the donation to $18,000 comes as a result of “Giving Tuesday,” a nationwide day designed to increase online charitable giving. It’s set for the Tuesday after Thanksgiving in order to promote philanthropy, especially in the shopping aftermath of Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
As part of Giving Tuesday, the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM) matched the first $1 million in online gifts. Around the world, more than 770 projects and missionaries received over 8,700 gifts through Giving Tuesday by donors from 25 countries for a total of $2.5 million.
“For a church this size, to generate $18,000 through a single event is absolutely amazing,” said Union’s pastor, the Rev. James Grubb. “That is huge. Too often, a church the size of Union would look at the $7,000 figure for a latrine and say, ‘no way,’ but God placed it on these individual hearts to find a way.”
Pastor Grubb believes much of the success of Union with the Congo (UWTC) comes down to the people of Union stepping up to the call to just do something.
“The people of the church are passionate about it,” he said. “The Spirit has put it on their hearts to respond to this need.”
And the need is great. According to Union’s partner in ministry, the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), 2.5 billion people worldwide lack basic sanitation and 5,000 children die daily from waterborne diseases. Clean, clear water is essential, not only for drinking, but also for establishing much-needed medical facilities. Along with the wells dug near villages and schools, the latrines offer the people of the Congo privacy, dignity and safety.
In the beginning
When Union first came up with the idea of finding funding for church property upgrades during the 2008 Christmas season, it decided that for every $1 it raised, one dime would go to missions. As the idea of that sunk in, the small group grew more concerned they were looking too inward.
The folks quickly decided 10 percent going to outside missions just wasn’t enough, so the they made a commitment to go dollar for dollar. For every $1 raised for church repairs and renovations, Union would also give $1 toward world missions.
“The church realized it wanted to be about more than just itself,” said Keith Collins, UWTC committee chair.
The vision of doing missions both locally and globally caught on and spread quickly through the congregation. During that Christmas season, the members of Union donated $14,200. That’s $7,100 to build the first well in the Congo and another $7,100 to upgrade its own buildings - all without fundraising or seeking outside donations.
“It was just a dream,” remembers longtime UWTC committee member Cynthia Duke. “It was our dream.”
Since that dream began in 2008, UWTC has been able to fund the building of nine water wells and 10 latrines in the Katanga region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The other half of the fundraising monies has gone to upgrading Union’s children’s ministry facilities, renovating the sanctuary and implementing new technology.
While the golf tournament is intentionally a means to raise revenue, it’s also a recreational opportunity. Many think the fellowship of the golf tournament is a draw in itself.
“The Spirit of the church carries over to the tournament,” Pastor Grubb said.
Duke believes the event is enjoyable for the golfers as a social outlet, a sporting event and a way to support a good cause. “You’re having fun, but you’re still helping,” Duke said.
Many golfers return year after year. Sponsor Lee Lewis is a lifelong golfer and is a regular player in the tournament.
“Keith (Collins) and I have been playing on the same team for years,” adding that their foursome is probably one of the worst-scoring of the day. “We don’t play to win. We go to have a good time on a Saturday. I just enjoy going out to be with my friends and to play golf. We just have fun.”
Coastal Asphalt vice president Matt Winburn also took to the greens this past year. “We enjoy playing in the tournament as well as being able to sponsor it, but we won’t be quitting our day jobs,” Winburn said. “We had fun, but we also had the opportunity to make a difference in the community we live in as well as in the lives of people we don’t even know. In my book, that is a win-win situation.”
The Union with the Congo Golf Tournament includes breakfast before a shotgun start of 8:15 a.m. There’s lots of door prizes and packages to look forward to as well lunch after the tournament winners are announced. The church is currently accepting sponsors, players and door prizes to make this year’s fundraiser its best yet.
Visit www.liveandlovelikejesus.com to register as a sponsor or team, to volunteer or to learn more.