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The Advance, Explained


By Carrie Madren

Advance #09229A is more than a number. For Dr. Lowell Gess and his wife, a registered nurse, who served as missionaries in Nigeria and Sierra Leone from 1952 through 1975, Advance #09229A was a lifeline.

Madame Espady sells food and household goods from her market stall in Mizak, Haiti. She has received a microcredit loan from Haiti Artisans for Peace International (Advance #3020490).
Madame Espady sells food and household goods from her market stall in Mizak, Haiti. She has received a microcredit loan from Haiti Artisans for Peace International (Advance #3020490).

Their mission was to bring vision care to Sierra Leone—often literally helping the blind to see—as well as sharing the gospel in a country of 6 million people where, at the time, no one else was doing eye surgery. Advance #09229A was the project number assigned by The Advance. To the Gesses, it symbolized the connection between the eye care and the rest of the United Methodist world.

"The Advance has been a crucial part of this work," says Gess, who now lives in Alexandria, Minn., and whose wife, Ruth, passed away two years ago.

Today, the Lowell and Ruth Gess UMC Eye Hospital is among more than 850 mission projects around the world that meet both physical and spiritual needs of individuals. Such work takes money. That's why The Advance—the designated-giving channel of The United Methodist Church—has emphasized the importance of supporting ministries and missions financially for more than 60 years.

Ellen Knudsen
Ellen Knudsen

"We are working throughout the world, working with church leaders who are expressing their goals and dreams, and bringing together donors who help fund those priorities," says Ellen Knudsen, director of Advance projects for the General Board of Global Ministries, the church's mission agency.

The Advance is not a charity itself but a channel of giving, explains Bishop Hope Morgan Ward, president of the Global Ministries' board and bishop of the North Carolina Conference. "People don't give to The Advance; they give through The Advance."

Giving money through The Advance helps sustain projects that feed, clothe, teach, rescue, house and, most importantly, share Jesus.

A unique concept

"The unique thing about The Advance is that it's a channel through which mission dollars flow 100 percent to the designated mission project," says Ward.

That's unusual, because for most charitable organizations, some percentage of the donation (typically between 10 to 40 percent) pays administrative costs.

But donate through The Advance, and 100 percent of the offering goes to the project. Administrative costs—keeping the website current, paying staff, tracking gifts, staying in touch with missionaries and project coordinators—is covered by part of the money Global Ministries receives from the World Service Fund, which receives money from the apportionments paid by local churches.

The Rev. Shawn Bakker
The Rev. Shawn Bakker

"If you're giving to an after-school program in Brazil, you know 100 percent of that is going to the program," says the Rev. Shawn Bakker, deputy general secretary of development and communications at Global Ministries.

Where help is needed

As the denomination's designated-giving arm, The Advance channels support to more than 850 projects and 300 missionaries around the world. Projects include disaster response, refugee assistance, health programs, food centers, orphanages, vacation Bible schools, mission stations, seminaries and other development projects. There's a health clinic in the Democratic Republic of Congo; a social welfare program in South Korea; an outreach program in Nome, Alaska; a deaf skills training program in Liberia; and hundreds of others (See the complete list beginning on page 49).

Individuals, churches and conferences donate tens of millions of dollars annually. In years when a major disaster afflicts some part of the world, giving is much higher, notes Knudsen. For instance, giving exceeded $42 million in 2012 when Hurricane Sandy hit the Upper Northeast in the United States and more than $79 million in 2010, when a magnitude-7.0 earthquake shook Haiti.

Donors and churches can also support salaries and programs to help missionaries serve.

As a missionary in Nigeria, the Rev. Denise Honeycutt, now deputy general secretary for Global Ministries' United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), taught at a small United Methodist seminary. Advance funds enabled her to buy books and Bibles for students, some of whom "did not have a Bible. Because people gave to that Advance, we were able to buy Bibles for men and women who were going to become pastors," Honeycutt says.

Picking the projects

Donors can find it difficult to know how to help people in particular situations or in a specific part of the world. Because The Advance staff has already researched the projects, individuals, congregations and conferences can know that their dollars will actually make a difference. The Advance also ensures that money reaches the right hands.

Prospective Advance projects must apply during one of two annual application cycles. Global Ministries' staff review the application with the bishop of the area to see whether the ministry and budget are appropriate. Global Ministries' executives also review applications with final approval coming after review by the agency's Advance Committee, which includes some Global Ministries' directors and annual conference secretaries of global ministries.

Missionaries in Belfast, Northern Ireland
Missionaries in Belfast, Northern Ireland

Annually, each approved project submits a report and is reviewed by Global Ministries' staff. Projects must reapply every four years. Auditors periodically visit conference treasurers and the projects to monitor the use of funds.

The Advance is "accountable and transparent," says Bakker, "so for churches and individuals and conferences, they have the option of picking one of the projects we've already vetted and done the research on. They can give with confidence that their money will be spent in the way it was intended."

Making a connection, buying a plane

Giving through The Advance illustrates United Methodist connectionalism—the idea that together individuals and small groups can do big things that it would be difficult to do alone.

"The Advance is really connectionalism at its best," Knudsen says. It allows individuals, churches and conferences to amplify their impact by pooling money together for a cause.

"The Advance enables us to have a greater impact when we work together on something," Bakker says.

That impact can last for years.

Pilot Gaston Ntambo (at microphone) speaks during a service of blessing for the new Wings of the Morning airplane at Dayton International Airport in Ohio. He is flanked by (from left, foreground): Bishops Nkulu Ntanda Ntambo and Gregory V. Palmer and George Howard of the General Board of Global Ministries.
Pilot Gaston Ntambo (at microphone) speaks during a service of blessing for the new Wings of the Morning airplane at Dayton International Airport in Ohio. He is flanked by (from left, foreground): Bishops Nkulu Ntanda Ntambo and Gregory V. Palmer and George Howard of the General Board of Global Ministries.

In 2011, a campaign was launched to raise funds to buy a larger airplane for the Wings of the Morning ministry (Advance #08596A) in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Pilots fly small planes to deliver medicine to remote areas and transport rural patients to cities for lifesaving medical attention.

Two years—and $2.1 million—later that new plane is in service. The gifts made through The Advance to purchase the refurbished, 14-seat Cessna Grand Caravan came from around the world. Major donors included the Arkansas, Greater New Jersey, North Katanga and West Ohio conferences and United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kan.

Missionary pilot Gaston Ntambo (Advance #141772) arrived home with the airplane in late July after a weeklong flight from the United States, Now, after 18 years of transporting his passengers from more than 70 grass airstrips to Lubumbashi in a much smaller airplane, he is flying more patients in a safer plane at a lower cost. He can also carry medical personnel to care for the patients on the way.

Conferences and districts often choose Advance projects to emphasize. In the North Carolina Conference, there's a strong commitment to Stop Hunger Now (Advance #982795). Some will also designate ministries, often within their boundaries, as conference Advance projects.

Designated donations made through The Advance allow denominational leaders to understand the big picture of United Methodist giving , as well as how particular ministries and missions are being supported.

"Churches get credit for giving through The Advance," explains Knudsen. While churches are expected to pay apportionments, The Advance is considered second-mile giving.

Some Advance projects are actually larger organizations such as Heifer International (Advance #982418) and Bread for the World (Advance #982325), which also do their own fundraising. For United Methodists, the benefit to giving through The Advance is tracking how much United Methodists have given together.

"Even a small church that doesn't think it can make a difference can pool its money with funds from other small and large churches," says Knudsen, "so that together we can serve an unmet need."

Opening doors for love

As dollars pay for physical, educational and other needs, these projects and missionaries advance an even greater mission—sharing God's love and the message of Jesus.

Gess, who was trained in both general and eye surgery through mission board funds, says that he and colleagues performed more than 20,000 operations, and each one was prayed over and staff would often sing hymns with the patients. No one ever refused prayer, he notes, "And even years later, people would tell Mrs. Gess or me that their parent, grandparent or friend became a Christian because of the prayers, hymns and testimonies of the Christian staff."

Carrie Madren is a freelance writer based in Glen Ellyn, Va.

Giving through The Advance

United Methodists give generously through The Advance every year, but response to natural disasters generates even more giving.

  • 2012: $42 million
  • 2011: $50 million
  • 2010: $79 million (Haiti earthquake)
  • 2009: $34.6 million
  • Since 1948: more than $1 billion