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From the valley to the mountaintop

Juan Miguel Simpson Bennett didn't let the ugliness of his childhood stop him from seeing the beauty around him. Born in poverty in Panama, Bennett was the only child of a strong single mother determined to introduce him to God.

"The neighborhood," he said, "was a poor, working-class ghetto with all its attendant problems – drug use, prostitution, delinquent activity. However, this was tempered by my mother who insisted on [me] attending church, performing well at school, and ensuring involvement in personal development activities and community service."

Bennett found joy in church, community and school activities. However, financial difficulties forced him to miss some educational and personal opportunities.

Growing up under the influence of the Methodist Church in the Caribbean, Bennett was exposed to United Methodist mission teams at a young age. This led him to answer a call to ministry. Now he serves as superintendent to the Panama/Costa Rica District of the Methodist Church in the Caribbean and the Americas.

      Juan Simpson Graduating Class

While serving as a missionary in Honduras, Bennett was encouraged by friends at the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries to apply for a World Communion Sunday Scholarship.

"Without the scholarship," Bennett said, "I would not have even considered following through on my master's program. Living in this part of the world, it is very difficult to do postgraduate work without literally transferring out of the region for an extended period. Because of the scholarship, I was able to engage in a summer degree program that allowed me to take time out for study without abandoning my family and the context in which I serve."

Bennett is grateful that United Methodists support this scholarship "because it allows the empowerment of people like me and many others who want to serve faithfully the church in our own settings but lack the resources to do further studies."

Boston College – School of Theology and Ministry challenged Bennett in character, mind and heart. "I am interested in bringing thoughtful leadership formation and Christian education to the churches I serve and the wider connection," he said.

"I have been engaged in pastoral ministry for almost 25 years now," he added. "I intend to continue serving God and his people until I retire."

"I pray that my ministry has had a transformative impact on the lives of the people of God whom I have served. I have sought to encourage a sense of commitment to communities in which God has placed us. I have worked with youth and children to ensure that they live up to and grow into their full potential as agents of change."

Bennett will continue to develop leadership programs, engage the church in mission focus and urban ministries, and continue growing academically. "I believe there is no paradox between solid academic grounding and effective pastoral ministry," he said.

Lladale Carey, web content producer, United Methodist Communications

One of six United Methodist churchwide special Sundays with offerings, World Communion Sunday calls the church to reach out to all people and model diversity among God's children. The special offering supports World Communion and Ethnic scholarships and the Ethnic In-Service Training Program.

When you give generously on World Communion Sunday, you equip gifted, qualified people from around the globe to become the world changers God created them to be. Give now.

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