(No. 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, #09229A was a lifeline.
Their mission was to bring vision care to Sierre 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. #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.
|Lowell Gess at UMC Eye Hospital|
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 is 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.
"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, former 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, former president of 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.
"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.
Administrative costs — keeping the website current, paying staff, tracking gifts, staying in touch with missionaries and project coordinators — are covered by part of the money Global Ministries receives from the World Service Fund, which receives money from the apportionments paid by local churches.
As the denomination's designated –giving arm, The Advance channels support hundreds of 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.
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 Friends became a Christian because of the prayers, hymns and testimonies of the Christian staff.
Carrie Madren, freelance writer, Glen Ellyn, VA
The Advance is the accountable, designated-giving arm of The United Methodist Church. The Advance invites contributors to designate support for projects related to the General Board of Global Ministries. Individuals, local churches, organizations, districts and annual conferences may donate to The Advance. One hundred percent of every gift to The Advance goes to the project selected by the giver.
This article was first printed in the Interpreter Magazine. Reprinted with permission.