She’s the one I tried to return or exchange. Twinkie was just about the prettiest blond Cocker Spaniel you’ve ever seen, but from the start, she was cantankerous, feisty, independent, and one could say, an introvert. Humans were around to feed her, with only a few deemed worthy to touch her, and even then, when she’d had enough, she let you know it. I’ve been bitten quite a bit over the 15 1/2 years of her life. Recently I noticed that it didn’t hurt so bad now that she’d lost some teeth.

Yes, I tried to take her back or get a replacement. She would bite me when she was only 7 weeks old, and I didn’t know what to do. It wasn’t the normal puppy biting. That can be cute. This was gnarled faced, nasty biting. The breeder wouldn’t take her back, and so I figured that we would make the best of it and stick together.

Over time, I learned that turning my back on her bad behavior would lessen her aggression and so we started getting by with one another. If people didn’t try to touch her, she would wag her tail but always had a  “Look but don’t touch!” attitude. So I just told people not to touch her and things would be fine. I always felt that she was missing out, but we let her live life her way.

Once, my daughter and I drove to visit family and brought her along. She behaved well enough, and enjoyed anybody who fed her. My mom was alone with her one afternoon when Marissa and I got back to my parents’ house. Mom told me that she had fixed some popcorn and that Twinkie loved it! She would throw, Twinkie would catch.

When Marissa moved off to college and I was single, I enjoyed Twinkie’s company. She would get so excited when I put a bag of popcorn in the microwave, and she’d eat about half the bag with me. I never felt alone with her around.

As the years passed, I was surprised at how energetic she remained. She never had any major illnesses, rather a lot of chronic ones along the way. All were typical for Cocker Spaniels – ear infections, skin growths, fatty tumors, etc. I have a terrific vet (who now is my daughter’s mother-in-law) and always had the best care for her. When she turned twelve, I expected to see a lot of change due to aging, but I really didn’t. A bit of arthritis, so meds were added to peanut butter each day and she lapped them up.  Then thirteen and fourteen, no dramatic change. Fifteen came last November, and still, she was energetic even with two torn ACLs. She just kept going, but the chronic issues were taking a toll.

Last week, I took her to the vet for yet another skin surgery to remove a growth that had begun bleeding regularly. One would require a skin graft if removed. We took care of the worst, cleaned and packed her ears (which had ablation surgery a few years ago) and brought her home. More meds, and a fashionable new Victorian collar to keep her from chewing where it itched.

Twinkie just couldn’t get comfortable anymore. Medicine and attention just didn’t make her better. I could keep going with band-aid treatments, but today I made the decision not to.

I never thought it would be this way. I figured she would die on her own, or an illness would be so catastrophic that there would be no real choice for me to make. I just didn’t expect it to be this way.

She lay on a blanket just after the doctor administered a sedative. I laid down beside her, petting her and telling her I loved her. The procedure continued, and I felt her last breath on my face. Robby buried her at the top of our hill near a cedar tree.

IMG_1556It’s a really empty feeling now. I have a taste of grief, though not as large as so many others in the world. I pray this reminds me to hold others near in prayer so together the world will feel better.

For now, I’m going to leave myself with this image: Mom (who passed in 2007) sitting now with Twinkie, throwing her some popcorn and laughing when she catches it. It’s a nice image, isn’t it?

The Thread is Raised

As a group of us discussed presidential politics, a friend visiting from Africa casually said, “Racism has been a part of America from the start, but people were just afraid to speak out because it was politically incorrect. Donald Trump is simply voicing the opinions of the people who have been silent.”

Racism is just one part of a larger group of prejudice, one that includes sexism, classism, homophobia, and virtually anything that marginalizes whomever is seen by some as “the weaker link” of society. Trump has exposed this larger thread which lines American culture.

It’s all out in the open now, isn’t it? The underbelly is exposed, and people are lining up from both political parties to call him out on “ism” issues that will never take him down – that only bolster him among the audience who believes as he does and is ready to vote. The signs are flagrant now, literally, as I saw on the store just down the road from me last night.

“Trump that B*TCH!” said the sign on Lewis Country Store last night. On Sundays, this sign proudly proclaims that they are closed on Sunday, and reminds people to go to church.

With Hillary Clinton now the presumptive nominee, we are sure to see the threads of sexism raised to the surface, where it has been denied almost as vehemently as climate change among some.  “Quiet” sexism is very much present in the US, in the home, in the workplace, in the church and civil society. When salary surveys expose this reality, they move faster out of the headlines than one of Trump’s tweets.

So, what can these raised threads do for us? They can be quietly tucked back into the garment of society, or perhaps they can be cut off without unraveling the whole. Who knows? Audre Lorde’s words can guide us:

“For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us to temporarily beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change. Racism and homophobia are real conditions of all our lives in this place and time. I urge each one of us here to reach down into that deep place of knowledge inside herself and touch that terror and loathing of any difference that lives here. See whose face it wears. Then the personal as the political can begin to illuminate all our choices.”





Global Communications through a Basic Handset

When the Ebola crisis began in 2014, some recognized the fact that while much information was being shared on the Internet, those without Internet access living in the affected regions could be left to wonder if Ebola was real, a hoax, or something they should pay attention to. We knew that the lowest common denominator in global communications is a simple text message – able to reach a person directly if she or he holds a basic mobile handset.

We scrambled then to gather mobile numbers of United Methodist clergy in Liberia and Sierra Leone, assembling them into groups for cloud-based messaging. Twice daily messages reached them with both practical ways of applying health protocols within a church setting, and inspiration to help them know they were not alone. When quarantines may have prevented those pastors from getting out to phone charging stations, UMCom sent Freeplay Assist Radios – which have a solar cellphone charger, hand crank radio, and solar lantern.

The value of the program was proven among those who reported to their bishops (whose name was on each message) feeling cared for and informed during the duration of the program.

Since then, we began working with communicators throughout Africa under their bishops’ approvals, to set up a system that will cover all of Africa – and which can be expanded to cover other regions within the UMC as well. The system was tested during General Conference 2016.

In three weeks’ time, twelve countries took part, through nine operators who sent SMS in local languages using the same system. Over 80k messages were sent during the two-week period to over 3,300 people. Hugo Ngwira of Malawi reported,

In a follow up phone call, Evangelist Mikuwa who is also pastoring local churches in remote areas said he never knew that United Methodist is that big, and he was thankful for the program that has helped him get a picture of what the UMC and General Conference is all about. (Evangelist Mikuwa lives in a remote area where there is no internet and no post office, and the only way of communication is through phone)

13235051_10153659311118157_1644108181_oThe Reverend Daniel Mhone also reported, “One moving experience was that most of the leaders took time to pray for the General Conference especially when tension was at its highest level. Thanks for connecting us in this special way to the global church.”

General Conference was a catalyst for the system’s implementation, but its usefulness is far from over. Consider when the church wants to reach clergy to reinforce the need for Yellow Fever vaccinations, and where they can be found; when educational programs and/or scholarships come available; when daily devotions can be shared to strengthen the Body of Christ.

This system can also provide a means of monetization for publications. Phone credit can be transferred to the church’s number to “purchase” items, with links and passwords for download then shared. Donations could also come to the church in this way. As we move to testing that system, we will keep you informed.

Making sense of today’s technology for social good…that’s the focus. SMS is one component, but there are many more. I hope to write more in the days ahead. Feel free to get in touch, via or via Twitter @nneelley.

The 183rd Liberia Annual Conference

Speaking Notes: February 10, 2016, Buchanan Liberia

Bishop Innis, esteemed guests, brothers and sisters in Christ, I bring greetings on behalf of United Methodist Communications, and General Secretary Dan Krause. I am attending with our West Africa special projects manager Tueche Ndzulo Joe from Cote d’Ivoire.  United Methodist Communications is the global communications agency for The United Methodist Church.

Over the last few years, the world has seen much change in communications! How many of you have a mobile phone? How many of you are on Facebook? We believe that new communications technologies should not simply be used for entertainment. They should be used to build the Body of Christ on earth! We also believe that, since The United Methodist Church is a global entity, all of the church should be included in communication advances, all of the church should have full representation on the church map, and all of the church should be able to fully participate in connectional communications.

UMCom is partnering with the Liberia Annual Conference to do just that. I would like to recognize Liberia’s communication staff who worked with us during the Ebola crisis. Please stand. During the Ebola crisis, we worked together so that clergy could receive personalized messages of health and inspiration via SMS. We worked together to distribute hand crank radios, with solar chargers and lanterns so those who might be isolated would still feel the comfort community. Together, we shared the message that The United Methodist Church cares about preventing Ebola – through an animation called “Ebola: A Poem for the Living.” Together, we shared this message through radio – still the most popular form of communication throughout Africa. And Liberia, through its communicator Julu Swen, shared an Ebola story that was read around the world, for which he was recognized by being named 2014 Communicator of the Year, for the first time, a shared honor with Sierra Leone communicator Phileas Jusu.

While I wanted to be here during that time, it is now that God has brought me. Beyond Annual Conference, next week, Radio ELUM will be the host for the United Methodist Radio Network of Africa meeting – bringing guests from Cote d’Ivoire, Angola and DR Congo. I am sure you are proud of the work that Edward Massaquoi does as radio station manager – I have been inspired by his loyalty and commitment to God’s calling on his life. As we all know, the station is operating at less than half capacity, due to a lightning strike. But I believe this can be overcome, if it is the will of the people. As United Methodists, do we have a story to share? If yes, then we must work together so that the church’s story can travel far and be heard by many!  We must amplify the voice of United Methodist Church of Liberia!

United Methodist Communications’ motto is to Inform, Inspire and Engage. This past Christmas, we inspired giving within a children’s program at Wayne United Methodist Church, in Wayne, Pennsylvania. The children sold candles to raise funds for solar lights, and by God’s grace, were able to purchase 120 of them. I am the bearer of this good news and the lights themselves! May God shed grace and light upon all the recipients.

Finally, we would like to provide the church with a new animation, titled: “In Praise of Prevention” meant to prevent a future outbreak, which was produced by UNICEF, UMCom and Chocolate Moose Media. There are also 6 animations focused on values which are included. Copies will be distributed tomorrow to all district superintendents.

I pray for Bishop Innis, and for the Liberia Annual Conference. May God bless the 183rd Annual Conference!


“The Lost Generation”

by Jacob Graham

We get called the lost generation,
Is it because we’re lost or we’re just simply unique
If we’re truly lost, I don’t see… 
I don’t see u trying to help us
U let us travel down the wrong road without pointing us in that right direction
Or maybe we’re called “the lost generation” because we mask ourselves behind computer screens and phones
140 character that’s just a text to us
And we don’t care who we hurt as long as we can’t see their crying faces
Or maybe we’re called the lost generation because we sleep our days away
But have u ever considered thinking maybe our dreams r better than our reality
Many people forced to walk in our family footsteps
Which means stuck on the streets selling dope instead of in school  trying to get our education
We’re the lost generation but ya’ll the ones pointing us out
Labeling us and pushing us away from society instead of gathering us to help
We’re the lost generation because we turn to violence but y’all never taught us any better 
Stop putting guns and drugs in our hands
Instead put us in ur arms
Cuz you see not every teen kills and does drugs
But we all seek for that love and affection
We get called “the lost generation” 
It it because we’re lost or just simply unique
If we’re unique then let us be
Just cuz we ain’t like the rest doesn’t mean we’re lost
Let us be us
Yes we’re nerds and athletes, gothics, popular, singers and more
And to the lost generation we gotta change so they don’t think this way
We ain’t lost we’re just us
So let’s not care what these hypercritical people have to say
They helped make us who we are
Why should I try to be good if I’m just a statistic
We’re just numbers y’all count 
Do y’all even really care?

Y’all talk bad about us if we ever speak our mind
But is it because y’all never had the voices to do it yourselves
You call us the lost generation and try to crush our dreams
But that’s just cuz y’all never had the motivation to reach for the skies
You see I’ll make sure my generation survives and we’re gonna grab the stars

Y’all call us the lost generation
U see there’s a storm coming over the horizon
It’s time to rebel and the revolution needs attention
Television broadcasting and radio airin
We’re gonna change the way u think of us
Sincerely, “The Lost Generation”

Why the church should care about ICT4D

(Speech given at Game Changers Summit, September 17, 2015. See coverage.)

I am Rev. Nancy Neelley Hicks – the director of ICT4D Church Initiatives, here at United Methodist Communications. I’d like to personally welcome you – as so many of you have come at my invitation! For me, this is like having my family meet my friends. It’s a joy for me!

We have with us today 7 United Methodist church workers who’ve traveled to the US for this conference. I’d like to recognize them now:

Rev. Betty Kazadi Musau – Democratic Republic of the Congo
Pierre Omadjela – Democratic Republic of the Congo
Julu Swen – Liberia
April Mercado – Philippines
Ernani “Nhots” Celzo – Philippines
Phileas Jusu – Sierra Leone
Chenayi Kumuterera – Zimbabwe

Three of the invited church workers were unable to join us because of U.S. visa issues:

Joe Tueche – Cote d’Ivoire
Daniel Garba – Nigeria
Hannah Mafunda – Zimbabwe

We hope that they can be with us for the next conference of this type.

Game Changers Summit is United Methodist Communications’ fourth international learning event this year – they’ve been held in the Philippines, Cote d’Ivoire, and Democratic Republic of the Congo prior to our time together today.

In June, I traveled to Cote d’Ivoire with a team to conduct training titled, “Communicating Faith in the 21st Century.” This training covered journalism, technology, branding and marketing of the church, social media and more. The gathering consisted of church workers from 8 different countries. We had planned the training based on interests and need. The day before we left,  one of the guests shared the story of his life with us.

He is the only living child of eleven. He has strived to educate himself to live the best life on behalf of those who did not live long and full lives. His dream is to go to university. The first time he applied, he was able to raise sufficient funds but his visa was rejected. The second time, his visa was approved but he didn’t have quite enough money. The third year, he had money and a visa, but when he arrived to the university, he was robbed so he had to return home. The fourth year, he applied and the university said that his high school certificate had expired, so he would need a new one before being considered for registration.

This is a picture of him as Sybille Fleischmann handed him K-12 curriculum on a flash drive at the end of our conference in Cote d’Ivoire – helping him get a little closer towards his goal. Daniel was so happy to receive it, that he immediately began to inquire how he could protect it – so he would never have to lose it.

Here in the U.S., amber alerts, campus communication systems, weather alerts, up to date electronic curriculum and public health notices keep us as safe and educated about the things that matter most – so much so that we complain of information overload! But in other parts of the world, this flow of information is lacking – creating poverty of a unique sort…information poverty. This kind of information is the stuff that can save the lives of loved ones, build a better future for generations to come, and potentially build peace through understanding among warring nations.

The right communications through the right technologies can address many facets of human life that improve individual and community wellbeing. I’d like to share how United Methodist Communications has used information tools over the last year to make a difference in three areas – in crisis communications, education, and health.

Typhoons strike the Philippines regularly – as April Mercado has said, “We eat typhoons for lunch!”

But in 2013, Supertyphoon Haiyan struck – the 26th typhoon of the year killing over 6,300 people, and destroying livelihoods, schools and communities. UMCom provided a satellite phone, tablets for responders, solar lights and cellphone chargers, and engineering support to rebuild Internet access so information could flow among those seeking to help.

Since then, UMCom has worked with The United Methodist Church there to develop a ham radio network, where clergy can send storm warnings, and communicate after a typhoon. Ham radio is certainly not an emerging technology – it’s quite old! But, it’s appropriate! It was the last standing communication technology after Typhoon Haiyan. This summer, we worked with Emory University to have intern Victoria Phoenix go to the Philippines and assist in the building of a disaster communications protocol for the church. Our leadership in this area has inspired the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs to request a similar system that can be used by first responders after a storm. We are working with church and community leaders to meet this need.

2014 and 2015 brought a different kind of crisis – one very unique from others. Ebola. This virus claimed the lives of over 11,000 people – primarily in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. Recognizing the strength of our human network, The United Methodist Church worked locally – leading interfaith initiatives, continuing to serve at high personal risk in clinics and hospitals, and communicating messages of health and inspiration through emerging technologies. Simple mobile phones carried daily messages from the CDC and WHO, letting clergy know that Ebola is real and that they needed to adjust behaviors in church by not touching one another, but instead bowing as a sign of respect. Nightly messages brought inspiration – like this one:

“As we struggle with Ebola, I pray that faith – not fear – will be our response. This is not the time for blame or denial. It is a time to respond in love. Bishop John Innis”

United Methodist Communications worked with Chocolate Moose Media and iHEED to create an animation to teach Ebola prevention at the height of the crisis – an animation that has been used by Catholic Relief Services in over 13 thousand households in Sierra Leone, played on satellite television throughout West Africa, played on UN Radio, and downloaded thousands of times for use throughout Africa. This animation was our first venture in producing multi-language video content for television, internet and mobile phones. UNICEF reached out to us, asking if we could partner in the production of a second video that could be used in non-critical times. This video will be available very soon.

You can learn more about crisis communications at this Summit through speakers shown on the screen.


Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” How true! In parts of the world where Methodists built school buildings decades or even centuries ago, many suffer without the tools inside those buildings to allow students to participate in a global workforce. United Methodist Communications is working to develop models for addressing this problem.

Over the last year, we’ve established three new computer labs that utilize solar power to reduce fuel costs, and local computer servers that reduce the need for internet access. These labs impact vulnerable communities – those who are typically excluded from computer or education access. One of the computer labs focuses on women and university students, the other focuses on orphans. United Methodist Communications church partners in the US – The Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas, and The Pacific Northwest Annual Conference, plus church partners abroad – South Congo and North Katanga Episcopal Areas – have made this possible.

Rev. Betty Kazadi Musau who leads the initiative has said,

“It [the computer lab] boosts women’s skills and offers opportunities in computer literacy for them to be marketable in the community and provide to their families.”

Some in the room today can’t imagine women being denied access to technology. Kristin Peterson – co-founder of Inveneo once said,

“Women, in general, have 25% less access to the Internet, and in Sub-Saharan Africa that number soars to 45%. Even in rapidly developing economies the gap is immense. It is an injustice, that in an age of information, those who are the bearers of life are shut off from information that can actually save it.”

In addition to building models for the improvement of education, we have exposed many to free curriculum provided through World Possible – present here today.  You can learn more about education and empowerment tools through speakers shown.


In 2009, I met a young girl in Zimbabwe named Thandi who was orphaned after her mother had died – not having had access to the medicine she needed in her struggle with AIDS. Some pretty simple and low-cost technologies can work to prevent this from happening again. Over the last year, we’ve worked with Medic Mobile to build The United Methodist Church’s first, formalized mHealth program. This system allows community health workers to send low-cost text messages to a dashboard so that drug stocks can be monitored. If a clinic is low in one particular medicine, drugs can be transferred from another clinic before the situation becomes critical like it did for Thandi’s mom. The system also keeps up with maternal health – charting high risk pregnancies, sending appointment reminders and notices if they miss an appointment. We did training this summer that included health workers from 57 clinics in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to scale the project beyond its initial first three clinics.

In Zimbabwe, text messaging is being used to keep community health workers in touch with the Nyadire Hospital. This program is ready for takeoff, and we hope that the next year will be one of success – in honor of Thandi’s mom – as a way of committing to communications that exemplify the abundant life that we proclaim as followers of Jesus Christ. Please be sure to meet speakers Julio Malikane, Rev. Betty Kazadi Musau, Chenayi Kumuterera

When I tell people that I am an ordained United Methodist minister, they assume that I pastor a congregation. Some people wonder why the church is involved at all in technologies like the ones I’ve just shared. Others question why we would spend money on technology, when the essentials of life like food, water and shelter are still so greatly needed. But this is limited thinking that will keep us set on a model of charity rather than empowering people to live equally as God’s beloved creation. Modern technologies can expand our ability to think new thoughts and dream new dreams. I mean, can you imagine stepping back in time to no patient records, outdated textbooks, and nothing to help us project weather forecasts? Why would we think that was acceptable for others? Information and communication technologies are the channels through which lifeline communications can flow. 21st century communications offer possibilities to the church as never before. Never has the church been able to communicate as one body across geographic locations, within the same day, minute by minute. Never have we been able to reach the communities the church serves in such ways that can improve access to food, and medicine and potentially reduce poverty! We are living in a new age, and it is a natural role for the church to interpret these technologies for social good – to be used for the building up of minds and bodies and spirits…making life on earth a foretaste of heaven.

What can we do together as a global entity? The United Methodist Church alone has over 13 million members worldwide who participate in ministries that impact even larger numbers within the communities they serve. The United Methodist Church participates with other faith traditions to overcome challenges they face together. We have a very real social gospel that teaches us to educate, provide healthcare, honor women and men alike, care for the vulnerable, and live fully into the gifts we’ve been given until we reach perfection.

If we utilize the tools of today, we can rebuild the schools of days past so that the minds who shape the future will do so with intelligence and respect for fellow humanity; we can inform people about disease and outbreaks before they seize lives and livelihoods; if we utilize the tools of the day, we can nurture the development of communities to stand together against calamity and disregard for human life. The possibilities are endless when we combine technologies with faith, love and hope – and yes, clear communications.

How will we respond? I pray that this Summit will inspire us all with new thoughts and the ability to live into the beloved community. I’d like to close with this Franciscan blessing:

May God bless you with discomfort,
At easy answers, half-truths,
And superficial relationships
So that you may live
Deep within your heart.

May God bless you with anger
At injustice, oppression,
And exploitation of people,
So that you may work for
Justice, freedom and peace.

May God bless you with tears,
To shed for those who suffer pain,
Rejection, hunger and war,
So that you may reach out your hand
To comfort them and
To turn their pain to joy

And may God bless you
With enough foolishness
To believe that you can
Make a difference in the world,
So that you can do
What others claim cannot be done
To bring justice and kindness
To all our children and the poor.

Maternal/Child Health Initiative

SANIKA S. CHIRWA & KAREN BERSON (re-posted from The Tennessee Tribune, May 14 – 20, 2015)

Sanika S. Chirwa, PH.D professor of neuroscience and pharmacology in the School of Medicine, and Karen Berson, associate vice president for corporate & foundation relations, had the privilege of carrying out the mission of Meharry as they traveled to Zimbabwe, Africa to attend the Maternal/Child Health Initiative Plenary Meeting last February 2015. The trip was sponsored by United Methodist Women (UMW) and The Black College Fund.

As part of their 11-day expedition, Chirwa and Berson joined with other groups who had come for the session. They met with vice chancellor, Dr. Munashe Furusa of Africa University, a United Methodist-Related Institution, and its School of Allied Health’s dean, faculty and students. During their meeting and through other plenary sessions, they learned about the research, clinical work, patient education, and outreach in maternal/child health that is being done by our respective organizations.

Opportunities for shared learning, faculty exchange, joint research and funding proposals and coordination of resources and relationships to improve maternal/child survival and long-term health were discussed. A preliminary strategic plan was formulated with a four-year project goal. Six teams were established to provide leadership for implementing the plan.

The relationship between the two organizations finds common ground in the mission of Meharry to “improve the health and health care of minority and underserved communities”. Women and children are generally the most vulnerable populations in and country-in the United States, Africa and throughout the world. Effectively uplifting and health status of women around the world improves the overall health of a society. Specifically, the trip laid the groundwork for enhancing the education and training programs in the health sciences at Meharry and Africa University, with emphasis on providing opportunities for people of color and individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds: cross-cultural sharing of insights and best practices for maternal/child health and community outreach to enhance the delivery of high quality, effective health services in the US and Zimbabwe and conduction collaborative research that fosters the elimination of health disparities. (Dr. Chirwa believes that cross-cultural research that improves the birth outcomes in Africa will also shed light onto solutions to the birth outcomes health disparities that exist for African Americans in the US.)

The trip was successful in many ways. Joint funding applications by faculty at both institutions are being prepared for submission and shared learning between Africa University and Meharry faculty via email and Skype is ongoing. Telehealth resources, to improve the communication and case management for women during pregnancy in Zimbabwe, have been identified and opportunities toward its execution are under consideration with the guidance of United Methodist Communications. The leadership and support of UMW and The Black College Fund has led to new opportunities for learning research, community health and funding at Meharry and Africa University.

Both Chirwa and Berson plan on attending the next plenary meeting which will be at Africa University in February 2016.

No Greater Gift

Set out for Kindu at the crack of dawn in Kinshasa, and on the way saw Bishop Gabriel Unda at the airport transfer in Kisangani. Upon arrival in Kindu, Matt Crum, Pierre Omadjela and I were greeted by a UMC Conference delegation – we could see them as we were getting off the plane. Much development is going on around the airport – with buildings and businesses and better roads. Pierre said,

“We just need peace and then we can build.”

The East Congo Episcopal Area of The UMC is quite a large geographic area that is struggling. The following is quoted from Bishop Unda’s Christmas message:

“As I write these few lines, my heart is too heavy because of the situation going on in Beni territory, north-east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is part of my Episcopal Area. The efforts of our army are insufficient to protect people. People there are killed every day in the neighboring villages and we run the risk of losing all our believers. Two weeks ago, a group of Uganda rebels killed people in the villages Kamango, Oicha and Mbawu among which was a Methodist family – a father, his wife and their two children were killed with machetes. Many people are fleeing to Beni and our local congregations there are crowded with displaced people who flee from villages for their lives. We need your prayers. But, as you know, food and basic needs must be met. Our evangelization should reach out people in need.”

United Methodist Communication’s work here is focused on strengthening the communications network of The United Methodist Church so that the bishop, district superintendents, pastors and lay leaders can reach each other more readily via mobiles and mapping. We are working with Rev. Antoine Otoka who is a great collaborator in the work. We’ve had four projects together over the last year or so. The first includes using the Fenix Ready Set to charge cellphones and bring income to the ministries of the church. It uses solar power so it’s great where there is no electricity. It has brought up to $50 per month and only costs around $180. Also Rev. Antoine has been testing the Classmate Clamshell computer with a Dell low power projector. These two portable items with added speakers can provide an easy means for sharing educational films like the recently produced Ebola video: A Poem for the Living. Mapping and mobile messaging are two other programs that will impact the life of the church now and for the future. When I responded to Bishop Unda’s Christmas message, he reminded me,

“There is no greater gift one can offer to a friend than prayers.”

I am just wired to “do” things…so I really like putting feet to my prayers. It is why Matt, Pierre and I are here on behalf of United Methodist Communications. Together, we’ll see what more can be done. I imagine I’ll be asking you to help in this work…

The Toll of Ebola upon Communities

I have just completed a trip to Cote d’Ivoire (near the Liberia and Guinea border) where we showed the Ebola animation to local communities. The film is making an impact on those who watch – touching upon emotions as lessons are taught. It was quite easy to share from phone to phone via Bluetooth, and we distributed flash drives with multiple file resolutions for screening in various forms.

In The United Methodist Church, we continue to reinforce the government’s messages: wash hands, don’t eat bushmeat, don’t touch one another, let only trained professionals bury the dead, seek medical attention upon first signs of Ebola. United Methodist Communications is helping to use a variety of communication methods – print, radio, SMS, etc. Among many, these lessons are being heeded. The presence of handwashing stations is evident upon entry to homes, restaurants, schools, churches. Handwashing is being taught by churches among populations for whom handwashing is foreign. Everyone will be helped beyond Ebola by the lessening of other diseases such as cholera, dysentery, etc.

  • But what about those who do not have ready access to water? For many, water is carried back to villages after long walks. Will they use this precious resource for something that may be seen as a luxury?
  • And where there is no meat alternative, will people simply stop eating bush meat?
  • Touch is part of our essential human experience…how can we simply stop touching one another?

The realities are harsh. I missed hugging people, holding babies, and shaking hands. I can’t imagine letting my family go hungry when there is bush meat readily available. And as someone who regularly enjoys the luxury of running tap water that flows so easily, I admit it would be difficult to pour the water that may be needed for cooking or drinking upon my hands and watch it fall to the earth unusable.

Ebola is hurting more than the body. It strikes at the chord of humanity that seeks to live as one usually does – touching those we care about, eating what one always has, and going about the day in a “normal” way. The role of the church is to continue to speak with an active voice…to amplify the voices of those who are least heard among the often shallow, meaningless voices of the day and to respond with an animated voice…a voice that provides that which has been said is needed. The problems of water access and meat production can be overcome – but it will take a realignment of priorities among many.

One of the last nights in Cote d’Ivoire was spent with Bishop Benjamin Boni taking refreshment in his backyard. We concluded our time together singing, “We Shall Overcome.” This point in time could be used as a catalyst for a better future for all. My prayer is that we will hear the cry and respond as one human family with mighty action. A better day shall come.

an angel on my shoulder

20141115_123844The adventure began when Kathleen from the GETHealth Summit told me we could take a bus to Ballygawley. She said it was near the small village of Glencull – the place my ancestors once lived. That Saturday, Robby and I took the short, two-hour-plus ride from Dublin to Ballygawley.

When the bus driver stopped, we looked around us and saw no signs of which way to go. Leaving the bus, I asked, “Which way to Ballygawley?” He replied, “Just follow the walking trail and you’ll see it ahead.”

Martina was the first person we stumbled upon. She was sweeping the doorway of the Church of the Immaculate Conception, and when I asked her if she knew anything about the Neelleys, she replied no – but that she would run and ask others. The two gentlemen in the hardware store were a bit more interested in appliances than history, but suggested Martina take us to the retired taxidriver’s home so he could drive us to the old graveyard – it was too dangerous to get there by foot.

Seamus Flannery’s wife answered the door – just across the street from the hardware store. She hadn’t heard of the Neelleys either, but said she’d ask Seamus. When he arrived from a back room, he asked who I was. “Nancy Neelley Hicks,” I said, “my maiden name is Neelley.” He said that he knew about our family and that none were buried where Martina suggested. Instead, he said that the Neelleys had their own graveyard, and that they were the landlords of Glencull. Seamus said he’d take us there.

20141115_131901Before getting into his car, he said there was an old tale about one of the Neelleys who had been buried at the Ballynasaggart graveyard, instead of the family cemetery. When the family got home from the funeral, they found the deceased seated in a carriage at the house. His soul couldn’t rest not being with the family.

Seamus drove us onto the graveyard, showing us landmarks along the way – a hull of a home barely standing
from the 1700s, the Glencull school that he had once attended.

High upon a hill, we saw the graveyard with six tall trees around it, all inside a stone wall. A gate kept strangers away, and was covered in thorny vines. Robby couldn’t get the gate opened, so I climbed over it, landing precariously upon my left ankle. After a moment to catch my breath, I trudged up the hill to see what I could find.

There was a single, large tombstone over the family plot. Broken apart, purportedly during “the troubles” when ammunition was often hidden in graves, the stone’s engraving was still intact.

Seamus waited faithfully to take us onto the next stop: the family home.

20141115_132550Driving down the narrow road, he said that the Neelleys had been generous people, and had donated land for a Catholic Church, even though they were Protestant. We came upon an old, vacated stone home with a carving “RN 1862,” signifying that it was built by Robert Neelly. Seamus said that he remembered those who had lived there long ago.

20141115_133210A bit further up on the right, Seamus said, “We don’t want to be taking pictures of somebody’s home without them knowing. Let me go and talk with the owner.” Overlooking the “Beware of Dog” signage, even as two large German Shepherds lanked about, Seamus got out and introduced himself to the man working near the old barn. His little boy was standing near, looking in awe at the strangers who’d arrived.

20141115_133245We were told that the home had been connected to what had once been the barn, and that the stables were used now for storage. Standing upon the land once held by Neelleys, I took a picture of the home and the view they would have had. Beautiful. Simply beautiful. A carving above the door once again had the initials, “RN 1861.”


Seamus drove us on to Ballynasaggart to see the cemetery where a Neelley simply could not rest. On past the grist mill and yet another cemetery, where he explained that landlords were not buried next to the peasants, but would have either their own graveyard, or a plot set aside from the rest. An old church had fallen apart, and the inside was used for more graves…the large stone cross which had sat atop the church, now set aside in the graveyard. He showed me where the priest would have spoken mass and the mourners would have gathered round.

20141115_131749This graveyard, too, high on a hill, overlooking beautiful fields of green and homes that one can imagine were once filled with warmth and laughter.

20141115_144800Seamus said that Mr. Thomas McKenna (who was an avid reader) could tell us all and more that we would need to know about the Neelleys. So off to his home we drove. Upon arrival, we noticed the lovely landscaping and a chicken in the front yard. Seamus walked to the door, then around to the side when it went unanswered. A head popped up at the window and I introduced myself. But Mr. McKenna heard Seamus around back who explained what in the world we were doing there. The front door opened, and Robby and I were welcomed inside the home, where this lively man with big bright eyes lived.


Mr. McKenna and Seamus

Mr. McKenna, a young man at 91, began to tell us about the last Neelley he knew there in Glencull. “Willie” Neelly would come to visit and sit by the fire. He said that the Neelleys were generous people, and that they gave not only the land for the Catholic Church, but also the land where the school was built. He too told the story of the disquieted soul who could not rest buried apart from his family. When I laughed, he looked at me quite shocked and said, “They had to exhume the body!” Perhaps this story isn’t just one built upon the imaginations of village folk.

Leaving the room for a moment, Mr. McKenna walked back with an envelope marked “Neely Family.” “You can take it with you, if you’ll post it back to me when you’re done.” Inside this envelope lay the history of the Neellys of Glencull, who first made their way from Scotland, lived as landlords – owners of the land, and who eventually scattered to seek a better life elsewhere. In the meantime, they had been generous to those who were persecuted because they were Catholic, and they had fought against tyranny, losing their land and regaining it. Within this history lay a connection to what I think may have been our ancestor James Neelly – the sixth son of the first laird of Glencull.

To say this day was magical is an understatement…I had an angel, and his name is Seamus.

Neelley & Seamus

Neelley & Seamus

More pics:


By the cross that once stood atop the church


The grist mill at Ballygawley


Above the door at the Neelley home still occupied


The Neelly tombstone at Glencull


The old home seen along the route to the graveyard




Snapped along the bus route from Dublin to Ballygawley