I came to UMCom in April 2007, having been invited to work with the Global Health Initiative and the 2008 General Conference as a contractor. It was a risky move for me, being a single mother leaving behind the benefits of employment as clergy in a local church, but I did it anyway, because I felt that it was God’s calling to a new form of ministry.
In the years at UMCom, I authored and co-authored documents, speeches, sermon series, marketing materials and white papers, even assisting with the publishing of one book. I helped lead the inaugural “Change the World” event – encouraging churches around the world to get outside of their walls and serve alongside others. The best part was working closely with the Rethink Church team and building new friends around the world.
All my life, I’ve had visions of how things can be – but I’ve not always had the opportunity to make those dreams reality. Having leadership who believed not only in me, but seeing the vision as well gave me a chance to lead a new effort – casting vision, teaching and helping church leaders use communications technologies for social good in parts of the world that have been most excluded from the digital age. I enjoyed finding new team members abroad and helping them cultivate their gifts and skills.
It was fun – finding solutions to communication problems within a global institution. With Ushahidi Crowdmap, we were able to begin mapping the church in remote places for the first time in its history. With FrontlineSMS and later TextIt, we were able to leapfrog over email and reach church leaders without Internet access. We built a ham radio network in the Philippines that can serve during times of calm or storms. We developed a network of United Methodist Radio Stations as another means of strengthening the United Methodist Connexion.
We put these systems to use during times of crises: SMS became a means of fighting Ebola among UM clergy and World Vision staff. Mapping demonstrated where the churches serving as shelters in a storm were located. Solar lights signified the caring of Christ for those living in darkness after Typhoon Haiyan, and handcrank radios/solar cellphone chargers became a means for connection to news and loved ones.
We worked with world renowned experts to develop two animations about Ebola which became the first time that the UMC had broadcast on African television throughout the West Africa region, even while serving populations who could only watch on a mobile handset – all in local languages. It was a privilege to speak on UMCom’s behalf at the United Nations – Geneva, and New York, sharing the work that we were doing to use technology for social good.
Innovation and connection is at the heart of who I am, and how I am called to serve the world.
I am turning in a new direction – to serve beyond one church agency, one local church, and perhaps even one faith tradition. I am passionate about amplifying voices within communities who are most marginalized from information that can impact their well-being. As an independent communications consultant – I will have room to grow a part of me that I feel I only just discovered! You’ll be hearing soon about my first work of this type.
See you online, and many of you at Fail Festival! (Got your tickets yet?)
I am so proud of you. If there is anything I can do for you, please do not hesitate to contact me.
Thank you! I may take you up on that very soon!
I just read that your path is taking a new direction. The bittersweetness in your written words is evident and I truly hope there are also many tinges of excitement.
Wherever you end up, the people you will be working with are going to be very lucky. I’m sure they will come to appreciate the enthusiasm, balance and dedication that I experienced in you, however infrequently. In this way, you will make their lives better; that is also your path.
I wish you the best and will remember the pleasure of knowing you.
You have had a remarkable stay at UMCom. Your pioneering work to marry technology with creativity for use by churches and others in various parts of the world contributed to bettering the human condition. Your work in preventing the spread of Ebola in West Africa in particular has saved lives. I can think of no higher purpose or contribution.
As you begin the next chapter in your life, looking back with satisfaction on the last one, “go well”, as they say in South Africa.
You can do anything you set your mind to Nelley, you are SMART, diligent and compassionate. You have my full support and prayers. I hope you will travel less.
You have blessed a lot during your time at UMCOM. You made it possible for some people like us who did not have time to express our capacity. Today, we are very important in the society because you saw what other people were not able to see in us, and we are shinning and will continue shining because you gave us chance to show what we were able to do. I am saying WE because I am not the only one. We are many around this world (America, Africa, Europe, Philippines and so on). Your work is not yet done. God is giving you another opportunity to do more. Before UMCOM, you were one Neelley Hicks, but working at UMCOM, today there are many Neelley Hicks and you know some. Continue making more and more Neelley Hicks around the world. As I said above, another page of your innovations has started. Proceed, proceed God knows where He is bringing you. BLESSINGS, BLESSINGS, BLESSINGS from God be with you and yours AMEN.
Great piece! God has certainly been calling a lot of us up to the plate for Humanity in the last number of years. It is wonderful to see another embrace their life’s calling and stand on the side of Humanity during Earth’s greatest time of need.
You’ve always been an inspiration to me. You are an amazing and blessed woman with a strong vision! Love you and miss you!
This is a wonderful post, Neelley. Just a shame that it’s tinged with a little sadness that you’re leaving. You should be immensely proud of what you achieved there. I remember when we first got in touch, and I thought ‘wow, a church interested in using technology’. It was truly innovative thinking which lead to some truly innovative work, and something that really only worked because of your passion and drive to make it work. Best of luck with what comes next, and I know we’ll keep in touch, whatever that is.