Bishop Ruby-Nell M. Estrella commissions Mamei Sombo Lansana as a missionary during the May 2 morning worship of the 2024 United Methodist General Conference in Charlotte, N.C. Assisting are Grace Choi and Roland Fernandes. (Photo: Paul Jeffrey/UM News)

CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA – Missionaries commissioned during the United Methodist General Conference on Thurs. May 2 arrived in Charlotte after long journeys, both physical and spiritual, with intriguing stories to tell about how they found their purpose in God’s mission. Some, like Dr. Pedro Zavala, an author, researcher and professor of theology, were surprised to discover what they had known all along.

“I think the missionary vocation in my life, now that I look back, has always been present. From childhood, in my adolescence and now in my adulthood, the calling in my case has always been to stay on the borders, physically and academically speaking, to be in the borders.”

Zavala, whose mother and father were both medical surgeons, was encouraged by his family to step out beyond the comfortable life he knew in Mexico City to discover the reality of people living without the means to provide for a family, lacking access to food, clean water, education and health care. While he devoted time to studies in philosophy and theology, the impact of discovering this parallel existence in his own country convinced him to concentrate his studies on power, poverty and Liberation Theology, along with traditional and classical studies.

Education professionals offer tools for growth

Zavala will be working as an academic officer associate and professor for Facultad de Teología SEUT, the 140-year-old Protestant seminary in Madrid, Spain.

Other teachers in this group include Karen Lissa Goodwin, who grew up in Brazil with her missionary family, became a teacher by profession and taught in Brazil. She is moving to Angola to become the vice general director of the School for Methodist Mission in Luanda. This historic mission school was resurrected after the Portuguese colonial government destroyed it. It reopened at last in 2020, and Goodwin says she’s “open-hearted and overwhelmed with this new purpose God has given me.”

Jovanir Lage*, also from Brazil, will be teaching at the United Methodist University in Cambine, Mozambique. Jean Martial Mbah, from Gabon, arrived in West Angola by way of France, where he taught history. His new role as historian on the faculty of Theology with the Methodist University of Angola will help prepare a new generation of church leaders.

Mission outreach with younger generations

Three young women who recently completed terms as Global Mission Fellows, Rachel Therieh from India, who served in Cambodia; Mamei Sombo Lansana from Sierra Leone, who served in Germany; and Abigayle Chesca Bolado* from the Philippines, who served in Colombia, have accepted positions that further their work in one way or another with other young adults. A fourth missionary, the Rev. Jane Eesley, served as a Mission Intern in an earlier iteration of Global Ministries’ young adult missionary program. After 27 years of serving local churches in Northern Illinois, she has returned to the Middle East, her initial international placement as a young adult missionary.

Missionaries commissioned for service during General Conference, May 2, 2024, Charlotte, NC. L to R: Rachel Therieh, Jean Martial Mbah, Mamei Sombo Lansana; D. Kim; Eric Kalumba; Sara Mae Gabuyo; Gilvren Decal and Rosangelica Acevedo. (Photo: Christie R. House)

Rachel Therieh moved from her Global Mission Fellow assignment in Cambodia to the Philippines, where she now works with Global Ministries’ Asia Pacific Regional Office. “I learned so much from working with the Cambodia people. I experienced immense growth. I discovered myself along the journey.”

Michelle Kunce, from Atlanta, Georgia, is the international partnership promoter for Shade and Fresh Water in São Paulo, Brazil.

Two other women are being commissioned to work in leadership development, Rosangelica Acevedo in Puerto Rico and Rebecca Kerubo Maiko* from Kenya, who will be working in the Tanganyika Annual Conference of North Katanga.

Church planters and agriculture specialists

Evangelists are well represented in this missionary group. The Rev. Gilvren Antipolo Decal serves in the Tanganyika Annual Conference in the Democratic Republic of the Congo as a church planter and developer. Before being a pastor in the Philippines, he was a veterinarian. He wonders if those skills will be used in his missionary assignment – in North Katanga…very likely.

Another multitalented preacher is the Rev. Sarah Mae Gabuyo, who holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music, particularly flute performance. Her family migrated from the Philippines to Italy when she was 10. She earned a Master of Divinity in the U.S. at Wesley Theological Seminary and was ordained as elder in the Wisconsin Annual Conference. She is serving as pastor of the English-speaking congregation of the Methodist Evangelical Churches in Rome, Italy.

Missionaries commissioned for service during General Conference, May 2, 2024, Charlotte, NC. L to R: Daniel Contreras Varas; Jane Eesley; Karen Lissa Goodwin; Leslaw Kalawec; Michelle Kunce; S. Lee and Valdir Seibel, Pedro Zavala. (Photo: Christie R. House)

Leslaw Olgierd Kawalec, from Poland, is headed to Donegal County in the Republic of Ireland to aid in forming congregations among Polish and Eastern European communities that have recently settled there. His Catholic upbringing gave way to ecumenical wanderings and while teaching, he encountered a student’s project on William Wilberforce, which led Kawalec to Methodism.

The Rev. Eric Kalumba from the DRC will become the first Global Ministries missionary to serve as a church planter with the United Methodist Church of Madagascar. Earlier missionary outreach by the Mozambique UMC has established a number of growing congregations.

The Rev. Valdir Seibel, originally from Brazil, serves as the pastor of the International Church in Geneva. His prior experience with El Salvadoran refugees in Nicaragua, his German heritage and his work with the French United Methodist Church has brought him to this international city to provide pastoral care and spiritual training to migrants from around the world.

Two mission initiatives will be receiving new missionary leadership from this group. The Rev. Daniel Humberto Contreras Varas, a pastor from Chile, will serve as the mission program director for the United Methodist Mission in Honduras. A Korean-American missionary couple from the California-Nevada Annual Conference will become country director (Rev. D. Kim) and coordinator for community development (S. Lee) with one of the Southeast Asian Mission Initiatives.

The Central African Mission will receive its first agricultural missionary, G. Seza,* who has a master’s degree in crop improvement and biotechnology from Lubumbashi University. A second agricultural missionary, Norman Yekeye* from Zimbabwe, with degrees from Mutare Poly Technical College and Africa University, will be working in the North Katanga area as an agriculturalist and rural economic development specialist.

Dennis Sandy* is a certified management accountant from Freetown, Sierra Leone. He has worked with major industries in Sierra Leone and Australia. God has called him to fulfill a promise made by Global Ministries to the East Africa Episcopal Region, where he will serve as the financial officer, based in Uganda.

*There were 22 missionaries trained for service to attend this commissioning, but six were unable to obtain a visa for travel to the U.S. They will be commissioned at a later time.

Christie R. House is a consultant writer and editor with Global Ministries and UMCOR.

Global Missionaries

Global Ministries missionaries are a tangible connection between The United Methodist Church and mission. Through denominational or ecumenical ministries, missionaries bear witness to God’s presence all around the world. They are called by God and sent out to serve by the church, usually placed in a new cultural context beyond their country of origin. Missionaries engage in ministry that is defined by mutuality and partnership, seeking to expand the mission of God already present and active in people and places.

Explore the work of Global Ministries missionaries.