EPA Annual Conference 2014: Guest speakers to preach what they practice

Members of the 2014 session of the EPA Annual Conference, meeting May 15-17 at the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center in Oaks, Pa., will hear from two United Methodist clergy leaders who may epitomize the conference’s missional theme, “Growing Vital Congregations.” The roughly 990 lay and clergy members who attend should benefit from the wisdom of both the Rev. Mike Slaughter, lead pastor of the renowned Ohio megachurch Ginghamsburg UMC, and Bishop Gabriel Yemba Unda, leader of Africa’s new East Congo Episcopal Area.

Slaughter, a popular speaker, author and church-growth visionary, emphasizes developing congregational vitality through small groups, creative use of technology, and a passion for mission outreach and evangelism. He will address the conference Thursday night and Friday morning, May 15-16, ending with a question and answer session and a book signing.

Bishop Unda, elected in 2012 by delegates to the rapidly growing Congo Central Conference, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), will preach in his native French during Thursday’s opening worship service. His East Congo Area is based in the Maniema Province’s capital city of Kindu, in the Kivu region that borders Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda and the Central African Republic. The EPA Conference is deeply involved in mission in the DRC through its Congo Partnership that supports medical, educational and economic development efforts in Central Congo.

Also preaching during the two-day conference will be Presiding Bishop Peggy A. Johnson at the Service of Ordination Friday night and the Rev. Dr. Byung Woo Cho, founding pastor of EPA’s own Lighthouse Korean UMC in Glenside, Pa., who will preach during the memorial service Saturday morning.

'A spiritual entrepreneur of ministry marketplace innovation'

Described as a “dreamer and spiritual entrepreneur of ministry marketplace innovation,” Mike Slaughter came to the historic Ginghamsburg church in Tipp City, Ohio, in 1979 and led its dramatic growth from a weekly average of 90 worshipers then to well over 5,000 today on three church campuses. Emphasizing growth through small groups for optimal learning and ministry engagement, it is the fourth largest United Methodist congregation in the U.S. and considered one of the most influential churches in America.

Slaughter, a United Methodist elder and distinguished evangelist, is expected to share his passion and formula for growing vital congregations through evangelistic outreach and broad-based mission involvement. He is a leader of the popular “Change the World” movement and a relentless advocate for outreach to the oppressed people of Darfur, Sudan, named by the U.N. as “the worst humanitarian crisis in the world today.”

Ginghamsburg has invested nearly $6 million in Darfur relief since it began The Sudan Project in 2005, and it also serves more than 40,000 people annually through local outreach ministries in its surrounding communities. Slaughter’s ninth book, Dare to Dream, published in 2013, is about “creating a God-sized mission statement for your life.”

Bishop Unda, elected to a four-year term, has a God-sized mission challenge in his Congo area, with impassable roads and frequent violence that prompts constant security concerns. His only safe, reliable transportation is by airplane.  

'Create an effective delivery system for the development of East Congo'

“I see people travelling with loads on their heads and shoulders across the episcopal area, and these are the people I have been elected to serve,” he said after his election.  “My plan is to reconnoiter the entire episcopal area and ascertain the needs of the various ministries of the church, and then find ways to create an effective delivery system for the development of East Congo.”

Unda, whose mother died when he was 8 months old, was raised by missionaries and his extended family. Ordained in 1971, he has served as a pastor and a chaplain of United Methodist schools, sometimes facing the threat of violence to do his ministry. He lost his wife, Omba Charlotte Unda, to malaria in February 2007 and has become an impassioned promoter of the denomination’s No More Malaria campaign to eradicate the deadly but preventable disease.

A former member of the United Methodist Board of Discipleship, he is one of four bishops leading 14 annual conferences that form the Congo Central Conference. He knows five languages: Swahili, Lingala, French, Otetela and some English.  

The Rev. Byung Woo Cho welcomed more than 330 people to Lighthouse Korean UMC’s opening worship celebration Sept. 27, 2009, making it one of five Korean-American congregations in the EPA Conference at that time. He moved to the conference with his wife, EunMi, from New York. Lighthouse Korean shares the facilities of Lighthouse UMC in Glenside, which has a growing Korean-American population.

After she preaches Friday, Bishop Johnson, now in her sixth year of leading the EPA Conference, will ordain seven candidates as full elders and commission nine candidates, six as provisional elders and three as provisional deacons.

By John Coleman, EPA Conference Communications Director