Evangelism happens in many contexts and settings; impacts and engages all generations; and calls for relationships with a variety of people. The Harry Denman Evangelism Award honors United Methodists in each annual conference whose exceptional ministry of evangelism brings people into a life-transforming relationship with Jesus Christ. Wesleyan evangelism combines the works of loving kindness with the sharing of God’s love for all people.
This year, West Ohio presented the Denman Award to four individuals: two laity, one youth, and one clergy. Each of the laity recipients has an incredibly unique ministry and a deep love for people who have been cast off by society.
James Clay was one of the original leaders of the Horizon Prison Initiative at Chillicothe Correctional Institution, mentoring and discipling his fellow “men in blue.” Following his release, James connected with the Church for All People in Columbus, then moved to Dayton and became active at Grace United Methodist Church in the Miami Valley District. At his urging, Grace UMC became an active participant in the HOPE Letters program. James also spearheaded an initiative called “Battle Tested Bags” – duffle bags filled with basic necessities for returning citizens, as well as an invitation to worship. James often invites and sometimes brings returning citizens and allies to worship at Grace. In January, he started a Sunday morning “Breakfast and Bible” class to give basic biblical knowledge to returning citizens as well as congregational members. As part of the worship team at Grace, James plans “Redemption Sundays” every fifth Sunday of the month, which feature guest speakers, biblical storytellers, and musicians who are restored citizens, family, or allies. “The ministry James does, and both encourages and enables others to do, transforms the lives of people who are or have recently been literally locked away from society,” says Rev. Dr. Amelia Boomershine, retired West Ohio deacon. “Transformation happens by letting them know that someone cares about them and that God has not forgotten or given up on them.”
Kim Hairston serves as Community Connection Coordinator at United Methodist Church and Community Development for All People in the Capitol Area South district. In her role, she cultivates ongoing relationships of accompaniment and mutuality with community members who are most at the margins. As temperatures plummeted outdoors in winter 2021, it became clear that many community members lacked a safe, warm place to sleep at night. Kim’s heart for the community led her to initiate a warming center in Church for All People’s sanctuary. Leveraging her strength of relationship with the community, Kim grew the warming center upwards of 100 people each night, people who otherwise would have been forced to sleep outside on some of the coldest nights of the winter. Kim is genuinely committed to offering radical hospitality to everyone she encounters and instilled this core value in everyone serving and sleeping in the warming center. Kim was also intentional in inviting those spending the night to return for church in the morning. Over the course of the warming center’s operations, Sunday morning church attendance grew exponentially. “Kim ensures that people in our community feel [God’s] love and acceptance, and works with them to achieve their hopes, dreams and aspirations with a kindness and joy,” says Rev. John Edgar, executive director of CD4AP. “We are blessed to have her as a leader in our community.”
The Youth Denman Award this year goes to 16-year-old Saugath Chhetri from the Bethlehem Bhutanese Ministry at Forest Chapel United Methodist Church in the Ohio River Valley district. Saugath’s family is originally from Nepal and followed the Hindu faith, as do more than 80% of Nepali people. As a Christian disciple, Saugath helped his whole family find the love and grace of Jesus Christ. Saugath freely shares the Gospel with youth and adults inside and outside the church, making disciples who then make other disciples. Saugath is also part of the team that helped to form the Bethlehem Bhutanese Ministry inside of Forest Chapel UMC. Twenty-two families participate in BBM, which connects individuals to Christ and to one another, forming prayer groups and creating evangelists along the way. Through this ministry, 77 Bhutanese joined Forest Chapel UMC by profession of faith on Pentecost Sunday in 2020. As a leader in the Bethlehem Bhutanese Ministry, Saugath is present at church every Saturday and Sunday. Saugath is also secretary of the BBM Youth, which is part of an international youth movement in Australia, Bhutan, Canada, Nepal, Netherlands, and the USA.
Pastor Jim Hall, a part-time local pastor serving at Kirkersville United Methodist Church in Capitol Area South, is this year’s clergy recipient of the Harry Denman Evangelism Award. As the pandemic started and many churches switched to online worship, Pastor Jim not only made online services available, but also introduced a daily devotional series delivered through Facebook. Many of those who now regularly attend the online devotional and engage in prayer are not connected to a church at all. On Saturdays, Pastor Jim shares a series geared toward non-believers or new believers, which presents topics relevant and relatable to the audience. As well as building an online ministry, Pastor Jim has challenged his congregation to reach out into the community and connect with shut-ins, hold a weekly produce distribution, and implement a monthly drive-up community dinner. The church has grown because of these efforts, and for the first time in a while, has an active family and children’s ministry. “[Pastor] Jim has reignited a passion for serving in our congregation and has looked for creative and innovative ways to expand the reach of our church and most importantly reaching others for Christ,” says Mark Van Buren, Ad Council Chair. “I’ve found Jim to bring kindness, sincerity, and a true focus on bringing others to Christ to our church and our ministries.”
Congratulations to this year’s Harry Denman Evangelism Award recipients! The West Ohio Conference is grateful for your dedication to sharing God’s love with all people.