On April 19, award winners, family, friends and colleagues gathered at the Champagne Ballroom for awards night. The Missouri Annual Conference honored the winners of the Robert and Martha Marble Mission Award; the Unity Award; the ONE Matters Discipleship Award; and the Harry Denman Evangelism Awards for both clergy and laity.
Robert and Martha Marble Mission Award: Mel and Barbara West
This award is given to an individual in the Conference who exhibits outstanding commitment to mission.
Rev. Mel West was born during the Dustbowl on a farm in Dade County (SW), Missouri. His education included a one-room country school, Golden City High School, Missouri University, Purdue University, and Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1942-1946.
From 1955-1959, he served as the pastor of the Oakton, Missouri circuit of four churches. All the churches grew during his pastoral leadership. West went to Dallas to enroll in Perkins School of Theology, SMU. During his time in Dallas, he was a pastor at Stevens Park Methodist Church in the inner city, beginning with 23 members, ending with 227. He received a STM and BD degree from SMU.
In 1965, West returned to Missouri to start and develop the Office of Creative Ministries (OCM), the predecessor to the Office of Mission, Service & Justice. The OCM’s focus was to explore, develop and promote opportunities for personal involvement in mission response to needs and issues. Often these opportunities are in cooperation and collaboration with groups and individuals of other denominations and faith groups. During his tenure, Mel engaged in the creation or promotion of Lake of the Ozarks Parish, Missouri Heifer Project, Prison PATCH, Festival of Sharing, TRAG, Boot heel Project, Youth Work camps, Traveling VBS, Singing Missioners, State Fair Ministry, MOTH Ministry, Green Hand Project, CWS Warehouse, The Furniture Project, and homes for abused women and children.
West didn’t understand the concept of retirement when it became official in 1985. He studied Spanish in Costa Rica, and in 1986 made a 1,000 mike walk for Habitat for Humanity, raising $70,000. He and his wife took those funds to Costa Rica and started Habitat there.
From 1986 onward, West has served on the boards of various US and International mission projects, including: Heifer International, Habitat International, ECHO International, Alfalit International, SIFAT International, NACCE, UMRF, National Board of Global Ministries, The Rainbow Network, etc. He visited approximately 26 or more countries carrying out the work of the aforementioned agencies.
In 1994, Rev. Larry Hills, a missionary in Zaire (now Congo), told West of the great need for three-wheeled, hand-cranked wheelchairs for victims of polio and landmines. West contacted Earl Miner, product designer and long-time friend and mission partner; and the process of the prototype design began. West was a co-founder of PET (Mobility Worldwide) and Director for 20 years.
Since 2016, West has been actively serving at Wilkes Blvd. UMC with its programs for the hungry and homeless. He is married to Barbara since 1945. They have two children and two grandchildren.
When asking Mel for a summary of his mission efforts (without knowing he has been nominated, his shared): “With this wonderful gift of life, and with Barbara as my life partner, we have tried to pre-pay our rent to a world in which we will, for nearly a 100 years or so, have been its tenants.”
West’s life exemplifies an outstanding commitment to mission. On every level – local, regional and general church – he has demonstrated excellence in missional engagement. He is fully committed to lifelong discipleship and to partnering with the Holy Spirit to bring about the kingdom of God on earth.
Unity Award: Rev. Russell Ewell
This award celebrates the spirit and work of an individual in light of the values of the Conference with particular emphasis on inclusiveness, justice and worth.
Russell is an ordained deacon appointed as associate pastor to The Village Church of St. Louis. For the past quadrennium he has represented the United Methodist Association of Ministers with Disabilities (UMAMD) on the Missouri Annual Conference Values team. He also serves as the UMAMD Liaison on the United Methodist Task Force on Disability Ministries, a standing committee of the General Conference.
When Ewell was three years old, he was involved in a car accident suffering a traumatic brain injury. The resulting injury led to a diagnosis of legal blindness, photo phobia and nystagmus. Growing up blind before the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Ewell faced adversity at every turn. His parents were told that people who were blind could not succeed in a mainstream classroom and they shouldn’t waste their time considering college. Despite the advice of his early educational and medical experts, Ewell graduated Normandy Sr. High and then completed a Bachelor of Science in sociology with an emphasis on labor relations from Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville in 1991. In 2009, he became the first blind person to graduate with a Master of Divinity degree from Eden Theological Seminary. His dissertation “Re-visioning God and Community: Toward a Practical Theology of Disability” continues to serve as a primary text in social justice courses at Eden. In 2015, Ewell was ordained as deacon in full connection in the Missouri Annual Conference.
Ewell’s gifts for ministry and his passion for encouraging the disenfranchised has shaped him into a tireless leader for the disability community for the past 20 years, advocating for a more liberating and inclusive theology. His message of inclusive ministry is centered on his desire for the people of God to realize the kingdom of God here on earth. He believes that if we are not fully present at the table, we are not functioning as the full body of Christ, and therefore not living out the vision of the kingdom of God. He is consistently invited to both preach and lectures at events across the country. Ewell has taken his support for the disabilities activist community beyond the local church. He advocates for the independent living movement, grassroots advocacy and organization for disability rights. He is passionate about empowering the disenfranchised and assisting all people in realizing their potential, purpose and worth. He has led in worship and shared in plenary and panel talks at events throughout the connection and beyond, including at United Methodist Women’s Mission u, Summer Institute on Theology and Disability and the Black Liberation Theology of Disability Symposium, a conference designed to bring awareness, education, and a theological response to the injustices that black people in particular, with disabilities face.
Russell’s voice, witness and contributions to the Missouri Annual Conference celebrate the values of inclusiveness, justice and worth. His prophetic leadership challenges local churches to an inclusive stance for the full and equal participation of all people regardless of ability in the total life and mission of the United Methodist Church and the community at large.
ONE Matters Discipleship Award: Grundy Center UMC (Trenton, Missouri)
The ONE Matters Discipleship Award recognizes churches who in recent years have moved from zeros in baptisms and professions of faith to positive numbers with a renewed focus on intentional discipleship.
Grundy Center is an open country church in the Mark Twain district that had not seen a baptisms for four years prior to 2014 and before that, it was an annual single soul if they were lucky. Then they had one that year and skipped 2015. Under the renewed leadership and vision of ¼ time local pastor/farmer, Richard Key, they have celebrated seven professions of faith and seven baptisms (3 children and 4 youth/adult). The revitalized congregation is growing in worship attendance 60 up from 51 in 2015.
District Superintendent Steve Pinnell suggests that the reason for this revitalization has been due to Pastor Richard’s relational leadership style. As a part-time pastor who farms over 1,000 acres, Pastor Richard knows his flock and tends to their discipleship. He has a passion for bringing folks to Christ. The fruit is such that the church feels that it is outgrowing the building. In 2015, they had an average annual worship of 51. In 2016, it was up to 60 with 35 in Sunday School.
In addition to a One Matters Discipleship Award plaque, the award includes a $1,000 check from Discipleship Ministries. The monetary award is designed to encourage continued growth in the area of discipleship.
Denman Evangelism Awards
The Harry Denman Evangelism Award honors one lay and one clergy for their exceptional ministry of evangelism - expressed in Word (what), Sign (why), and Deed (how) – that brings people into a life transforming relationship with Jesus Christ.
Laity: David Myers
In the very rural northwest corner of Cape Girardeau County, located in the tiny unincorporated community of Daisy (population 62 with 10 people per square mile in the zip code) sits a vibrant country church known as New Salem UMC. On any given Sunday the church grounds will be filled with parked cars and the sanctuary will be stuffed to capacity with earnest and dedicated Christ followers. Anyone who says you can’t grow a vital local church in the rural reaches of Missouri needs to become acquainted with the people of New Salem. In recent years, this multi-generational church has moved from ¼ time, to ½ time, to ¾ time…and is now poised in the near future to move to full-time status. The church is also in conversation about a building expansion to accommodate the growth of the congregation.
Many of those people who worship at New Salem would have received a witness for Christ and a personal invitation to worship from lay leader, David Myers. David is absolutely dedicated to following Jesus and always has a winsome spirit and an eagerness to share his personal faith. Once people take David up on his invitation to church, they will encounter David as he assists Pastor Steven Koerner in moderating the worship service. Davey consistently sets a deeply spiritual tone for the service as he leads singing and encourages people to offer their highest to God in worship. His passion, his unquestioned devotion to his Lord and Savior, and his consistent leadership have endeared many people to receive the love and grace made known in Jesus.
David exemplifies the very best of those who witness for Christ. He has a pure and honest devotion, a truly invitational spirit, and a heart for loving those whom Christ loves.
Clergy: Rev. Rob Barringer
Rob is passionate, evangelical, and has a heart for people meeting Jesus Christ. He is involved in the community through the local schools and especially sports; he is a support to coaches and students, and helps with the local Fellowship of Christian Athletes chapter. Rob is also involved in the local the fire department, where he serves as a volunteer fireman. Through that community service and through the deepening of relationships, he has recruited most of the volunteer fireman to participate in LifeSong UMC and led many to faith in Christ. Because of his local community engagement, Rob has planted a church that is externally-focused, reaching out to a community of hurting people with service and the love of Christ. Through an annual day of service, by chopping and delivering wood to heat homes, from free meals and to hosting mobile camps for the children of the community, the church is reaching out to others with the love of Jesus Christ.
Rob was appointed to start LifeSong United Methodist Church in July 1, 2008. Worship began in January 2009. After worshipping for three years, the church was worshipping an average of 154. The church chartered two years later in January 2013 and continue to grow. Situated between the towns of Reeds Spring (population of 886) and Branson West (population of 457), and in the midst of lots of winding lake roads, the church now worships 267.
Rob lives out the spirit of the Harry Denman Evangelism Award – a person who commits his life to share the good news of Jesus Christ. Rob does that every day, in countless ways.