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Nigeria's United Methodists take on children's concerns

9/25/2000 News media contact: Linda Bloom · (646) 369-3759 · New York

NOTE: This report is a sidebar to UMNS story #428.

EVANSTON, Ill. (UMNS) - The United Methodist Church in Nigeria has followed the lead of the denomination's bishops in launching an initiative on children and poverty.

Bishop Done Peter Dabale - in Evanston to attend the Sept. 21-23 meeting of the Commission on the Status and Role of Women - said the church has begun building an orphanage in Jalingo, where it also has a primary and secondary school. "We need to build about four (orphanages)," he added.

Besides hunger-related issues, children are affected by the AIDS epidemic. During his late August visit to Nigeria, U.S. President Bill Clinton called upon its citizens to confront the disease. According to the White House, about 5.4 percent of the country's population of 114 million are infected with the AIDS virus, one of the highest infection rates in Africa.

Children and youth are an important component of the United Methodist Church in Nigeria. Of its 392,000 members, Dabale said, 80 percent are under 30 years old. About 65 percent of its 225 pastors are under 35.

With central offices in Jalingo, the church spans 15 districts in nine states. "The church is growing because of its inclusiveness," the bishop said. "We are the first to ordain women."

One of Dabale's concerns is the difficulty that Christians face in the states where Muslims dominate. Clashes between the two religions began after Nigeria became a democracy and elected its first president, who is a Baptist.

The bishop said some members of Nigeria's assembly want the country to become an Islamic state, but he doesn't think that will happen. The new democracy "is working," he noted. "But some people are trying to spoil it."

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