In most typical years, The Foundation for Evangelism would have received announcements of the Harry Denman Evangelism Award Presentations at annual conferences months ago. Yet, because of the current pandemic and restrictions on gatherings, many annual conferences had to be creative in how they made the award presentations. Most conference staff or chairs of evangelism that contacted us shared that their annual conference was delayed until the fall or that they would going “all virtual” with their conference. This was certainly not a small undertaking, and so we are grateful that they chose to keep this annual award part of their conference celebration!

As part of lifting up these special people, we want to highlight two award recipients whose work, no doubt, has been a beacon of hope and transformation in their community, pointing people to the hope found in Jesus Christ. More inspirational stories on award recipients can be found on the Denman Evangelism Awards page.

Marie Ferree – West Ohio Annual Conference

Marie Ferree receives the Harry Denman Evangelism Award from the West Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church. Photo courtesy St. Paul’s United Methodist Church.

Marie is the director of the St. Paul’s Food Pantry, a ministry of St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Defiance, Ohio. Her exceptional ministry brings hope to those she serves and leads them into transforming relationship with Jesus Christ. She has walked with countless people as they have started or reignited their faith journeys, and she sees each client as a child of God. Rev. John T. Schlicher, Marie’s pastor says, “Marie has made a genuine bridge to the community with many people moving forward in their faith journeys, ultimately being baptized and joining [the church].” Seeing potential where others saw none, Marie has employed and mentored clients who were out of work and needed help getting their lives back on track. She has a genuine interest in the clients she serves, showing compassion, interest, acceptance and attention to needs. Having been a client of the food pantry herself before coming to work there, she knows, perhaps better than anyone, what her clients are going through. One client shared, “Marie gave me a job in the kitchen…it’s because of Marie that I come to worship every Sunday and attend the Tuesday Bible Study. I’m keeping my faith alive.”

Billie Jean Baker (middle) with Rev. Rachel Baughman (left) and the Rev. Mara Morhouse of Oak Lawn United Methodist Church, at a pre-pandemic gathering. Photo courtesy of Oak Lawn United Methodist Church.

Billie Jean Baker

Many nights, Billie Jean slept on an outside balcony at Oak Lawn United Methodist Church in Dallas, Texas. As an unsheltered person, she helped open the eyes of the church to meeting a need that was literally on their doorstep. Through her relationship with church members and leadership, she helped the church to expand its welcome to other unsheltered individuals. Billie Jean was recently able to find housing, but it is 7 miles from Oak Lawn UMC. The distance, combined with the pandemic has limited her ability to be at the church for worship, but on Sunday and Tuesday evenings, she brings her Bluetooth speaker outside her apartment and invites neighbors to listen with her to livestreamed worship services. Billie Jean’s pastor, Rev. Rachel Baughman, says she has led other homeless people to worship at Oak Lawn United Methodist and participate fully in the life of the church. “I’m grateful for the witness of Billie Jean, not just in paving the way for us to open shelter, but also for building connections and relationships with so many people who found themselves in very similar circumstances to hers.”

Billie Jeans says she has just one calling, “to help the homeless folks hear the Word of God…. I stand up for those that can’t stand up for theirselves ’cause I have a loud voice and pink hair and people are gonna pay attention to me!”

United Methodist News Service has a wonderful story about Billie Jean that includes links to a video about her and the ministry she helped to start at https://www.umnews.org/en/news/evangelism-award-winner-slept-outside-church.

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