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Missionary remembered as a light for vulnerable children (UM News)

April 21, 2023

Innocent P. Afful, a missionary with the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, is being remembered as an energetic servant of God and dedicated mentor for vulnerable children. 

Afful died April 17 in Kinshasa at age 49. The cause of his death is unknown.

Afful had a passion for social ministry, serving since 2014 with the Churches of Christ in Congo, based in Kinshasa. His work was focused in the Diakonia department, which serves the most vulnerable, including thousands of children orphaned or threatened by civil conflict. 

Roland Fernandes, top executive of Global Ministries and the United Methodist Committee on Relief, expressed his condolences.

“We are deeply saddened by this unexpected loss to our missionary family,” he said. “Innocent was well known for his extensive and passionate missionary work serving the most vulnerable. He worked tirelessly to share God’s love with all.”

The Rev. Judy Chung, executive director of missionary service at Global Ministries, knew Afful from the time he trained for service.  

“He had this high energy and such a sense of joy for God’s people,” she said. “In worship, he would be dancing and singing, and when he got the chance, he would be preaching. He was so exuberant in so many ways.

“Afful really had a heart and passion for the most vulnerable. …  He cared for them and loved them like his own,” she said.

Originally from Ghana, Afful was a member of the Rev. J.C. Mensah Memorial Methodist Church in Accra. After studying in institutions in Ghana and Sierra Leone, Afful served as a United Methodist Missioner of Hope from 1999 to 2013 and worked for the James One 27 Vocational Training Project, a U.S.-based nonprofit corporation, in Mumford, Ghana. He did ministry work in his own country and in Liberia and Sierra Leone before moving to Congo.

The Rev. Milenge Mwenelwata, second vice president of the Church of Christ in Congo, welcomed Afful to the organization nearly a decade ago. The Churches of Christ in Congo is an ecumenical council of 74 member denominations, including The United Methodist Church.

“His work with the Church of Christ in the Congo has had a great impact on us and on the lives of many disadvantaged people,” Mwenelwata said.

Bishop Daniel Lunge of Central Congo said Afful was a missionary who really proved he was in the mission for God.

“Though he served under an interdenominational organization, he always remembered his roots and would continually worship with The United Methodist Church.

“The orphans are mourning Afful. Mothers are mourning Afful. The United Methodist Church in Congo, especially Kinshasa, is mourning him. We will treasure our memories of him and pray that his soul rests in peace,” Lunge said.

The Rev. Jean Claude Masuka Maleka of South Congo, who serves as a missionary in Côte d’Ivoire, trained with Afful in the Missioners of Hope program, which focused on caring for vulnerable children in Africa over 20 years ago.

“He was an energetic guy who was committed to the children’s ministry. He never changed all the time I knew him. He loved to share with children and was very dedicated to them.”

Maleka remembers Afful as a humble servant of God who loved to joke, and a prayer warrior who spoke about the goodness of God at every opportunity.

Afful worked with 15 orphanages and four vocational training centers that teach skills such as soap making and sewing to orphans and disadvantaged children in Kinshasa. Every Saturday morning, he hosted “30 Minutes with the Orphans,” a Lokole Methodist Radio program dedicated to lifting up the cause of vulnerable children.

“We want to see people working and generating income to support their families. We want to increase the literacy rate of children and teenagers in the community,” Afful told UM News in January, describing the change he wanted to bring about through his activities.

Jacob Kabey Muland, coordinator of Emmanuel Humanitarian Works, one of the orphanages Afful supervised, said he will never forget Afful. 

“One day, my wife had been in a traffic accident,” Muland recalled. “The next morning, I saw Innocent come with Pastor (Stephen) Bryan to comfort us and pray for my wife’s health.”

Omadjela said, “Afful’s passing is like a lamp going out in the lives of those orphans he mentored.” But he hopes someone will pick up where he left off. “I know that the Lord will not abandon these orphans; he will always be with them.”

The Rev. Collins Etchi Ako of Cameroon, who serves in East Congo, said Afful was full of energy. 

“We called him ‘Papa Chaud’ (Papa Warm) because he had a warm personality, a big heart and was full of energy. He is going to be missed not just because of his service as a missionary but because of the person he was.”

Mozart Adevu, a Ghanaian who served as a missionary until 2021, described Afful as a buoyant person who radiated a youthful exuberance. 

“His actions reflected the joy to serve the Lord, and he did that with passion and energy. He knew no boundaries to serving Christ and did that joyfully each time and no matter the audience,” said Adevu. “Afful truly achieved heaven’s highest honor as a faithful steward on earth.” 

Muland said the missionary was a beacon of hope for vulnerable children.

“For me, Innocent Afful was a light of the world, located on a mountain that did not hide, a lighted lamp within reach of orphans who had no support,” he said. “Let his light shine before God the Father, and let God see his works.”

Afful is survived by his wife, Wilhemina M. Afful, and their three children, Charity, Ephraim and Jacobsen. Funeral arrangements are pending.