Rowell keynotes as UMVIM missioners gather at AC2023

By Jessica Brodie

FLORENCE—Missioners active with South Carolina United Methodist Volunteers in Mission gathered at Pisgah United Methodist Church June 6 for an off-site Annual Conference gathering.

After lunch and a devotion from the Rev. Mike Evans, the crowd heard a word from the Rev. Tony Rowell, longtime missioner who took his first UMVIM trip more than 30 years ago.

“UMVIM completely changed my perspective on life,” said Rowell, the pastor of Beulah UMC in Gilbert, who noted that he wouldn’t trade a minute of his experiences. “I went from a self-centered, self-seeking individual to a self-centered, self-seeking individual with another viewpoint on how I should be.”

That evolution continues to this day, he said.

Rowell remembered a conversation he had with the late Dr. Mike Watson, South Carolina UMVIM founder, when he had the opportunity to ask Watson why he cared so much about UMVIM and mission work.

Rowell was surprised to learn Watson’s focus was less on the outward mission but on the inward change within the life of the missioner. 

“He said, ‘My dream isn’t necessarily to go out into world make big changes,’” Rowell said. “‘My dream is this organization goes deep into heart of the missionaries and changes them.”

It was about using missions to create Christians who are on fire for God.

Looking around the room, Rowell said, truly this is reflected in those gathered at the luncheon.

“A lot of y’all are fanatical,” he joked.

But that is what often happens when you serve without expecting anything in return.

“That’s when you understand what being a Christian is—it’s going out and sharing the Gospel … whether you’ve got a hammer in your hand or a syringe.”

After Rowell’s message, UMVIM Treasurer Jennifer Parker announced the recipient of this year’s Annual Conference Michael C. Watson Volunteers in Mission Award as Ward Smith. Involved in Salkehatchie Summer Service since he was 14 years old, he went on to serve as a site leader, assistant camp director, camp director, and today still serves in this capacity. He spent a number of years also serving at the Henderson Settlement, United Methodist mission institution in Kentucky. In all he does, Smith truly exemplifies extraordinary service, she said.

“He shares the love of Christ with tangible acts of service,” she said, presenting Ward with the award to much applause.

The gathering finished with a short business session.

To learn more about South Carolina UMVIM, visit

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