Alma Thompson has a passion for helping children and introducing them to Jesus. That passion has taken on different expressions that have included adopting a child, teaching fourth-graders, connecting nursing home residents with children, serving as a children’s ministries director in a local church, and currently living as an active neighbor to more than 100 children and teens from nearby apartments who have found a safe and welcoming place to eat and play in her backyard.
Alma also is known throughout the Free Methodist Church – USA as a leader of adults. She has served on the denomination’s Global Overseers Team as co-superintendent of the Ohio and New South conferences. She has been a featured speaker for the bishops’ Equipping for Excellence and Expansion (E3) gatherings and the Wesleyan Holiness Women Clergy’s Revive conference.
Now she has a new ministry role that bridges her roles of servant leadership to children and adults — director of International Child Care Ministries, which partners with the global Free Methodist Church for the spiritual, educational, physical and social development of children through sponsorships, scholarships and creative initiatives. Her husband, Brent Thompson, will continue to serve as the Ohio Conference superintendent.
Bishop Linda Adams previously served as ICCM director. Alma was prayerfully concerned about the right person being selected to follow Adams at ICCM.
“Once Bishop Linda was on the docket for possible election to bishop, of course, lots of us started praying for the next ICCM director,” Alma said during an interview with LIGHT + LIFE. “It never occurred to me that it might be me.”
Thompson asked Adams how she could pray specifically for ICCM, but Alma said the inquiry came without any thought of “oh boy, I’d like that position.” Adams asked her to pray specifically for technological challenges with ICCM’s database along with the selection of the next leader.
Following the Call
Then a phone call came from Bishop David Roller.
“I was sitting on my front porch, and Bishop Roller called and said, ‘Alma, would you be willing to have your name considered?’” she recalled. “And I said, ‘Whoa. Wait a minute. Talk to me more about what that even means. I’d benefit from hearing your perspective on this role.’”
Roller shared some of the reasons why he thought she would be a good candidate for ICCM director.
“At that point, I thought, ‘You know what. I am an ordained elder of the Free Methodist Church,’” Alma said. “To me, the question of my yes or no was settled way back at my ordination because, as a Free Methodist elder, I serve Christ in an appointment system that means at the call of the church.”
Alma became an elder in 2004. Approximately eight years earlier, while serving as the director of children’s ministries at Edgewood FMC in Rochester, New York, she began developing other leaders to help manage the rapidly growing children’s program. She accompanied her pastor husband to leadership training, began reading anything she could find on leadership development, and “realized how closely education and empowerment of children ties to leadership development.”
She sensed God calling her to pastoral ministry but wrestled with this call for months without telling Brent because — despite growing up in a tradition that allows women to preach and lead and then joining the Free Methodist denomination that ordains women — “the overall message in my own head was ‘I can’t do that. I’m a woman.’” But, as she finally began discussing her call with her husband, “he was struck by the fact that how I was talking about my call was similar to his call,” and the couple committed to “read and research until we had a clear biblical understanding either for or against women in ministry leadership.”
After nearly half a year, they were able to articulate a clear biblical support, and they met with Edgewood’s then-Lead Pastor Walter Fleming who pulled out a stack of articles on women in leadership and said, “Alma, about six months ago, the Spirit of God told me that you were being called to ministry leadership.” She said Fleming became “my biggest fan and my mentor, and we started to meet on a weekly basis.”
Following her ordination as elder, she traded her position directing children’s ministries for a position as pastor of strategic initiative, and then she and Brent became co-pastors of church planting as Edgewood became a multisite congregation. They then served as co-pastors of Harvest Chapel FMC in Fredonia, New York, that they also transitioned into a multisite model. Harvest became “a pastor factory — a place where leaders could grow, develop, be mentored, lead and then be launched and sent out.”
Along with their superintendent duties in the United States that followed their work at Harvest Chapel, Brent has served as overseer of the Free Methodist Church in Honduras that the Thompsons have helped develop through their longtime ties to the Central American country where they lived for a year after graduating from Houghton College. Brent played professional baseball in Honduras while she taught fourth grade. The falling value of Honduran currency forced them to return to the U.S., but they regularly visited the country, organized missions trips and continued friendships there.
While visiting a friend’s community, “we saw a church building that was all boarded up, and there were bullet holes through the windows,” said Alma, who added the closed church was the only house of worship in the village. “We were moved to tears. … Our hearts broke in saying, ‘Oh, there needs to be a church here.’ … That empty church with bullet holes became the focal point of our prayers for Honduras.”
Those connections may result in another country being added to the list of 33 countries where ICCM currently operates. “As a provisional FM conference, Honduras may soon be at the point where ICCM is going to be able to come right alongside the holistic child development aspect with sponsorship and really an active partnership with this vision to develop leaders and multiply churches,” she said. “Connecting and ministering to children in church planting is such a natural leadership development strategy.”
Alma is focusing on fully funding and implementing ICCM’s 2020 Vision that includes “the completion of projects, the empowerment of leaders, and leveraging our technology.” She encourages congregations to join ICCM’s Connected Communities program that links churches and communities around the world to help children, and she also wants people to sponsor an individual child for $30 a month. Thompson emphasizes ICCM is a key ally and resource for congregations, conferences and missionaries around the world.
“So often ICCM is being pigeonholed as just individual sponsorship,” Alma said. “In the perspective of the broader church, I want to create a new connection — recognizing ICCM as an awesome partner for strategic leadership development and church planting.”