Alexander, Matamoros and Collins receive 2017 Denman Evangelism Awards at Memphis Annual Conference in June in Collierville


2017 Denman Evangelism Award winners from the Memphis Conference of The United Methodist Church include, clockwise from top left, Israel "Yakko" Flores Matamoros, Rev. Gene Rollins and Ann Alexander. Standing with Alexander in the bottom photo are Bishop Bill McAlilly (left) and Dr. David Russell (right). (Photos by Lane Gardner Camp)

By John B. Vaught

Three Memphis Conference members received the 2017 Harry Denman Evangelism Award during the 2017 Memphis Annual Conference, hosted in Collierville, Tennessee, June 4-6. Dr. David Russell, Memphis Conference chair of evangelism, presented the awards, with categories in laity, clergy and youth.

The award, established by the Foundation for Evangelism over 30 years ago, celebrates Conference members that demonstrate exceptional efforts of Wesleyan evangelism in their communities.

Ann Alexander, member of Puryear UMC in Puryear, Tennessee, and Israel “Yakko” Flores Matamoros, member of Northside UMC in Jackson, Tennessee, share the Denman award for laity. Alexander put her years of sales experience to use in her method of inviting others to church. Matamoros spearheaded ministries and programs to reach the Spanish-speaking community.

Rev. Gene Collins, retired pastor and member of Union UMC in Trenton, Tennessee, received the Denman award for clergy. A three-time Denman award winner, Collins converted the basement of Union UMC into a community storm shelter and venue for outreach ministries.

No award was presented for the youth category.

Ann Alexander

According to Leah Howe, pastor of Puryear UMC in Puryear, Tennessee, Alexander might attribute her gift for evangelism to an “Avon lady” saleswoman from her youth. Born in 1937, Alexander would observe the woman’s sales pitches as a child, then dress up and act out her own.

She turned her fascination into a 30-year career as an Avon saleswoman herself, but Howe said when Alexander retired, “she did not retire from her duties as a disciple of Christ.”

She said Alexander took her love for Christ door to door, inviting neighbors and the community to “come and see.”

“She thought it was something easy to do,” Howe said.

Howe said Alexander’s knock on the door was not only an invitation to church, but also an opportunity to get a person’s name, listen to part of their story and begin a relationship.

“She wants others to know that there is hope,” Howe said, “and for her, she feels it’s her calling to be that ‘knock of hope.’”

Alexander, who has attended Puryear UMC for over 70 years, has also served the church by playing piano, teaching Sunday School and helping with the youth group, including participating in a youth girls lock-in.

Alexander spends her spare time enjoying her eight grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.
Israel “Yakko” Flores Matamoros

Matamoros has leveraged his Mexican upbringing to make a unique difference at Northside UMC, where he serves at People of Hope, Northside’s second campus in Jackson, Tennessee.

After joining Northside’s staff in 2014, Matamoros targeted Spanish speakers in the community, organizing an English as a Second Language program and leading worship services in Spanish. He also teaches Bible study and coordinates an after-school program.

He said he served the Methodist Church in Mexico though children and youth programs, including a mime and clown ministry he designed.

“My work consisted of designing programs with the purpose of having a closer relationship with our God as a Lord and Savior,” he said.

Matamoros came to the United States in the summer of 2006 through the Camp America Program. For four summers, he worked as a camp counselor at Buffalo Mountain Camp, where he met and ultimately married his wife, Chelsea. The two have three kids: Max, Violet and Jude. 

Despite his innovation, Matamoros acknowledged God’s impact in the community.

“I thank God for the opportunity to be here,” he said. “I can see God’s hand working through us, and for this, I am so grateful.”

Rev. Gene Collins

Union UMC’s motto is “Come as you are. You will be welcomed.” As Joyce Collins describes, her husband, Rev. Gene Collins, has certainly embraced that motto in his ministry career.

A veteran of both the U.S. Army and Methodist ministry, Collins has been charged with over 20 churches throughout his career, connecting with congregations and communities in each one.

Joyce shares stories of his compassionate spirit, such as his special bond with a disabled woman, his inclusion of a deaf church member as pianist and his friendship with a formerly outspoken atheist.  

Under his leadership, Gibson UMC won the 1990 Evangelism Award as the church with the best profession of faith ratio in the Jackson District. Collins received his first Harry Denman Evangelism Award during his 12 years as pastor of Bradford UMC in Bradford, Tennessee.

When Collins moved to Union UMC in 2007, he encountered a church with only about 11 active members. In just a few years, the congregation had multiplied to 74, earning Collins a second Denman award.

Since then, Collins has overseen the conversion of Union’s basement and kitchen into a fellowship hall, which hosts community events such as the First Sunday Breakfast Fellowship. Joyce said the breakfast has reached 75 people from the community and surrounding churches. A new children’s program serves 12 children within the church.

Collins also built a storm shelter in the basement, available to anyone in the community during threatening weather. A renovation to the parking lot accommodates more visitors to the quickly growing congregation.

Joyce and Collins, now retired, still attend Union UMC and enjoy spending time with their three children.