The Florida United Methodist Foundation is pleased to announce the first recipient of the Ben & Martha Simmons Scholarship in its inaugural year.
The Ben & Martha Simmons Scholarship Fund was created to support the education of seminary students seeking ordination within The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church. Through The Florida United Methodist Foundation, this scholarship will support one full-time seminarian with an annual scholarship of approximately $6,000 per year, and renewable for up to four years.
The Simmons, members of Cypress Lake United Methodist Church in Ft. Myers, created this scholarship fund with a singular purpose: to make ministerial education available to more people who have been called. “Sometimes there are financial constraints,” Ben Simmons shared, “and there are barriers we want to break down so that answering their call is not a burden to them.”
Alina Saucedo Paucara is the first distinguished recipient of the award. Paucara is a certified candidate for the Elder track in the East Central District of the Florida United Methodist Conference, and she is pursuing her Master of Divinity at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C.
Originally from Boliva, Paucara’s journey to follow God’s call has taken her to 11 different counties in Latin America and the United States, which is now her home. In addition to a rich educational history and an extensive professional background in finance and accounting, Paucara has spent over 20 years serving Christian communities in a wide variety of capacities, with a particular focus on serving children and youth, women, diverse populations.
Paucara has served as a youth leader, Sunday school teacher, children’s ministry director, church lay leader, and social justice promoter. Most significant, however, was her 11 years as an overseas missionary of the General Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church. It was on her final mission trip to El Salvador in 2018 when she heard God’s call to seminary.
While on that mission trip, Paucara was led to translate Bible teachings into people’s daily lives. She recalls the response she received. “The young men, women, and leaders said to me: ‘Sister, nobody has explained this to us the way you have in a way we can understand. We need more women like you in the church.’” She understood then that she was needed just as she is: “a Latin American immigrant woman with indigenous roots who has witnessed and experienced firsthand cross-cultural challenges, life struggles, and the longing for Good News in our broken world.”
Having resisted God’s call for many years, it was in that moment that all her past experiences made sense. “I knew God was calling,” she said. Soon after, Paucara started seminary and the formal steps to ordination.
Paucara is now in her final year of seminary, and her studies have opened her eyes to gifts she didn’t know she had – to be a guide, leader, nurturer, channel, advocate, and bridge to the good news of love, salvation, and liberation. The fullness of her call is to become an Elder, where she believes, “discipleship and its connections of reality with faith, love with justice, and grace with action to bring life for all people,” has the potential to transform God’s creation.
Alina Saucedo Paucara’s journey is one of passion, commitment, service, and the limitless potential that lies within those who answer the call with open hearts and eager spirits. Through Paucara’s remarkable journey, The Ben & Martha Simmons Scholarship becomes a testament to the belief that cost should never stand as barrier to the pursuit of answering the God’s call to ministry with unwavering determination. Together, these individuals have initiated a legacy of God’s love that will continue to have impact for many years to come.