Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Youth Speak Out: United Methodist Youth Responding to the Challenges of HIV and AIDS

Young adult Global Justice Volunteers Africa participants wrote reflections on HIV and AIDS after their experiences volunteering with HIV/AIDs organizations in Kenya. Here are some of their prayers, letters, and poems. 


John Atoyo shares his experience with Global
Justice Volunteers. (photo by Gabriel G. Mungai)
No one can deny
That a united people
Will never miss what they want
For it doesn't matter
Whether we are in Africa, Asia or the US
But imagine, all in one mission
And showing justice, mercy, and love to everyone
Yes! You can't separate them.

Today is our power.
Why wait for tomorrow.
And we know our mission
Is to make disciples of Jesus Christ
For the transformation of the world.
Give hope, life, to the rejected.
Together we can do
Great things as simple things.

John Odhiambo Atoyo, Kenya

Public Notice
HIV and AIDS have seriously claimed the lives of people in Kenya, leaving some dead in the streets, some dropped out of school, and some physically challenged. Stigmatization, discrimination, and tribalism have become the order of the day. People die of hunger; children and mothers have been abandoned by husbands and society. "HIV/AIDS is not man-made."

We need to intervene in this ugly situation to help save the lives of innocent souls. Remember "different culture, but one people." Let's stop the attitude of "it concerns not me" but unite together in this big fight because no one knows what tomorrow may bring, and that God requires us to love one another, and Christ died for our sins without any discrimination. With Jesus being the center of our foundation, we will succeed together in solidarity, and let's use the energy we have now to go forth and conquer. Remember, your actions will create a big impact in the lives of people. Think about it and act now.

Florence Kadie Lassayo, Sierra Leone

Rev. Kat Sal Nenette leads the group in 
singing. (photo by Gabriel G. Mungai) 

Letter to Women

I'm praying the Almighty God to help women who are always being discriminated against, rejected, and dishonored in the society.

O God, women are always the subject of discrimination, and their voices are not listened to by people in the community. Women don't have the right to talk and share their ideas with others. They are always rejected and affected. God, you are the only one who can fight against this. They are marginalized by others.

Women, let's work together and fight for our own rights. Let's help those who are not empowered. It will be good to share our experiences, ideas, and knowledge which will unite us and work in togetherness. Let us put our trust in God, and our voices will be heard by the church, by society, and also by the community.

Rev. Kat Sal Nenette, Democratic Republic of Congo

United…People Living With HIV and AIDS against Injustice

I'm shouting out for people who are living with HIV/AIDS
Never give up because God loves u.
Just continue to be hopeful, prayerful, and support each other.
United, you'll successfully gain over
Stigma and discrimination
This century is a new era for all of you.
Instead of crying, hiding and fearing,
Come together, fight for the implementation of
Equity, human rights, economic empowerment, and build the world.

Duhimbarwe Lionel, Burundi

Monday, November 28, 2011

Finding Love in Cambodia

Missionaries Marilyn and Joseph Chan shared their story of the
persistent power of love and faith. (Photo by Melissa Hinnen) 

by Melissa Hinnen*

Perhaps I should not be surprised that a road trip in Cambodia with a missionary couple named Mary and Joseph (okay well actually Marilyn and Joseph) would be full of amazing stories. From the moment they greeted me at 7:00 a.m. in my hotel lobby in Phnom Penh, I felt a sense of pure joy from the Chans--they are truly extraordinary people who radiate love.

We drove for about three hours to the rural area of Svay Rieng Province. We met with pastors, visited churches, studied the Bible, ate at a wonderful roadside restaurant, made some pastoral-care visits, and stopped in a village community where with the support of the Women's Division, women are learning basket weaving from church leadership to generate income.

It was a very full and rich day, and I heard many stories of how the Methodist Church in Cambodia is growing and how ministry with the poor is integrated into the fabric of the mission initiative. The community outreach is not exclusive to Christians, and their evangelism does not condemn the dominant Buddhist faith. They live out their faith as models of Christianity and invite others to share in the Good News.

I learned about their dream for starting a senior center when they retire (Joseph is 67). "Many people want to help children," said Marilyn, "but it is hard to find support for the elderly."

Woven into our visits, I heard a powerful love story. Joseph and Marilyn met once as children--her aunt was married to his cousin and they did not see each other again until ten years later in a Thai refugee camp. Marilyn was raised in the northern part of Cambodia in the northwestern Siem Reap Province, where she went to high school. Joseph was raised in Cambodia but attended university in Yugoslavia. In the late 1970s, he returned to Cambodia to Phnom Penh in the southeast because he wanted to help the people who had just come under a communist government--the Khmer Rouge.

Because they were educated, both Joseph and Marilyn were targeted by the government and forced into labor. While many people around him were slaughtered, Joseph survived because he had agrarian skills like "being able to catch eel in a bamboo shoot and planting rice." Marilyn survived in spite of herself--life had become so difficult that she attempted suicide repeatedly.

"When we were imprisoned in the temple, others were begging for their lives, but I was just relieved that finally all of this pain would be over," she recounted, showing me a photo of the temple that still stands in the village where she grew up. She was released after only a few days and put back to work.

They both escaped, making their way on foot over the border into Thailand. Joseph's journey took more than two months. Marilyn remembered that she had a relative (Joseph) who she believed was studying in Europe. She had hopes that, once she crossed the border into Thailand, she could contact him, and he would sponsor her to go to Europe. At the refugee camp in Thailand, she turned around and was surprised to see Joseph standing right behind her. "You have come to sponsor me?" she asked. He looked at her without recognition and replied, "Do I look like someone who can sponsor you? Look at my clothes--I don't even have any shoes. Do I even know you?" Marilyn removed her scarf and said her name, and as the pieces came together in their minds, they both cried.

Less than a week later they were separated and brought on buses back over the Thailand border into Cambodia. The bus released them into the forest and many people ran toward the river for water. Suddenly a landmine exploded and countless people were killed. Marilyn and Joseph each assumed the other had been killed. Stranded in the forest with no food and terrified of going to get water, they saw the situation as hopeless. Marilyn said that parents were forced to leave their young children to die because they could not carry them. Joseph spoke of people lying on the ground dying and begging for water.

There was a hole that they had to jump over that was filled with landmines. Those who were too weak fell into the ditch and were killed. Joseph crossed the ditch, and when he looked back he saw a child about to jump across by himself. Joseph crossed back over the hole and helped the boy across. He did this repeatedly because he could not think about watching anyone fall into the hole. When Marilyn got to the hole, someone helped her across because she was too weak to do it on her own.

Eventually, Marilyn and Joseph reunited. They made their way to Marilyn's mother's house. Marilyn's mother had been caring for refugees who had come her way with the hope that someone would be caring for her family in the same way. Arrangements were made for Joseph and Marilyn to be married because, Marilyn said, "we did not want him to get separated from me again." It wasn't quite that easy. After they married, they decided to escape again.

Joseph went ahead of Marilyn and her family to find the best way. Unfortunately he was not able to get back to them. Marilyn was determined not to lose her husband and set out after him. The path forked into three paths, and, having no idea which way to choose, she took a guess. Fortunately it was the same path Joseph had chosen. Finally they were reunited and walked to the refugee camp in Thailand. Marilyn commented to me that she is still amazed they kept finding each other. After 30 years, families are still reuniting in Cambodia, but she and Joseph were continually drawn together.

The Chans, on the left, are praying in Cambodia.
(photo by Melissa Hinnen)
It was in the refugee camp that Marilyn and Joseph converted to Christianity. The first Scripture they learned was Matthew 6:33: "But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well." Joseph said that at first they thought it just sounded good and was superstition. Soon their hearts were changed, and Joseph began teaching Christianity in the camp. Marilyn said that through Christianity they came to understand that it was not just that they were "lucky" to have survived and found each other in this ordeal, but that God had a purpose for them.

"Thank you for sharing your story," I said as they dropped me off at my hotel and handed me some fresh bananas. "The story is not finished," Joseph reminded me. "Please pray for our senior center."

Joseph's and Marilyn's love for each other, for Christ, and for all people--especially those living in the margins, "the invisible and discarded," as Marilyn says--is simply and authentically beautiful. Sometimes you meet people who open your heart just a little more in a way that is transformational. Marilyn and Joseph had that effect on me. Cambodia is blessed to have them sharing the love of Christ throughout their country. I am blessed that they shared their love with me, and I pray that the light of Christ will shine a little brighter in me thanks to their witness.

(I suggested to Marilyn that they write a book, and as it happens there is already a book written about them that is part of the United Methodist Women 2012 reading list: Because He Lives by Catherine Guess. Proceeds will support the senior center.)

*Melissa Hinnen is the information officer of the General Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church. 

To learn more about Marilyn's ministry in Cambodia, visit the missionary bio page of Marilyn Chan. To give to this ministry of love through the Advance, link to the secure page at Giving for Missionary Marilyn Chan.

To learn more about Joseph's ministry, visit the missionary bio page of Joseph Chan. Make an online donation through the Advance, the designated giving channel of the United Methodist Church at Giving for Missionary Joseph Chan.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Giving Thanks in Vietnam

On Thanksgiving Day, Melissa Hinnen, information officer for the General Board of 
Global Ministries, shared fellowship and fresh fruit with a Bible study group in Vietnam. 
(photo courtesy of M. Hinnen) 
It’s well past my bedtime here in Vietnam and I just spent my first Thanksgiving away from my family. I contemplated ordering the prix fixe ‘Thanksgiving’ meal that was being offered to tourists but I realized that it’s not the food I’m missing. It’s the buzz of the kitchen, gathering with family, everyone lending a hand to bring together a wonderful meal. So I ate a delicious one pot meal and was thankful for the nourishment, for the people who prepared it, and for the opportunity to spend time in this country where in spite of many obstacles, the United Methodist Church continues to grow.

After eating Thanksgiving dinner by myself in a nice restaurant, I met up with Global Ministries missionaries Ut Van To and Karen Vo-To and visited a house church. A dozen of us gathered around Van’s (our host), dining room table for their weekly Bible study. The group included new Christians who were deepening their faith as well as pastors from various churches in the area.

There was a time of welcoming and a time of praise music followed by a reading of Mark 10:46-53 – the story of the blind man, Bartimaeus asking Jesus to heal his eye sight. The people tried to shut him up but he kept calling out to Jesus in spite of the people getting in his way. As I sat around a table with people who have continued to seek Christ - meeting in homes as the first Christians did, I saw the story of Bartimaeus in a new way. Some of the people in the group told me that their families did not accept their new faith but that they decided to continue anyway. Others have witnessed to their families and like Bartimaeus, their families now follow Jesus with new vision.

After praying for and with each other, Van brought out plates of fresh fruit and we had some time for fellowship. I explained to them that today in America is a day to spend time with family and to give thanks for our blessings. Today I was thankful for their hospitality and for our global church family that continues to grow.

To learn more about Karen's ministry in Vietnam, visit the missionary bio page of Karen Vo-To. To give through the Advance, link to the Advance's secure page at Giving for Missionary Karen Vo-To.

To learn more about Ut's ministry, visit the missionary bio page of Ut To. Make an online donation to Ut's ministry through the Advance, the designated giving channel of the United Methodist Church at Giving for Missionary Ut To.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Giving Thanks

Randy Hildebrant is a missionary, a Church and Community Worker,
who serves in Nebraska, supporting small, rural churches. (Photo by Felipe Castillo)

This Thanksgiving will be very different for us. We will not be able to be with Aletha’s family in Kentucky. This may be the first year since we have been married, which is 17 years. So this year in Kentucky about 40 Everleys will gather at Faith United Methodist church in Bowling Green, Kentucky. This is the first year they have had Thanksgiving at the church.

In years past, we have always gathered at Aletha’s parent’s house to celebrate Thanksgiving. The adults gather at the table in the dining room. The grand and great-grandkids are scattered throughout the house. The menu is turkey and the usual trimmings, but always includes cheese pudding doubled. Thanksgiving and Christmas are the only times we get to indulge in this tasty dish.

As we sit around the table, Baun will always ask each of us to tell what we are thankful for. He always tearfully expresses his thankfulness for God and family. After each of us has shared, he leads us in singing the Doxology. The beginning is my favorite: “Praise God from whom all blessings flow”

Each time we sing that, I think about all the blessings God has given us. We have so much to be thankful for. I would like to ask you to think about these questions.

What does your church do that you are thankful for?
Does it bring tears to your eyes?
Does it make you want to jump up and shout?
Were you once blind, but now you see?
Remember baptisms, confessions of faith (once lost, now found), and special communions?

Former Global Ministries staff, Brenda Connelly, admires quilt
with missionary Randy Hidebrant. (Photo by Rachael Barnett)
I challenge you as you have church Thanksgiving dinner to let it be more than the motions that we just go through, but let it be an experience that brings us closer to God.

I would like to share a story with you. Some 75 people gathered at a church on Wednesday night to share a Thanksgiving meal with their families. There was no charge for the meal. They decided to take meals to two older ladies in the neighborhood. When they called to tell them they were bringing them meals, the ladies could not believe they were not going to have to pay for the meal. They asked why anyone would just bring a meal and not ask for money. They were told that the church was having a Thanksgiving meal and wanted to include them. The meal was an opportunity for the people to invite unchurched friends to come to their church.

You never know who will show up when given an invitation. You might be surprised. They were.

Read Randy Hildebrant's bio and learn more about the missionaries who serve as Church and Community Workers.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Gratitude for Our Home Church

Stephanie and Ashley Norton are missionaries with the United Methodist Church.
They are working with the Mizak community in Haiti. This Thanksgiving they are
giving thanks for their home church in Michigan, US.
(Photo courtesy of Stephanie Norton)

We are calling this the year of the endless summer. Its hard to imagine people getting ready to celebrate Thanksgiving in the United States, when its over 100 degrees and sunny every day in Haiti. We are especially grateful for the love and support that Westwood United Methodist Church of Kalamazoo, Michigan gives us. 

Westwood is our home church, and is in a covenant relationship with us. This means that they support us with prayers, correspondence, and monetary donations. In Haiti, there is no postal system. The cell phone towers are shut off regularly. The internet is spotty at best. 

When we do get to travel to a city and use the internet, it is such a joy to read all of the emails from our friends and family at Westwood. It doesn't alleviate homesickness, but we feel connected. 

One of the products that is made at the HAPI (Haitian Artisans for Peace International) co-op is the gratitude journal. These are made from recycled cement bags. They are sturdy, durable, and attractive. 

I've been filling out a gratitude journal that I bought from the co-op with messages to Westwood, including this message: "Thank you for raising me, teaching me, loving me, and supporting me."

Stephanie Norton writes this from the mountainside community in Haiti. She and Ashley Norton are missionaries of the United Methodist Church through the General Board of Global Ministries. Link to Stephanie's bio.

HAPI is one of a dozen Advance projects uplifting and empowering the people of Haiti. Individuals can learn more about HAPI or shop in their store at
This card, depicting the children of the world,
is made by HAPI artists,
 and is for sale at HAPI. 

To purchase a bundle of small-sized gratitude journals, contact for pricing, ordering, and payment information.

Find out more about HAPI and the self-empowerment programs at

When giving to HAPI, Advance project #3020490, as always, 100 percent of your gift goes to the project.

To learn how you, or someone you know, can apply to serve as a young adult missionary.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Twirling in Joyous Dancing

Bill and Jerri Savuto, United Methodist missionaries, describe the celebration
as they complete their service at Maua Hospital in Kenya.
They have been missionaries for nearly 40 years. 

Without God we are nothing. Thus we are hopeful when you finish reading about our day, Saturday, the 5th of November 2011, you will give God all the glory and honor.

For us the event started at 11am when Stanley came to our home and asked us to come down to the Chapel.  Bill and I were dressed and ready and I had been praying I would not cry all day. I thank God for the answer to that prayer.

As we reached the side of the Chapel there were two lines of AIDS Orphan grandmothers and caretakers that faced each other with enough room for Bill and I to easily move between them.  Bill started down the right side shaking the hands of the women and I started down the left side. As I shook many hands I made a point of looking into their eyes and saw Jesus Christ in their beautiful, smiling faces.

After shaking about 15 to 20 hands I found myself whirling and twirling in joyous dancing, laughter, and joy with some of the women. The line of women went from the Chapel through the hospital gate to the first entrance to the School of Nursing (at least 700 women were in those lines) and then back up the school field to tables and chairs under a cover. As I walked to my chair, I pinched myself to make sure I was still alive and hadn’t somehow found my way to heaven but if this was heaven, I’m ready!..

Jerri planting a tree in Kenya.

Somewhere in-between the groups, we were taken by Stanley and Mr. Mailutha, the CEO of the hospital, to the Hope Companions office to plant two podocarpus trees that were dedicated to the work we had done with the AIDS Orphan’s and Hope Companions. First I planted a tree and then Bill planted one. We can’t think of a better way to be honored than to plant indigenous trees.  

Women dancing at the celebration.

On Saturday, Stanley Gitari and his Community Outreach team, AIDS Orphan’s workers, and Hope Companions staff gave Bill and me the most amazing, incredible farewell event. During the event Stanley told us that Scott Brown, a mission work team leader and wonderful friend from Memorial Drive United Methodist Church in Houston, Texas, had given a large donation to pay for the event. 

Thus we are so very grateful to God, Stanley and his marvelous team, and Scott Brown for possibly the best day or our lives in Maua, Kenya.

To support the Savutos work, visit the Savuto's page.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Reenergized, Not Retired in Hong Kong

Missionary Joy Prim, (seated, far right) meets with re-tired missionaries from Hong Kong
and Global Ministries Asia and Pacific executive, Rebecca Asedillo (seated, far left).

The past week has been a celebration of the 160th anniversary of Methodism here in Hong Kong. This celebration brought in many people from many Methodist Churches worldwide and missionary friends who had served in Hong Kong through the years. There were meetings, tours, and events through the week and many of the guest ventured over to Macau yesterday.

Earlier this week Becky, executive secretary for Asia and Pacific and my regional executive, invited me to breakfast to join her and “re-tired" GBGM missionaries who had served here in Hong Kong. I accepted and joined them this morning.

We shared food but, more importantly, we shared fellowship. They all welcomed me with open arms, shared bits about their experiences serving here and what they had learned. They listened as I shared about my ministry here and briefly about how I ended up in Hong Kong.

One warned that, when it becomes home, Hong Kong has a way of never letting go of you. I smiled and shared it had already pulled me in and I wasn’t sure I wanted to ever leave. They shared about the many ministries they are currently involved in stateside, their thoughts as General Conference approaches, and generally enjoyed being with each other, if for nothing else than to remember and look ahead.

I couldn’t quite wrap my head around the amount of what they are still doing since they “retired from missions” to become “re-tired” -- as in re-treaded to keep going strong. Let me tell you this group of retired missionaries is really just a group of “re-tired" missionaries.

We spent 90 minutes together and, while I didn’t feel like I said much, I left full of life and reenergized about my time here. As we bid each other good-bye, one of the ladies commented about how nice it’s going to be to think of Hong Kong and think of a face....

Joy Prim (photo by Mary Beth Coudal)
Read more of Joy's blog at Living by God's Grace.
Link to the Missionary Bio of Joy Prim.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Showing Up

I came to Nicaragua as a lay missionary from the New England Conference for what was then going to be a year. But many of you who have felt a call know that God often has other plans for us if we are willing to say yes.

So that is the first and more important part of being a missionary, continually saying yes, over and over again to God’s call and direction. My pastor Rev. Joseph Crocker once said that what is required of us in life is to show up and the rest is revealed from there.

That first year I was here I worked really hard to solve all of the dental problems of Nicaragua, thinking that it was all up to me, and often worked myself into a tizzy when I realized I would not reach the goal. At the end of that year when I was heading back to the US to discern the future, I was visibly distraught and guilty at leaving so many new Nicaraguan friends in their dire state and social challenges.

A wise Nicaraguan named Salvador Ocón said some very important parting words to me, “Belinda,” he said, “It is wonderful that you have come to offer your dental skills and care for that big problem here in Nicaragua and extract lots of teeth. But what is more important is that you took a year of your life to live with us and learn from us and now you go back to tell your people in the United States about our reality. That is your gift to us.”
Missionary Dr. Belinda Forbes, left, cares for the dental needs of children in Nicaragua with dental team member,  Isa Guti, right. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Forbes)
These words helped to shape what would become now twenty years of ministry that has me working in everything from dental programs to partnership relationships between churches and now international relations that include the cultural exchange program that Anya (Patterson) and Kesley (Kelly) are participating in.

Kesley and Anya will be with young people from Norway, Kenya, Brazil, Madagascar, and the Philippines. It is my privilege to help them participate in this exciting cross-cultural program that is designed to motivate young people in global issues and solidarity.

So my role as a missionary has diversified over the years, it is still very technical and focused on a specific skill in dentistry that I was trained for, but the longer I am here, the more my role is about presence and accompaniment, mentoring and facilitating, and generally being a resource to connect people across miles and cultures in creative ways help to serve the poor and build God’s realm on Earth.

My faith community is made up of committed and talented colleagues here at AMC which include my husband Gerardo, but also the extended community on whose behalf I serve – my supporting covenant churches in the United States who have made a commitment to not only give financially, but make me a part of their local church ministry and use my missionary presence as an extension of their congregational life. That support and representation is essential for the spiritual nourishment of a missionary and to enable us to be effective in our work.

So to close I would just sum up this reflection in three points.

1. Remember to say yes, whenever God is calling.

Missionaries Alex Devoid and Belinda Forbes with youth leaders,
Kesley Kelly and Anya Patterson (Photo courtesy of Belinda Forbes) 
2. Try not to do mission all on your own – find your team both locally and globally, and find your replacements – whether they know it or not, I have three of them sitting right here with me.

3. The most important thing that God may want from you today is most likely NOT on your To Do list. God may be calling you to stretch your gifts and talents in new ways.

Then shall your light shine like the dawn.  Amen.

Belinda Forbes is a missionary of The United Methodist Church through the General Board of Global Ministries. Read more about Dr. Forbes at Dr. Forbes's missionary biography page. 

To find out more about the ACM, Accion Médica Cristiana, Christian Medical Action, link to: