Monday, December 24, 2012

"See, the home of God is among mortals."

By David Wildman, United Methodist Church – General Board of Global Ministries

Our daughter and son were both born the week after Christmas. Each year our family experiences the hopes, the waiting and the expectations of Advent as very tangible, very earthy, and very fragile. The incarnation, God making a home with us mortals, like the birth of a baby, transforms our lives here and now! God’s vulnerability as a new born reveals how much God depends on our loving actions too!

Reading the text of Rev. 21:1-5 in Advent reminds us that Emmanuel, God with us, is not a one-time event that happened long ago, but God’s ongoing revolution in our lives and relationships with our neighbors today! The new heaven and new earth that Revelation depicts is not somewhere far off, but here among us now. A new Jerusalem coming into our lives is not built in a day. It embodies a promise to make all things new! The burden of old unjust, exploitative work relations will be replaced with relationships built on love, respect and justice for all its people.

But wait! Today, like in first century Palestine, all too many low wage workers live lives stuck in advent – a season of frustrated hopes, endless waiting, and lowered expectations – where Christmas never seems to come. We crave a quick fix to end the injustice and indignity that ravage workers’ lives. Do something God to end the widening inequality and exploitation that are tearing our society apart!

We are waiting for God to bring justice into our world. Yet this night, Emmanuel, the babe born in a manger, also waits for our hands to wipe away one another’s tears, to put an end to mourning. The text in Revelation is not calling us to a handkerchief ministry but an incarnational ministry of solidarity and love. As Mother Jones, the great labor organizer, declared, “Don’t mourn! Organize!”

Low wage workers in the early church who primarily heard the Bible read aloud would have heard the words of Isaiah echoed in the reading from Revelation 21. For Isaiah, God’s new heaven, new earth and new Jerusalem are to be built on a foundation of economic justice: “No longer will they build houses and others live in them, or plant and others eat… They will not toil in vain.” (see Isaiah 65:17-25)

For more than 16 years Interfaith Worker Justice has mobilized workers and faith communities to be about the work of a God who is making a home among us whose foundation is justice. This advent IWJ has joined with Walmart workers and warehouse workers to build a new Jerusalem where no one’s wages will be stolen. Each of the many worker centers and IWJ affiliates across the US embody a bit of a new Jerusalem as together we build communities founded on respect, equality and just wages. We invite you this advent to join with Interfaith Worker Justice in this incarnational labor of love.
A new city of justice is on the way!

“David Wildman’s devotional is part of InterfaithWorker Justice Advent Reflections. Gifts to support the work of Interfaith Worker Justice can be made through The Advance.”

Monday, December 17, 2012

Nothing better in The UMC than the Revive celebration

*A reflection by Albert Longe

A recent national gathering at Revive United Methodist Church, Manila, Philippines, drew thousands of attendees.
Photo by Albert Longe.
MANILA, Philippines – The Revive United Methodist celebration in Manila was an awesome day I will never forget. It represented a revival that the church as whole needs now. I believe there is nothing better in The United Methodist Church than worship and spiritual reflection on our journey to heaven and the welfare of society.
Seeing the thousands of people gathered for worship was an amazing way to learn that the Spirit is still working and can transform the circumstances of our church. God is still at work within The United Methodist Church, and the Philippines presence reminds our church globally to focus on the spiritual welfare of its members.
I was glad to see that people made a commitment to attend. Some traveled long distances to worship and revive the church. “At first,” commented Chief Justice Reynato Puno, the people called Methodists could be easily identified, but now it is proving to be difficult.” Strengthening the Methodist identity should be our passion and commitment. We must restore the concern on social holiness and not be as concerned about being politically correct.
I was happy to be at the Revive United Methodist Church and regret that other people from the United Methodist community could not attend. This was just a start, and I look forward to seeing the same done in other regions. We really need this, and nobody can deny that we must go back to our roots and revive the church. When the church is not revived, our ability to revive the world is limited. Everything is possible, and we must work hard to revive the spirituality of the church.

*Longe is a mission intern initially serving with the Kapatiran-Kaunlaran Foundation Inc., a community-development agency in Manila, Philippines.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

A Christmas Message from the Street Children Ministry of the Methodist Mission of Cambodia

Missionary Clara Biswas reports that “we in Cambodia are privileged to continue preparing the way of Jesus by responding to his call to be in ministry with those around us.”

Dear Friends,

This Advent season, we with the Street Children Ministries in Cambodia celebrate with you the good news that our Savior, Jesus Christ, is born! Isaiah writes: “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”

John the Baptist “prepared the way of the Lord” over two millennia ago, and we in Cambodia are privileged to continue preparing the way of Jesus by responding to his call to feed, clothe, and educate the poor and underprivileged around us.

Through the Methodist Ministry of Cambodia, by the grace of God, we are preparing ourselves spiritually to glorify the Lord this Christmas. We are serving children who live on the streets of Phnom Penh, people with HIV/AIDS, and others who are sick. The children, sick people, and the poor who we work with on a daily basis are preparing for this Christmas season as well! Children regularly come to church to learn more about and worship the Lord, people who have HIV/AIDS join together to support one another in Christ and to worship weekly, and the Street Children Ministry staff are excited to contribute their time, energy, and creative efforts into preparing outings, leading Sunday school, and teaching at orphanages.

We are overjoyed with the unique opportunity we have to be in ministry with the poor and marginalized in Cambodia as they grow strong in their studies, social skills, vocational skills, and in Christ.

We have seen in Cambodia that God blesses people through people. You have been such a blessing to us and the children, men, and women we serve through your support and prayers this past year, and we sincerely thank you. Without your prayers and generous gifts, we are not able to do this wonderful ministry for the kids, sick, and poor in Cambodia. I am so grateful to you for your help!

We wish you a very happy Christmas and New Year 2013!
Yours in Christ,
Clara M. Biswas

Clara Biswas is a community worker with street children in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Hurricane Sandy Response

A Letter to Una Jones, Assistant General Secretary, Mission Volunteers (MV), from Greg Forrester, UMVIM Northeastern Jurisdiction Coordinator -

Dear Una,

Grace and Peace to you this day!

You have all been watching the catastrophe unfold in the Superstorm Sandy affected areas. It is not good, but there are many beacons of hope that are shining through the dark places. Churches are reaching out to their communities providing shelter, warmth, fellowship, and comfort. They are being "the church.” They are doing their very best with an awesome support system that we call the United Methodist church.

Many of you from outside the region are looking to physically respond with ERT teams. The Northeastern Jurisdiction has over 1500 persons trained and badged through our UMCOR process. We have thousands more who have responded to flooding from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee. The Greater NJ conference has 150 ERT and New York conference over 500. These conferences have been fielding their ERT teams this past week. Their Disaster Response coordinators have been busy with the relief process and setting up logistics for further response.

So what does this mean? We are establishing a process whereby teams can register in each of the areas. First priority will be given to teams responding from the Northeast as less resources will be required for them to respond. Many of the areas are still in the Emergency Phase and even credentialed persons are being denied access by National Guard and regional police unless they are from the area. PLEASE BE PATIENT.

There are already numerous reports of unaffiliated and unrequested volunteers hampering the recovery efforts.

We do not want the United Methodist church highlighted as one of these groups. PLEASE BE PATIENT.

For ERT teams (only team leader register your group):

Greater New Jersey - send email to:
You will be contacted by a representative of the conference disaster team.
Please list: Name and contact info, Church, Annual Conference, team size, dates available to respond

New York Conference: Go to and register on their website with information requested

Pen-Del Conference: Email to:
You will be contacted by a representative of the conference disaster team.

Please list: Name and contact info, Church, Annual Conference, team size (5-7 recommended), dates avail.


We will be needing teams in the region for the foreseeable future and will be establishing a process for teams. Thank you for looking to serve and we want you here with us - at the appropriate time and through channels established by the affected conferences.

MEANWHILE - continue to collect supplies for Cleanup buckets and Health kits. We have already distributed thousands and will need thousands more. Your gift to UMCOR US Disaster Response, Hurricanes 2012, Advance #3021787, will help UMCOR to be with storm survivors over the long term of their recovery. PRAY!!!

Should you have further questions or concerns please contact the UMVIM NEJ office so as to allow the affected conference Disaster teams the time necessary for their work.


Greg Forrester, UMVIM NEJ Coord.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Every Day's a Holiday

by Jerrica Becker

Last time I preached at chapel, we talked about the discipline of celebration. I'm sure many of you have sat in a pew on Sunday morning, heard the “Joys and Concerns “and noticed that there are usually more concerns. We rarely share the small joys. We express the miracles and healing, but sometimes we forget to recognize all the little things that make our days worth living.

Yesterday, I chatted with a resident who was having trouble finding something to celebrate. With a deceased father and an absent mother, she was feeling lost and struggling to find joy in her life. As a lucky girl with two healthy parents, I couldn't do much comforting, so I tried another technique. I asked what her goals were and what she wanted to do someday. Her only desire is to be reunited with her family. We tried to think of some little things that made her happy, things she could look forward to. They're not miracles, but seeing that cute boy at school or chatting with Miss Jerrica helped her crack the smile that had disappeared for a while. We celebrate the big things, but it's the little things that make each day worth living.

At the end of our service last Thursday, we sang the classic This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it!” Sometimes, we miss the little things, the bird chirping outside the window, the ray of sunlight shining through the clouds or that stranger who smiles “just because.” What we should never fail to miss is that every day is a day that was created and bestowed on us by God. That is a reason to rejoice, to celebrate.

Blair Holliday, a member of the Duke University football team, suffered a serious head injury this summer in a wakeboarding accident that ended his football career. He has shared how thankful he is to be alive and standing on the sidelines, despite the amount of physical therapy in his future. To support his family, students have been buying tank tops that say, “Every Day is a Holliday,”and raising funds for his medical bills. Some may not realize is the message that this shirt sends.

The word holiday comes from holy day. There is so much truth to those shirts, despite the frat-star neon lettering. Every day is holy – a day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in that holy day – or holiday, if you prefer.

Jerrica Becker is a US-2 missionary assigned as assistant chaplain for the Murphy-Harpst Children’s Centers, Inc. in Cedartown, Georgia. To read more of her reflections please see her blog:

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Reflections from the Holy Land

Melissa Hinnen stands in the Garden of Gethsemane
Photo by Kristen Brown

By Melissa Hinnen

I woke up this morning in Bethlehem and walked over to the Church of the Nativity a block away from my hotel. There was a Greek Orthodox worship service going on, and I lit a candle, said a prayer and walked outside to the courtyard. As I heard a baby crying, I imagined what it may have been like that Christmas morning 2,000 years ago. It was amazing to think of the light that came into our midst in that very spot — a light that has transformed my life. That light has been passed from generation to generation and in Jesus’ name continues to work for justice and peace throughout the entire world — on earth as it is in heaven.

In so many ways, that truth is not obvious here. This sacred land is filled with so much contradiction and complexity. Everywhere there are signs of conflict and power struggles in the name of God. Religious tensions have displaced families, caused war after war, destroyed buildings and overbuilt cities.

In the midst of these contradictions, it was a blessing to worship at the Cathedral Church of St. George the Martyr – an Anglican church in Jerusalem. The service was in Arabic and English, and it was especially meaningful to partake in the sacrament of Communion in this holy city on a day that Christians around the world were also celebrating World Communion.

The sermon was centered on Harvest Sunday, and the message was about thanksgiving in times of joy and in times of sorrow. As people of faith, we are motivated by our thankfulness to make a better world. Throughout the day, as I visited the holy sites, I meditated on the idea that if we think of Jesus’ sacrifice and ministry only as something to worship — visiting those places where he walked and taught but not continuing his ministry in our own contexts — then what was the point? What do we do with that glorious sacrifice and promise that Jesus offers? How do we show our thanksgiving?

Taking Communion, I was reminded once again that despite denominational differences, we are all part of the body and nothing can separate us from the love of God. Humans can put up walls and create different churches with differently designed crosses. But we all worship the same patient God and are wrapped in that eternal love. What affects one child of God, affects all of us. Isn’t the church’s role to keep Jesus’ mission as our focus, help us put aside and celebrate our differences, truly love our neighbor and recognize God in one another?

Visiting the Garden of Gethsemane , I was struck by the olive trees. Some of them have roots that are more than 2,300 years old, and their branches are full of olives. They are grounded in the land and stand as a silent witness to all that has happened and continues to happen in Jerusalem. As buildings have come up and been torn down and groups of people have claimed the land as their own, these trees are solidly rooted and continue to offer simple grace and peace. On the night that he was arrested, Jesus chose to spend time under these trees. It was in the garden that he expressed his anguish and prayed that it would be God’s will that would be done.

We drove from the garden to the Old City. It was an amazing experience to walk the Via Dolorosa, the Way of Suffering, and bring to life so many of the stories and miracles that are part of my Christian tradition. As we knelt in the empty tomb at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and the guard urged us to hurry, Kristen, a United Methodist missionary, gave thanks that Jesus was not there. And I remembered the words of the gardener: “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” While it is an awesome experience to be in the place where holy mysteries and miracles took place, we are Easter people. The tomb is empty — thanks be to God. We must take up the cross, continue God’s mission with acts of mercy and piety and give thanks for all God has done for us not only in this holy land but also in all the world. The kingdom of God starts here.

I look forward to the rest of the week and visiting with “living stones.” We will meet with Palestinian Christians, who have deep roots here and who interpret the Bible through the lens of their ancestors. There is peace and justice work happening with groups like the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program and the Wi’am Palestinian Conflict Transformation Center. Janet, Kristen and J.D. are focusing on advocacy and activism in the region. On Thursday, we will celebrate the opening of a Global Methodist office, a partnership with the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries, the British Methodist Church and the World Methodist Council. I am thankful to be here and to have the privilege to share the stories of how we are connecting the church in mission in Israel and Palestine.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

South Sudan Update

Greetings in the name of Jesus Christ to all our friends! What a busy two months this has been! After spending two months in the US, we returned to South Sudan and hit the ground running. We haven’t stopped since.

Just after our arrival, David and Becky Hall from Christ UMC in Chattanooga came for a week. David taught the pastors out of Luke and did leadership training. Becky did some Bible studies with the women and got into some deep discussions about the role of women in the church. David brought a supply of woodworking tools for a man who wants to start vocational training in the school. We’ve never seen a smile as big as when David opened the suitcases and revealed the treasure.

A team of nine from different districts (one even from South Carolina) came and stayed two weeks exploring Covenant Relationships with South Sudan and their churches or groups. They worked hard, learned a lot, and, when they left, took the people of South Sudan in their hearts. It will be interesting to see where God leads them as they process everything.

We have had the opportunity to meet our new Commissioner, H. E. Juma David Augustine. He is a young man with lots of visions and plans for this community and nation. He is quite a forward-thinker and has already accomplished much in the short time he has been in office. He is very much in favor of the government working with the church to improve the lives of the people and bring about a spiritual transformation. We have since met with him a couple of more times to discuss construction of the orphanage, and discussions are still in progress to determine the best location for sustainability projects and future expansion.

The most inspiring event in the past two months involves one of the orphans being supported by Change for Children. Moses, less than two years old, became severely malnourished and sick, so he was taken to the hospital. He was given only basic care, which did not include a proper feeding program. He was still very ill upon discharge from the hospital. IRIS Ministries, a home for children here, agreed to take him and see if they could help him. The doctor there reported that she had seen many children die who were in better condition than Moses. So many prayers were said, much love given, and a feeding program started. Less than two months later Moses is a happy, healthy baby who laughs easily and is trying to walk. Praise God! Miracles do still happen today.

Drs. Lynn and Sharon Fogleman and Libby will contact the hospital here in Yei to determine what can be done to start a feeding program here. We will be teaching nutrition classes in the villages. To enhance this, Steve Hodges and Libby will starting Phase II of Seeds for Sprouts and they will teach the guardians how to grow a nutrition garden.

God continues to move faster than we are able, but as Paul said in Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.”

Grace and Peace,

Fred and Libby Dearing

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

School of Congregational Development 2012

By Laura Allen

I’m attending (and covering) the School of Congregational Development in St. Louis, Missouri, this week, along with Rev. Thomasina Stewart and Rev. Amy Shanholtzer. The thing I took from yesterday’s opening plenary session is something I’ve heard a lot of in the past few years:

Changing the church happens one person at a time. It happens when we listen to the stories of those outside the church walls and focus on serving the needs we hear about.

We can’t do that well unless we are becoming better disciples every day. That’s the message I hear from a wide range of church leaders. How does that transformation happen? How do we become better disciples so that we can reach out?

Bishop Robert Schnase (Missouri Area) told me a story this morning about how one congregation shifted its perspective by reaching out to a single mom with a special-needs child.

The audio is part of a story package I collaborated on today with my good friend and colleague, Melissa Hinnen. Melissa is the public information officer at the General Board of Global Ministries in New York City. You can also read our story.

I’m also going to catch up with Bishop Steiner Ball, who arrived late last night. What would you like me to ask her about congregational development?

SCD 2012

The Fortieth Day

By David Goran

August 18th, 40 days have passed. Forty days since that sinister crack of wood boomed through my consciousness, stole two incredibly precious lives, and left me underneath a gritty, heavy, frightening darkness, wondering how I was still alive.

Forty days are the period we set aside for mourning in Ukraine after death. Just as Israel was 40 years in the wilderness, Jesus 40 days in a desert, 40 is a unit of time by which we understand some sort of completion to this chapter of trial in our lives. And then, at 40 days, still hurting and remembering, we stand again at the grave of our lost one, and then do our best to move on.

Today, on the 40th day, I'm trying. Honestly, I'm not sure what that means, I am not sure what it is that I should do. The memories are still so present and oftentimes vivid; the tears are still so frequent and uncontrollable. As I write, rain is steadily falling from the sky, clouds almost completely blanket the sun. In some ways, I wish this dreary weather would stay for weeks. I'm not ready to move on.

Nothing that happened that day was okay. It was not reasonable; it was not fair. This was a terrible, shivering reminder that this decaying world we live in is under a curse. How did this wonderful man, who was giving himself in the service of God, working so diligently with whatever task he was given, happen to walk into the room the moment of the collapse? Why of all lives, why was it Illya whose life was cut so short? He was one of the most wonderful, loving, pure-hearted people I have ever known.

Why was I spared?

Tomorrow, the weather will get better. Shannon, Jesse, Jeremiah, and Shannon's parents, Bob and Betty, are coming for a visit. I cherish their visits. I love watching Jesse tear through the grassy yard, jumping, kicking, laughing, and making sure that Daddy is watching. I cannot believe how happy and large Jeremiah is, as he plays with his favorite toy on visits, my crutches. Shannon is always next to me, holding me, comforting me; her touch has been more soothing than any opiate pushed through my veins. My family more than anything is helping me heal, feel joy, and with little bits of hope look to the future.

As much as I physically still feel like a dinosaur, I have come so far. Just weeks ago I could scarcely move my legs, turn to my side, breathe without constraint, or have the courage to look at my almost alien leg. Originally, we were told it would be six months before I was on my feet. But God has been merciful to me, to my body. Forty days later, and I have been on crutches already for a week. Pain is subsiding, numbness in my left hand is diminishing; two muscles in my right hand, even if ever so slightly, are responding to signals from my brain.

I am healing. I am doing better. And although I still feel so emotionally and physically broken, nothing consoles me more than the mercy I received to continue being husband and father, son and brother, friend, and soon again, I pray, pastor and missionary.

I want to thank you, all of you, for everything you've done for us. Your support and prayers and encouragement have upheld us, especially in those first days, and they continue to sustain us as we push ahead and keep fighting. Your prayers have been truly heard; I have every confidence in that. Please continue to pray that what Satan intended for evil, our Heavenly Father will make good.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Weekend of Mixed Emotions

By Michael Airgood

This weekend will be hard. That's just a fact.

Today I will preach a sermon at Pilgrims that David Goran and I wrote together.

We planned a sermon series for English camp, and after the accident I decided to preach through these sermons with our community instead.

As we prepared these sermons, they really felt like they would be perfect for English Camp. In hindsight, I can't imagine preaching any of these sermons for new people. They deal with the themes of tragedy, loss, death, and resurrection. They are deep and poignant sermons that help us all search out the pain and sadness in our souls and to move past it. David and I both wrote sermons and parts of sermons that are incredibly revealing and emotionally vulnerable for this series.

In this present state, each sermon fits perfectly with the needs of our community. These sermons were written for such a time as this. Today's sermon is mostly from David's point of view. It's a hard and a sad sermon, but it is a sermon of resurrection as well. It will be one of the hardest sermons I've ever preached.

An email reminder popped up in my inbox this morning that tomorrow is Illya's birthday. On Saturday we will attend the service in commemoration of 40 days since his death.

On Sunday we welcome a new mission intern. As we work toward normalcy, one of the normal things we do is welcome new mission interns. We are very excited to have her join us and to receive her gifts and graces. Her new face will help other new faces find a place. This will help in the healing process.

On Monday we will have our staff retreat day. We will begin planning for the future. We will move forward with a future and hope.

This weekend will be very difficult. It will have lots of joy and some sorrow. We put one foot in front of the other and we celebrate who our God is.

M. B. Airgood's Blog

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Individual Volunteer Training

Photo courtesy of Alice Langehennig
Our recent Individual Volunteer training was held August 1-5, 2012, at the Wasatch Retreat and Conference Center in Salt Lake City, Utah. One of our volunteers, Terry Langehennig, offers the following reflection.

When thinking about the experiences of Individual Volunteer training, perhaps the most lasting impression will be the remembrance of having worked with such a diverse group of leaders and participants in preparation for our future work, yet being firmly united in our common calling of spreading the word of Jesus Christ to the world. It was truly humbling to discuss and learn how to present the image of Christ through our actions in mission and to keep the servant attitude about us always.

The time spent in learning more about the work of UMCOR and the experience of participating in the ministry of the UMCOR Depot West has helped me to have a better understanding and appreciation for how these organizations assemble and coordinate the activities furthering humanitarian aid. It is a blessing to understand how the simplest of activities, such as folding blankets or sorting pencils, will help someone without such basic comforts and needs. We can all carry this appreciation with us in our mission work.

Individual Volunteers

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Alumni Share Their Stories

By Julia Kayser 

This is our story, this is our song, praising our Savior all the day long! These slightly modified lyrics of Fanny J. Crosby's hymn "Blessed Assurance" came back as a frequent refrain in the worship services at last weekend's Living Stones for Transformation conference in Arlington, Virginia. One of the most wonderful things about this celebration was getting a chance to hear alumni tell the stories of how the Mission Intern and US-2 programs shaped their lives. The following is a collage of stories that were shared during worship services.

Rachel Cornwell was a Mission Intern from 1986 to 1989. During her time as a Young Adult in Mission, she served in Okinawa, Japan. She bore witness to the heavy load of the US military presence there, and to the desperation of Filipina sex workers. "Go back to the United States," they told her, "and tell them what you saw and what our lives are like." Rachel says that the responsibility of carrying those stories helped her find her voice. She later went on to ordained ministry in The United Methodist Church.

Elizabeth Cuevas-Wallace fled from her home in Chile seeking medical care after the 1976 military coup. Missionaries brought her to a Methodist hospital in Georgia, and she met her husband at a local church. Immediately after they were married, they went to Texas as US-2s, where they served as house parents for 12 orphaned Mexican students. "That was the best way that we could have started our marriage," Elizabeth said. It taught the young couple how to be parents, and helped them discern their calls. They have been married for 34 years so far.

Doug Cunningham is an alumnus of the Mission Intern class of 1983. He was sent to the Philippines, where he discovered a "connection between Jesus and justice." He joked that he left his mark on the Philippines when he accidentally chose a seat on a block of ice during a long bus ride: "the mark you make may be more embarrassing than powerful." But he attested to the fact that his work abroad was transformative for him, and taught him the importance of community-centered living.

Harris Tay served as a US-2 in Dayton, Ohio, when he was fresh out of college and thought he had everything figured out. He worked on leadership development for teens. Although he traveled far and wide after his US-2 term was finished, he ended up right back in Dayton, Ohio, and now works as the executive director of the Wesley Community Center. He says, "You can run away from your mission, but your mission will not run away from you."

Joanne Reich served as a US-2 in Georgia and a Mission Intern in Palestine in the 1990s. She became aware of her privilege when one of her Palestinian coworkers was in a wheelchair because of polio—a disease for which Joanne had been vaccinated as a child. Joanne is compelled to share stories of inequality, and now serves as a deaconess. "No one can take stories away from you," she says. And she's right, of course. Sharing our stories never dilutes them; it only makes them more powerful.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Keynote by Rev. Rudy Rasmus

By Julia Kayser

Rev. Rudy Rasmus gave a keynote speech on August 3, 2012, to more than 150 people at the Living Stones for Transformation conference celebrating 60 years of US-2s and 35 years of Mission Interns in Arlington, Virginia. Rev. Rudy is not an alumnus of either of these short-term mission programs with The United Methodist Church; instead, his life is a long-term patchwork of mission to the marginalized. He gave the young adults in mission an insight into what it looks like to continue ministry with the poor beyond a traditional missionary appointment.

Rev. Rasmus was funny and self-deprecating, summarizing his impressive biography by saying, “I’m a hustler for Jesus.” He gave the audience members a collective moment at the beginning of the speech to ask one another about his braided goatee. Once the stand-up comedy routine was over, his sermon was grounded in both Scripture and personal experience. He read from John, chapter 4, about Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well.

Rev. Rasmus said that everything he knows about Jesus boils down to love. His keynote speech was organized around love as a central theme and a guiding acronym:
  • L is for liberation. “To get where you’re going,” he said, “you’ll have to go through Samaria… and Samaria is everywhere as a need for liberation.” People need to be liberated from anger and from fear.
  • O is for others-focused. In his ministry with the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus was focused on her—on liberating her from the social constructs that would have normally kept her away from him. “Imagine what the woman’s internal experience was as classism was deconstructed,” said Rev. Rasmus. We are called to move beyond structures and focus on the other.
  • V is for veracity: “a dogged determination to maintain truth.” Rev. Rasmus argued that we need to embrace our own truths before we can truly share and receive the truths of others.
  • E is for engage. “Engage the community,” Rev. Rasmus encouraged the crowd. Love everyone unconditionally.
Rev. Rasmus also expressed his deep appreciation and admiration for missionaries. “I really believe that this step that you’re taking is the only hope for the church,” he said to the young people who would be commissioned later that night. Hearing Rev. Rasmus speak was an honor. To read more about his incredible work with the poor, visit the website of St. John’s Downtown Church, where he serves as a pastor in Houston, Texas.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Everything Is Wonderful

By Michael Airgood

I know that's not the blog post title you've been waiting for.

We have faced a terrible tragedy recently. Everything was terrible. For days my entire body hurt. My head felt like it was much too heavy for my scrawny neck to support it. We lost a beloved friend, a pillar of our community, and a truly good man when Illya died. I spent a very difficult day with the widow of our American friend who died. For 36 hours my dear friend David Goran was in a Ukrainian hospital without painkillers or antibiotics after a very serious injury.

Everything was terrible.

As we move forward, we see the great joy of living life in community. Here are a few pictures of our Sunday morning worship service.

Everything is wonderful. Even in these difficult days we see God's great loving-kindness in abundance. We see people growing closer to one another and to God. We see true community.

God is good and God is faithful. My pastor and I have shared so many good conversations these last few days. We have experienced Scripture in new ways. He has read and re-read the Gospel of John as one long trial of Jesus. I have delighted in God's words to Job.

Everything is wonderful. Our God, our theology, and our faith are big enough to handle death, especially the death of one who loved Jesus with all of his heart. We rejoice that Illya is with his Savior in heaven. We look forward to joining them someday.

We are moving forward--but we have a long way to go. Everyone is grieving in different ways, and even one of his good friends just found out the news today. But, the great joy is that we have our faith and one another to help us through these times.

Everything is wonderful. Tomorrow we celebrate the baptism of Erika and Andriy Tatchyn's baby girl. They are thankful that their dear friend Illya was able to come and meet their newborn daughter before the tragedy.

They asked a priest how long they should wait during this time of mourning before they baptized her, and he confidently responded that they shouldn't wait. It is always the right time to celebrate a new birth and a new child of God.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Even the Skies Cry

By Nicholas Haigler

As most of you are now aware, last week our community endured a very tragic event. During remodeling of our old space, a roof collapsed, killing Volunteer in Mission David Nevotti and one of our students, Illya Onoprienko. Also David Goran, my supervisor, was injured. Read the story.

It is a very sad time here, and the healing process has just barely started. While the loss of anyone is tragic, and all my prayers go to our team that was here, and the family and friends of David, the death of Illya has really struck a blow to me; he was more than just one of our students.

Illya was on our leadership team this year as our worship coordinator. He was at every event that he could be. But even more than that, he was one of my best friends and roommates. He was someone who was truly alive and never wasted a second of his life: he loved and he cared.

For General Conference this year, we were asked to make a short video about the student center and our involvement here as Mission Interns. We wanted to focus on a student and chose Illya, and through the video he really shows who he is. Please take a moment to watch it.

What more can I say? There is a saying here that if you can't talk good about the dead, then do not talk at all. I can talk all day long about this brother of mine.

I know many of you are concerned for me. I am doing okay. I am grateful for every day I am alive. I am thankful for peace and the knowledge that my brother did not suffer. I am thankful for a wonderful support system around the world.

The title of this blog comes from Thursday. It was on Thursday that the funeral was held. We were not sure if we would be accepted there, but we were. Our community was asked to share a song, and then I was asked to carry the casket to his mother's house before it would be taken to the cemetery. I didn't get to, though, because I was too short, but it was okay.

The weather here is always switching, but for the last two weeks we have had hot, sunny weather. On Thursday it rained. Not a steady rain but a rain that fell like tears. At times it would rain hard and for a longer amount of time, then it would stop and there would be a light drizzle. It felt like everything I was feeling was being expressed by the sky.

Sunday we still had church, and we will continue with pilgrims as well.

Please keep David and his family in your prayers as he is recovering. Also please pray for our community as we begin to heal and grow.

Blog: Ukrainian Experience

The Missional Life Beyond Formal Commissioning

Rachel Keller and Joe Hopkins in New York Harbor,
with the Statue of Liberty to the right. (Photo courtesy of Joe Hopkins)
By Joe Hopkins

"What are you thinking about?" my friend Rachel asked me. "You just look so pensive."

I was deep in thought, lost in my imagination of what the tens of millions of immigrants must have thought as they moved across New York Harbor to Ellis Island. What did the Statue of Liberty mean to them when they first saw it?

I was on one of the New York Harbor ferries that transport tourists from Manhattan to Ellis Island and Liberty Island. With me were my United Methodist young adult missionary peers, a collection of 10 people from all over the United States who had been sent out for two to three years to serve in children's homes, youth centers, homeless service centers, and advocacy organizations (among others). We had converged in New York City to celebrate the completion of our terms and to continue our commitment to justice in the world.

But what would that look like? What does the future ever look like?

In the last two years, I had served in the national office of Interfaith Worker Justice, working diligently to help coordinate campaigns, facilitate communication, and make sure the logistical i's and t's were dotted and crossed. IWJ had sent me to Madison, Wisconsin, at the high point of union protests in February 2011 and then to Indianapolis in January 2012 just before right-to-work legislation passed in the Indiana state house. Outside the IWJ context, I had developed roots in the near-South Side neighborhood of Bridgeport, getting involved in a little Lutheran church, helping to form a new grassroots power organization, and living the daily chaos that is my housing co-op.

I brought those memories, and many, many others, with me to the US-2 missionary end-terms. And my peers brought their own triumphs, setbacks, pains, and joys with them to share with the rest of us and with the staff of the General Board of Global Ministries.

However, we didn't just come together to share our individual pasts. As young adult missionaries, we learned about the uglier sides of church and society--how people are excluded and oppressed for a large array of reasons. While we mourned the pain of those experiences, we also got righteously pissed off. How can we as a church deny the full humanity of our lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer sisters and brothers? How can we collectively wash our hands clean of the blood that runs in the production and distribution lines of goods we use every day? How can we claim vitality by consolidating power into fewer and fewer hands, leaving all but the already privileged and powerful out in the dark?

We couldn't, wouldn't, and didn't claim such preposterously anti-Christ-like ideas. In response to our collective sharing, we made the compact to continue our mission, though under different auspices. We were leaving our placement sites for grad school, seminary, and the larger workforce, but we would continue to carry our commission with us. We do not need the hands of a bishop to urge us to justice, though we sure do hope that bishops will join us in our missional lives.

A few years ago, I learned from a Dominican priest at the Universidad Católica de Argentina that we can look at our lives as perpetual pilgrimages. David Wildman at Global Ministries would argue that we are all migrants, "undocumented Christians," living in an increasingly hostile world. So we wander, guided by the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, in the missional life where we cannot return to the ignorance of a materialistic, middle-class life.

In the missional life, I live in solidarity with the tens of millions of people who left all they knew to find a new home, beginning at Ellis Island. In the missional life, missio dei connects me to my young adult missionary peers and the global, apostolic, and catholic church.

In the missional life, what I call the Red Poppy Fields, I hope to find you there, too.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

A Lesson in Gettysburg

Detail from "The Battle of Gettysburg"
July 3, 2012

Sitting in the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport awaiting my next flight and watching as folks coming into the terminal go through security, it becomes evident to me that we have indeed changed how we travel. Our fears have moved us to take precautions in order to protect human life. Experience has told us it is not only necessary but that we must provide the highest levels of security in order for travelers to feel safe.

As I am nearing the end of itineration and three months of visits to congregations, my final stops have been in Richmond, Virginia, and Camp Hill, Pennsylvania. Sunday I found myself driving west of Washington, DC, in an effort to avoid the I-95 monster and congestion; my destination--the United Methodist Church at Camp Hill where I was scheduled to give a presentation. Searching for a route that would allow me to arrive on time, I discovered US-15 North. I was taken aback by the beauty of the drive, the horse ranches and beautiful hills. Seeking a rest stop, I exited and found myself unexpectedly at Gettysburg. It held a captivating mystery which I longed to understand better.

The next day, July 2nd, on my return trip to Richmond, I decided to take some time at Gettysburg. Just the night before at Camp Hill UMC, a former Texas coworker and her husband came to see me and on hearing of my plans to visit Gettysburg the next day, gifted me with the “Auto-tour of Gettysburg” CDs.

Driving through the battlegrounds and listening to the stories of generals and foot soldiers made me wonder just what it is that continues to lead us into decisions of battle. It isn’t anything new for mankind, and history is filled with similar stories. But as I drove to Little Round Top and heard the words of leaders and commanders on both sides of that battle, I realized it was more about individuals following the voice of promise. The conflict occurred there on July 2, 1863, and here I was on the same ground on the very day of that battle 149 years ago.

From Lincoln to Lee, men had very good reasons for standing firm on their words of leadership. Opposing views seemed to stem from an economic demand of the people, and both had determined the right course of action to make that demand fruitful. But at what cost? The “Auto-tour” mentioned comments from some of the dying for their families: "tell them I died with my face to the enemy."

As I stood in the Gettysburg Cyclorama (a mural of "Pickett’s Charge" by French artist Philippoteaux, completed in 1883) and viewed the recreation of the bloody battle on US soil, I thought of the farm boys sent out to defend the views of their leaders and communities. I thought of the families who would now live with only the memory of their loved ones. War is a complicated thing and is always messy and should be avoided at all costs.

I’ve visited the Alamo; the USS Arizona Memorial; an Indian Reservation; Ground Zero; and now Gettysburg. Recently, while in Chicago I had an opportunity to visit the Holocaust Museum in Skokie, Illinois. It was a solemn walk through the small beginnings of evil. Hitler had the right words, promising wealth and power, and the people responded. The Jews thought it was just a phase and would soon pass. In the end, concentration camps were opened to “handle” the problem.

A great part of the responsibility of leadership lies with each of us when we make our demands upon those we have selected to lead. I now wonder if we should be more cautious of what we ask our leaders and understand the reasons why they are asking to lead.


Becky Harrell
Advance #15141Z

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Reflections on Mission as Transformation

Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Bible School. Irene Mparutsa teaches health outreach to pastors. (Photo by Richard Lord)
By Kennedy O. Cruz

“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name, Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Matthew 6:9-10

The Lord’s Prayer about the coming of God’s Kingdom to earth I believe is the most compelling message that we followers of Christ can share with others. Yet it seems that it is the least understood truth in church mission and evangelism work in Cambodia. If properly understood, I believe this holds the key to the Church’s role in transforming Cambodian society plagued by endemic corruption, poverty, materialism, inequality, hopelessness, social injustices, and environmental degradation.

Still in its growing stages, the Methodist Church in Cambodia is humbly rediscovering the true meaning of preaching the Good News of the Kingdom of God through our holistic approach to mission and evangelism. Our journey in recovering the “kingdom mentality” is not without growing pains, bumps, and potholes. But our journey is worth taking. The majority of 160 local Methodist congregations are now actively involved in addressing various social issues with their respective communities.

We have also witnessed so many signs of God’s unfolding Kingdom through our various works in church-based relief and development. Through health programs, sick people have been healed and communities now have increased access to clean water. Our agriculture programs are increasing local food supplies, while our income-generation activities continue to diversify and expand income sources for families. Similarly, our transformational leadership development training significantly improved the collective capacity of churches and communities in addressing social concerns and promoting local initiatives for change.

Our influence extends from the villages all the way up to decision-makers at provincial government agencies. Our network of partners who help us carry out holistic ministries with the poor and the needy come from diverse backgrounds, churches, and nationalities, thus giving everyone a chance to share or use their God-given gifts and talents. Through acts of mercy, kindness, and justice, many Methodist congregations in Cambodia are proclaiming the Kingdom of God that is here and now—not in a distant place or time.

Bearing witness to God’s Kingdom unfolding reminds us that as we seek His Kingdom and His righteousness, we can expect God to multiply the impact of our efforts even in our failures!

Read more about our work at Support our work with a donation through The Advance at your local church or Program Support Code: 14916A

Kennedy O. Cruz, Advance #3019583.

Mailing Address:
Kennedy O. Cruz
General Board of Global Ministries
P.O. Box 2493
Phnom Penh 3
Kingdom of Cambodia

Markus' Mission Endeavors

Listen! It’s the voice of someone shouting, “Clear the way through the wilderness for the LORD! Make a straight highway through the wasteland for our God! (Is. 40:3 NLT)

Elizabethton, May 24, 2012, Volume I, Issue I

Dear Friends,

It is finally happening! After many years of praying and looking for a ministry that I can connect with, I have joined United Methodist Aviation Ministries as one of their pilots. I will serve with them in the Democratic Republic of Congo in Africa. Last March I flew there too look at their ministry and meet the people and quickly came to realize that the Lord wanted me there.

Once I got back to the States, the ministry, which is a part of the General Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church, sent me to missionary training with 23 other missionaries; they are serving in different ministries all over the world. On Sunday April 29, 2012, I got commissioned with the other missionaries in Tampa, Florida. It was a great service and the training connected me with many new friends and people that have a heart for missions.

During the training, my regional director and I started working on a plan for my transition to the Congo. The official language of the country is French, and while I was visiting the Congo I realized that the school French I had in junior high school would not be sufficient for my work in the Congo. So we decided that the first step would be language school in France, where I can be immersed in the language and hopefully learn the language quickly. The school is located in the city of Chambéry in the Rhône-Alpes region, in the eastern part of France just south of Geneva, Switzerland. In the beginning of June, I will start language study there for six months.

Prayer Requests:

•    Quick learning at language school
•    Safe travel
•    Good connections with people in France
•    Easy adjustment to new environment

How You Can Help:

•    Pray.
•    Write or call (contact information below).
•    Visit.
•    Donate. Advance GCFA, P.O. Box 9068, GPO, New York, NY 10087-9068. Make your check payable to ADVANCE GCFA. Write my name (Markus Wolfmaier) and my Advance #3021464 on the memo line. Or give online through my website:

Contact Info:

•    Email:
•    Skype: markus.wolfmaier

The second step is for me to build some relationships with Methodist churches in Europe and as well here in the States. From the beginning of January to February I will be traveling, meeting with people and different churches, where I will speak about the needs in the Congo and how the aviation ministry helps meet those needs. Afterward the plan is for me to travel back to the US, where I will be trained specifically for flying on the mission field by JAARS. JAARS is the technical branch of Wycliffe Bible Translators. Once that training is complete, I will head to the Congo and start serving there.

The city I will be based in for most of my time there is called Kananga and is located in the south central part of the Congo; the region is called Kasai-Occidental. It is just shy of a million inhabitants, but because of its location it is fairly isolated from the capital Kinshasa. The city does not have a reliable electrical grid; while I was there, the family I stayed with got electrical power every second night from about 8:00 pm to 10:00 pm.

There is no municipal water grid that functions, so you have to bring in water on your own, which also means there is no running water in the house I will be living in. I am blessed, however, that the house is located just across the street from a local water well, and I will not have to carry the water too far to get it home.

In my aviation ministry, I will help the local church by flying missionaries, ministers, and volunteer teams to local villages. I will also fly people from the villages to local hospitals, since medicine and hospitals are hard to get to. The roads in the Congo are in bad shape and make ground transportation a long and hard journey. At the moment, most of the supplies for the city of Kananga are flown in, just to give you an idea. Through flying, I can help the local church by making their travel easier and help them stay connected with other churches and their leadership. This way the gospel can be spread more efficiently, and His word can be spread around the country, without being hindered by the physical obstacles of the jungles and mountains in the country. This means a lot to me, because when I was called into mission, it felt like the Lord spoke to me through Isaiah 40:3-5:

Listen! It’s the voice of someone shouting, “Clear the way through the wilderness for the LORD! Make a straight highway through the wasteland for our God! Fill in the valleys, and level the mountains and hills. Straighten the curves, and smooth out the rough places. Then the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all people will see it together. The LORD has spoken!” (NIV)

Back then I did not realize I would fly, but now I believe that the airplane is my tool of clearing a way for the Lord through the jungles of the Congo--by simply flying over it. I am grateful for this opportunity and pray that I can really be an effective workman for the Lord.

I cannot thank all of you enough for your prayers; they mean a lot to me, and I ask that you will continue to pray with me as I continue on this journey. There are many ways you can help me, but prayer is the most important one.


Markus Wolfmaier, Advance #3021464

Friday, June 22, 2012

Letter from John Calhoun in Ukraine

Dear Ministry Partners and Friends,

Grace and peace to you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ! And greetings from Kyiv (Kiev), Ukraine, where there is sense of joy and excitement in the air. After a cool and rainy spring, the summer sun is out and the city parks are filled with flowers and blossoming trees. At long last, the school year has finally ended; after celebrating the last day of school with a party and sladskiy stol (sweets table), the children of our Family Center and across the city have hung up their school uniforms. The kids of Kyiv are now happily playing outdoors during these long summer days, when the sun sets late and the sky remains bright until well past 10:00 pm each evening.

In addition, during the month of June, the eyes of Europe are upon Ukraine, which together with neighboring Poland is hosting the European football (soccer) championship. After the World Cup, this international tournament is the largest and most important in the soccer world; national teams from 16 European countries will be competing throughout the month, with the championship to be decided in Kyiv’s Olympic Stadium on July 1. The Ukrainian people are excited to serve as co-host for this important tournament, and to receive their European neighbors in the best tradition of Ukrainian hospitality over the coming weeks.

At the end of June, as the soccer tournament is wrapping up, I’ll be heading to the United States to begin a speaking tour of United Methodist congregations that in recent years have been supportive of my mission service and the ministry of the United Methodist Church in Ukraine. Every few years, Global Ministries missionaries from the United States serving overseas return to the US for a period of “itineration,” speaking to local churches about missions and raising support for specific ministry projects in their areas of service.

During July and early August, I’ll be traveling across the eastern part of the US, visiting churches in urban and rural communities in a number of different states. Some of these congregations are “Covenant Relationship” partner churches; they give a certain amount of money each year to Global Ministries in support of my mission service, and pledge to uphold me and my ministry in prayer throughout the year. Other churches I will visit provide financial support for my ministry project, the St. Luke’s UMC Family Center in Kyiv, or for other Methodist initiatives across Ukraine.

I’m looking forward to visiting these congregations! I’ll spend time with old friends who have lent their prayerful support for my ministry over many years, and I’ll have the chance to meet new partners who have only recently made a commitment to support United Methodist mission work in Ukraine. Please keep me in prayer this summer as I undertake this period of itineration, that God would bless this important time of reconnection with our partners in mission across the US.

Lastly, many of you know that for the last few years I have also been involved with an initiative of the World Council of Churches, serving as convener for World Week for Peace in Palestine Israel. This initiative seeks to encourage and equip congregations, community groups, and people of faith around the world to pray, educate, and advocate for an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestine and a just peace for all in Palestine and Israel. In 2012, this week of peace was observed from May 28 through June 3; during these seven days, a wide range of events and activities were held in at least 25 countries around the world. A complete list of activities that took place during the week can be found at the 2012 Events page of the initiative’s website,

So, my friends, many thanks to you for your support and encouragement! I pray God’s blessings upon you and your loved ones in this summer season. And I look forward to seeing some of you during my coming period of itineration.

May the peace of Christ be with you all!



Rev. John Calhoun, Missionary of the General Board of Global Ministries, United Methodist Church, Kyiv, Ukraine

The General Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church welcomes your US federal tax-deductible donation in support of its officially recognized mission projects:

• Advance # 14054A, Kiev Street Children Ministry (the original name of the St. Luke’s UMC Family Center ministry)
• Advance # 13970Z, Global Ministries missionary John Calhoun
• Learn more about Global Ministries’s Covenant Relationship program

Friday, June 1, 2012

Individual Volunteer Training Reflection

Our most recent Individual Volunteer training event occurred at the Storm Mountain Retreat Center in Rapid City, South Dakota. There were 14 participants. The placement sites where the volunteers will be serving include Fiji, Rwanda, The United States, Guatemala, Tanzania, Nicaragua, Zimbabwe, and Costa Rica. One of the volunteer candidates, Nicholas Gibbons, who plans on serving in Guatemala, offered the following reflection:

As we all prepare to travel the road that God has put before us, it is easy to become distracted by the multitude of obstacles and challenges that we will face. It is at these times when it is most important to step back, pray, and reflect on the mission that the Lord has given to us. I feel that one of the most important aspects and challenges of our work as individual volunteers is to maintain our personal relationship with God. The individual volunteer training, sponsored by the General Board of Global Ministries, did just that. While covering the logistical aspect of being an individual volunteer, I was constantly reminded of the importance of my personal relationship with Jesus. In lessons about health and safety, boundaries, child protection, and cultural adjustments, I was reminded that through the strength of my own faith I could serve in His name. The individual volunteer training gave me the logistical tools to serve in mission, but more importantly it gave me the confidence of faith to share the love that Jesus has taught us.

Individual Volunteers

Monday, April 30, 2012

Wings of the Morning Aviation Program

Gaston Ntambo
Missionary pilot Gaston Ntambo is attending General Conference as a delegate for the North Katanga Conference, DR Congo. He flies with the Wings of the Morning Aviation program. Here is what he had to say about his ministry:

 “People can walk 60 to 100 miles to get to a hospital in the DR Congo. People that we fly are people who have tried everything. They use the traditional medicine, they have tried the local medicine man, there are no clinics nearby—so basically, they have one chance to survive. They are in their last stage of life when we get called in.”

“The most difficult thing we face in Congo is not flying in bad weather or flying onto difficult air strips. It is making that choice of flying in the wrong direction first and knowing that somebody is dying behind us. I have to go in the wrong direction to fetch fuel when they call me for a medical flight. We do the best we can to plan for it.”

Aviation gasoline is so hard to come by that they have to fly to Zambia, the neighboring country, to get it. The aviation ministry has been raising funds to buy a Cessna Caravan, which uses a cheaper fuel that DR Congo can deliver. “I have waited 17 years to see the fuel truck come to me,” he said. “That will be a new day.”

Several annual conferences, including Greater New Jersey and West Ohio, are hoping to help Wings of the Morning reach the last $400,000 needed to purchase the new plane this year.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

We Have a River

By Linda Unger

Today, here at General Conference in Tampa, we celebrate mission. The General Board of Global Ministries will host a Friends of Mission luncheon, and tonight’s plenary session will feature mission-minded members of The United Methodist Church—including the church’s ethnic national plans, communities of Shalom, Global AIDS Fund, The Advance, and others—in a program called “We Need a River.”

I liked that title before I even knew how it would be addressed, because that is how I think of mission: a rolling river coursing through the bloodstream of humanity and all creation. It is a river that unites all people regardless of the place and circumstances of their birth, the language they speak, how they worship, and whom they love.

As a writer, I’ve been blessed to travel pretty widely, both in my native country and abroad. I have wandered far from the beaten path with guides who have given me an intimate view of their lands and peoples.

Once, on my return from an overseas trip, I learned I had contracted a virus which played havoc with my perception. My doctor sent me to a neurologist, and he hooked me up to a wonderful machine that tested the flow of blood to my brain. I got to hear the marvelous sound of that coursing and vital river of blood and ever after, I have come to recognize its ceaseless flow through all creation and all humanity, regardless of our differences, real and perceived.

Mission, to me, is more than overseas travel and service. It is a mindset of openness to others. It is a recognition, as the theologian John Sivalon says, that we cannot be fully ourselves—or even fully human—without the other who is not us, not me, but who is connected to me by our common humanity, common creation; who is connected to me by the river of life that unites us.

Mission, then, is an attitude and outlook that begins from our own incompleteness and extends from there to a shared search for fullness of life. It is both ever constant and ever changing.

Christians hear the promise of abundance in Jesus’ life and words. He shows us that we can strive together for fullness of life by pursuing justice, mercy, and compassion, and by living into the love he models for us. Fullness of life becomes open to us all, and to all creation, as we open ourselves to one another.

We need a river, yes; and we have a river: God’s river, God’s mission.

Linda Unger is staff editor and writer for the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR).

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Tears and Other Acts of Repentance

By Christie R. House

At a dinner last night (April 26) hosted by the Native American Comprehensive plan, more than 50 people gathered from about 20 different tribal groups. Marcus Briggs-Cloud, a member of the Maskoke Nation, son of the Wind Clan and grandson of the Bird Clan, was acknowledged for his role in the opening worship ceremony at General Conference 2012. Briggs-Cloud then led them in the singing of several hymns. They sang "Amazing Grace" in seven different languages. The Lumbee group from North Carolina started the singing in English because most of their mother tongue has been lost. Kiowa, Choctaw, Klinket, Comanche, Creek, Padawatomi, and Cherokee, followed in turn.

Dr. Henrietta Mann (Cheyenne), co-author with Anita Phillips (Cherokee) of On This Spirit Walk, a study guide given to every delegate attending this conference, spoke of the difficulty in getting through some of the sections of the book. She named the tragic events at Sand Creek and Washita River, and the denominationally run "Christian" boarding schools that removed children from their homes and sent them where only English was spoken and only non-indigenous culture, tradition, and subjects were taught. "Eventually," said Dr. Mann, "the Federal Government decided it was cheaper to 'educate' the Indian than to continue fighting the Indian wars."

The loss began to penetrate my being as I listened to their stories of grief—at the hands of the government, at the hands of US settlers, many of whom were recent immigrants to this land, and at the hands of a Methodist preacher. I could feel the anguish in the room, and somehow in the presence of so many first peoples grieving together for their shared history, I knew that the history of my people was also part of this shared story. It is God's will that we should share the grief of this history together.

At that moment, the Act of Repentance became real for me. It is not about being defensive because I, personally, feel guilt about the sins of my ancestors. There is no defense for the sins of my ancestors. This is about members of the body of Christ taking corporate responsibility. The acts perpetrated by the colonizing settlers were unforgivable, yet in God's grace, they might yet be forgiven—but not without cost to their descendants. The wounds, still felt in the form of deep loss in many ways by the first peoples, by the grace of God, may yet heal, but not without this and many more acts of repentance.

Skyler Corbett, a member of the Klameth nation from Oregon, helped me to see what those acts might be. First, Native Americans are storytellers. We must listen to the stories of our sisters and brothers. We may have read about the stories, or heard about them, or we may have generally blocked out those stories as past occurrences. One act of repentance is to listen to the stories of indigenous people, and to receive the stories from their point of view, even when those stories express pain and loss.

Secondly, we must have a ceremony. We, all the descendants, must feel the grief and loss expressed in those stories together. And then we need to cry together. "Tears," said Corbett, "cleanse the soul." And then we can begin.

Other acts of repentance may follow: seeking to understand and acknowledge that the way Christ touches the spirit of Native Americans may not be the same way that we of other cultures experience Christ. Being Christian in any culture means that Christ, as revealed in the Bible, has struck a chord that resonates within, and not in spite of, the cultures and communities that God has formed and birthed people into.

Another act of repentance requires acknowledgment that, because of past wrongs, the scales have not been weighted in favor of Native American peoples today. The church needs to support Native Americans in their ministry. This does not mean, in any way, that non-indigenous folks should send missionaries, define programs, or provide funding that has strings tied to it defining how and where it can be used. We must trust in our fellow United Methodists. They know best how to answer the call of Christ and to spread his love in their communities. Once the church's trust in its Native American members is sincere and open, God may move their spirits, in turn, to trust in the church.

Why Are We Counting "Firsts" in 2012?

By Christie R. House

It is very difficult for white Americans of European descent to understand what life has been like for the first peoples in their own land. Difficult, I believe, because we somehow think that whatever it is we have to ask forgiveness for, it was all in the past. And we were not the perpetrators; it was an ancestor maybe. And maybe not even one of my ancestors, because all my relatives arrived on the East Coast long after those other white people had removed the land's first inhabitants.

And there it is: a string of reasons why it is difficult for us to understand our need for repentance.
Last night a group of about 50 Native American United Methodists gathered to share a meal and prepare for tonight's Act of Repentance. They came from all corners of the United States, representing more than 20 tribal groups. How good it is when brothers and sisters dwell together in harmony. Yet even in the genuine warmth that filled the room, they were remembering why they came.

As they celebrated one another's accomplishments—the Rev. David Wilson, a member of the Choctaw Nation from Oklahoma, would stand for bishop, the first viable Native American candidate from the South Central Jurisdiction; Rachael Mull, a Navajo from New Mexico, would be the first Navajo to serve as director of Four Corners Navajo Ministry—they pondered why they were counting "firsts" in The United Methodist Church in 2012. "Firsts," even though the ancestors of some of those present had heard and believed John Wesley himself, 50 years before the Methodist Europeans arrived to "plant" Methodism on North American soil.

And yet, a couple of those gathered said to me, "If this goes well…who knows?" Have we reached that turning point? More to come….

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Reflections on Writing Missionary Biographies

By Elliott Wright

The liturgy for the commissioning of United Methodist missionaries includes a moment of what could be called a "holy touch"—hands placed on head or shoulders symbolize the grace of God and the blessing of the church.

As each new missionary receives the hands, relatives and friends in the congregation may stand, signifying both support of the person commissioned and identity with God's mission.

I always want to stand for every new missionary because each has entered my life, my world of work, and my spiritual journey in a private way that becomes indirectly public.

For some years now, I have written the internet biographical sketches of new United Methodist missionaries. These bios can be accessed in several configurations from the Global Ministries' web homepage. They are snapshots of the background, work, and aspirations of the in-service missionaries; the short accounts are suitable for download for use in mission education and promotion.

I had no idea when I started this post-retirement assignment that it would become a constantly renewing saturation in Christian witness—the witness of women and men, young and mature, from all parts of the world, so diverse in culture and experience; so united in love of God and global neighbors.

From data the missionary candidates provide for public use, I come to know the narrative of each life: spiritual journeys, calls to mission service, education and earlier employment, languages spoken, musical instruments played, the names of children and grandchildren, and hobbies.

I meet parents and grandparents, pastors and campus ministers, and teachers and coaches who guided their footsteps; hear about life-changing mission trips; and can often feel the struggles each faced before answering God, "Here am I, send me."

Jesus is the dominant presence, a constant companion, in the faith stories, a presence of compelling compassion that has reshaped lives into the many forms of today's missionary service.

Another presence is that of John Wesley, often by name and always by implication. His profound combination of personal and social holiness is often given as the theological reason for being both Methodist and missionary. The influence of Wesley, especially the impact of his written sermons, is most dramatic in the spiritual pilgrimages of missionaries from Africa, Asia, and Latin America. The hallmarks of Methodism, such as God's free grace and the social nature of the church, have come as joyful, liberating gifts making the impossible possible in Jesus Christ. Never as a lifelong Methodist have I felt the Wesleyan experience of faith as powerfully alive as in these global missionaries. 

The new missionaries allow me to walk with them if only for a short span as I write their brief online biographies; they touch me with their passion, wisdom, humor, and loving spirits; the touch is holy.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Will We Catch on Fire or Tear Each Other Down?

Dr. Larry R. Hygh, Jr., at the grave of John Wesley
By Dr. Larry R. Hygh, Jr.

A few months ago, I had the opportunity to visit Wesley Chapel and the gravesite of John Wesley in London. I am a lifelong United Methodist and a fifth-generation Methodist. Needless to say, I was excited. I was moved to stand in the very place where Wesley preached, lived, and now rests from his labor.

My roots in Methodism began in rural East Texas. My maternal great-great grandfather, Ned Sampson Culbreth Moon, was a freed slave who migrated from Macon, Georgia, to Ore City, Texas. He became a Methodist, and a portion of that side of my family has been Methodist to this day. He is buried with other ancestors in the cemetery of Cedar Grove United Methodist Church in Ore City.

There are two familiar Wesley quotes that capture the spirit of Methodism for me:
  • "Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can."
  • "Catch on fire with enthusiasm and people will come for miles to watch you burn."
We are days away from the beginning of General Conference 2012 in Tampa, Florida. Lately, I have found myself reflecting on Wesley and what it means to be United Methodist, and particularly how Methodism has shaped and nurtured me.

I grew up in Ebenezer United Methodist Church in Marshall, Texas. It was in Ebenezer (meaning stone of help) where my mother was my first Sunday school teacher. It was at the altar of Ebenezer where I and my nieces and nephew were baptized, where my parents and other family members took their marriage vows for better or worse, and where my family has celebrated the resurrection of those who have joined the Church triumphant.

At Ebenezer, I was taught at an early age about our United Methodist connectional system and I have always believed in its strength and promise. I am a product of, and have been a beneficiary of, our connectional system. Personally, I have seen what we collectively do together that we could not necessarily do in our local setting.

Since I started at Global Ministries in September 2010, I have had the tremendous opportunity to see our Church live out its global nature. I have traveled with delegations to Sierra Leone and Thailand. In Sierra Leone, I witnessed our efforts to distribute bed nets and eradicate malaria through the Imagine No Malaria campaign.

I visited Kissy Hospital and met the medical director who studied in the United States and returned to his native Sierra Leone to serve. He was a former World Communion Scholar (one of our six Special Sundays). In Thailand, I met our missionaries who are working to start an HIV/AIDS ministry. I met our brothers and sisters who are starting new churches in Southeast Asia, some risking their lives to tell the gospel story.

As United Methodists, we do so much more collectively that we could ever do apart.

As we gather in Tampa, what is the Spirit's movement for those coming behind us? What would John Wesley say about the movement that has turned into an institution? Will we as United Methodists continue to do all the good we can, by all the means we can, in all the ways we can, in all the places we can, at all the times we can, to all the people we can, as long as ever we can?

Will folks gather in Tampa and watch us catch on fire with the Spirit's enthusiasm? Or will they witness us tearing each other down?

I thank God for Wesley, great-great grandpa Ned, and the influence of United Methodism in shaping my life. As we gather in Tampa, I'm reminded of Moses' assurance to Joshua as he becomes his successor: "It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed." (Deuteronomy 31:8, NRSV)

Hygh is the Associate General Secretary, Director of Communications, for the General Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Marjorie Hurder, US-2, at Ecumenical Advocacy Days

My name is Marjorie Hurder and I am a US-2 Young Adult Missionary with The United Methodist Church. I am currently serving at Crossroads Urban Center as a Social Justice Advocate. This past weekend, I joined with more than 750 Christians from all over the United States to gather in Washington, DC (during the lovely cherry blossom season) to participate in the Ecumenical Advocacy Days Conference. We were from different denominations, different backgrounds, different stages of life, different races, and different localities, but we came together this past weekend to celebrate the work we have done and to plan for the work we have ahead. We gathered with exuberant singing and dancing by the 99 Collective on Friday evening (which was a jolt to my system after having been on the plane since six that morning from Salt Lake City).

Saturday, we got down to business with presentations from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities about how current budget proposals from House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) would unjustly affect the most vulnerable populations who rely on programs such as the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (or SNAP, formerly known as the food stamp program) and Medicaid to get by from day to day. As a significant percentage of my work involves giving people the food they need and helping them to sign up to receive SNAP benefits, these proposals, if enacted, would directly affect the people I work with on a daily basis. One of the best things about this weekend was learning about how policy decisions at the national level affect the work that we at Crossroads Urban Center.

We also dove into the nitty-gritty, day-to-day of advocacy work with workshops focused on everything from effective use of social media to inform more people of upcoming events and encourage more involvement in advocacy work, to how to respond to the growing trend of states like Alabama and Arizona passing more stringent immigration laws. In addition, we covered how to be Christian advocates and community organizers. I have to say, my favorite tip for how to get your point across was catching peoples' attention by shaking their hands and not letting go until you finished what you wanted to say to them. Interspersed with all of these educational seminars were opportunities to get to know our fellow Christian community organizers and advocates through meals together, young adult gatherings, and other forms of communion, which were vital to the coming together of such a large, diverse group of dedicated individuals.

Our final day was spent lobbying our members of Congress to put into action what we discussed during our previous two days of conferencing. I met with the staff of the two senators from Louisiana--Mary Landrieu and David Vitter--which was definitely a pleasant experience. However, I will have to remember to continue to be in contact with my congressional delegation and not, as one of the speakers said, to have this be a bucket list experience I can check off and forget about. And so, upon departure from Washington, DC, and the Ecumenical Advocacy Days, it is our task to continue to be Christian community organizers and advocates to do the work of Christ in the world.