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.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Happy Easter!

Street Children Ministry in Cambodia
April 2, 2012

Dear Friends,

Christ is risen indeed, Halleluiah!!!

Love and Easter greetings to you all!! Blessings from God have been showered on us through your generous hearts, especially through your fervent prayers for us as we work to bring a Christian presence and a better quality of life for street children, orphans, and the poor living in Phnom Penh. On behalf of the children who benefit from your dedicated support, I express our sincere gratitude for all you have done to help these less fortunate ones.

In our meditation at the office, we studied the verses Mark 11:8-11. When discussing what the people in Cambodia would ask to be saved from if they cry “Hosanna” (save us), most of the UMC staff commented, “Save us from poverty and injustice.” Our help is direly needed to help the poor escape the effects of poverty and injustice in this part of the world.

And as we help the poor of Cambodia grow spiritually, we see great changes in the lives of our children and communities as recipients of God’s mission.

Without your help, we can’t do anything. Yours are the hands of God reaching out to these less privileged and less fortunate ones. Luke 13:9 says, “Let us not be weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest-time, if we do not give up.”

Our reports cannot contain the happiness and joy of these children as they receive gifts not only in kind, but of love, as we stand with them and share with their pains and agonies of poverty and helplessness. Let us continue to concretize God’s love to them. Harvest will come. We cannot thank you enough for your commitment to supporting the men, women, and children we work with in Cambodia! We pray that more people like you will be touched by God to become instruments of His love.

This Easter season, I want thank you again for your support. I am attaching a picture sketched by our children to express their joy and gratitude to all of you. Happy Easter 2012!!

Very truly yours,

Clara Mridula Biswas
P.O. Box 2493
Phnom Penh, Cambodia