Friday, June 7, 2013

Mission Musings has Moved!

Please come join Mission Musings at our new location at

In our story posted June 7, 2013, Katarina Nikolic, a local pastor with the UMC in Serbia, shares how one committed pastor became her role model. Read more

Read and participate in these personal transforming stories of mission.

Friday, May 17, 2013

My Aldersgate Tapestry Experience

by Rev. Elizabeth S. Tapia*

My mother Lydia S. Tapia use to say, “Di baling mabasa ang saya, huwag lang mawala ang pananampalataya.” This means, “never mind if your clothes get wet, keep up your faith.” She would say this to me over and over again as we treaded knee-deep through flooded streets in my village in Bulacan, Philippines. She and my grandmother Julia taught me how to pray and to sing Methodist hymns whenever I got afraid of the night, or while waiting for rice and milk rations.

 During my upbringing as a Methodist in a family of ten, I attended Sunday school, post-Christmas Institute for youth, met missionaries, worked as a deaconess, and later served as pastor and seminary professor, which all became distinct parts of my Aldersgate tapestry experience. I cannot single out an experience, nor can I give a specific date of my spiritual conversion.  All I felt was a continuous flow of God’s grace in the ups and downs of my life. Praying, reading the scriptures, selling fish in the public market, organizing youth and women in the church, visiting the sick and those in prison, surviving poverty and martial law regime, and later in life, migrating to the United States— shaped my faith and commitment to serve.

One item in my “bucket list” is visiting the Wesley Chapel in London. When I worked at Drew Theological Seminary, I used to visit Wesley’s statue on Fridays and theologized with him in my mind! In the seminary I read some journal entries of John Wesley. Fascinating! If he were alive today, I think he would blog or tweet with gospel aim. He would probably be engaged in innovative ministries with immigrants and refugees; leadership formation; opposing war, making peace; abolishing human trafficking, as well as other types of slavery, and call for economic, racial and ecological justice in the public square.  Are these not expressions of “social holiness” today and of people’s participation in God’s mission?

Now that I serve in the General Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church, I realize more and more how our churches and faith-based communities are keeping true to John Wesley’s advice: “Go to the people in need, especially those who need you most.”

Praise God for God’s mission and heart-warming grace!

 *Rev. Elizabeth S. Tapia, Ph.D. is the director of Mission Theology (Mission Theology and Evaluation unit) for Global Ministries, The United Methodist Church in New York City. She is an Elder in the Bulacan Philippines Annual Conference. 

May 24, or the nearest Sunday, is Aldersgate Day or Aldersgate Sunday. This celebrates our founder John Wesley's life-changing experience at a meeting on Aldersgate Street, London, May 24, 1738. The World Methodist Council commemorates the 275-year anniversary of John Wesley’s Aldersgate Experience by inviting readers to share their stories of faith.

Photos: (top) Girls in the Philippines by Lisa Jackson; (below) John Wesley gives money to the poor in this artist rendering. Drawing courtesy of The United Methodist Commission on Archives and History. UMNS1176.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Children Shine in Grenada

Anna Gill, a young adult missionary serving Grenada through Global Ministries, shares how extremely proud she is about children in her Sunday school class.

by Anna Gill

I like to think that behind every child is a community of people who are exceptionally proud of his or her achievements. Whether from family, teachers, churches, neighbors, or any others, children need to hear affirmation. They need to know that they are special and loved, just as they are. They need to hear the “You is kind, you is smart, you is important” mantra so often that they really believe it and live up to it. Now certainly, people often take this too far, as can be evidenced by “my child can do no harm” and “everyone is a winner” attitudes that don’t serve kids well in preparing them for real life. That said, I stand by my belief that when a child is doing something awesome, they need to be recognized for it!

Grandparents are some of the best people for doing just that. Ask almost any grandparent about their grandchildren and they will happily spout off all sorts of wonderful things about that child. Some grandparents even carry around a “brag book,” a small photo album that fits easily into a purse or bag, allowing them to show off their grandchildren to anyone and everyone who will listen.

I may not have a physical “brag book” to carry around, but I do have this blog, and for this entry it is my way to brag about “my kids.” I should probably note that I am quite happy not having children at this point in my life, and will likely remain so for some time. But here in Grenada, I have built close relationships with many of the children and youth in my community. “My kids” are my students in the after school class. They are the children in our Sunday School at the Methodist Church. They are the kids from the steel pan band, and they are the crew of boys that hang out at my house every evening. I am so blessed to have good relationships with so many young people here, so I hope you will indulge me and allow me to brag about why they are exceedingly awesome. =)

My kids are smart.

Marissa is better at Concentration than I am.
All photos in this story by Anna Gill.

My students playing “Around the World” with the multiplication tables
Omari has a steady hand in building a card house

They are helpful.

Orion and many other kids help me with my baking and with my other chores.

They are funny…

What adolescent boy wouldn’t find this funny?

… fast…

My friend Azaria is one of the fastest runners in the 200 meter sprint on the island!

…and adorable!

I will challenge anyone who thinks they can find a cuter baby than Keyon.

They are hardworking. (Okay, some are teenagers with obligatory lazy moments, but isn’t that normal?!)

During the trash clean-up we did with the after school class, 15 students picked up over 2,200 pieces of trash in 90 minutes!

They are considerate.

When Kenrick returned my colored pencils he’d borrowed for a project, he had hand-sharpened each one using a knife.

They love being silly for the camera.

This picture came from a series of the boys arm wrestling, which they wanted me to photograph.

And can we just take a minute to talk about how creative these kids are?!

Omari is a talented artist- he freehanded this drawing of SpongeBob!
Kenrick built this cart out of wood and salvaged wheels from a baby stroller. He has since added solar-powered headlights and wired an on/off switch to it!
He also made a kite out of bamboo, thread, and a KFC plastic bag. Many children are in the business of kite making/flying at this time of year.
Xorion posing in front of the “gallery” of artwork in my kitchen.

The boys have come up with a way to play soccer on the tabletop using playdough for the ball and the containers as goals.
Painting Easter eggs in Sunday School
Love with some of the talented pan players

I could go on an on about the awesome kids that have become my friends. However, I also don’t want to pretend that things are always perfect or easy with these kids. I love them all, but sometimes they drive me crazy. It’s taken time to teach the boys about how they should (and more specifically, SHOULD NOT) behave when they play at my house. One of my cutest little boys has very stinky feet. Sometimes the kids leave “surprises” in my bathroom (like toilet paper rolls dropped in a dirty bowl) and muddy footprints in my house. I went through some real trials with one child in our Sunday School because she were testing me and didn’t trust me right away. Not every piece of artwork hung on my wall is a masterpiece- quite a lot of it is rather mediocre. Sometimes my students are rude, and sometimes I lose my temper with them. They are not perfect, and neither am I.

I am learning many lessons about patience and unconditional love– lessons I hope to carry over into parenthood someday. I’m also beginning to see how God must view Christians. It is as if we were little children, running around thinking that our best efforts are masterpieces that will make God proud. And then we show off our work to him, and what God sees is the equivalent of macaroni artwork in comparison to all that he has created. We want to dance in from of him, just to make him happy, not noticing all the things we knock down in the process. God tells us we are beautiful and precious, even when he smells our stinky feet. Oftentimes we stubbornly choose not to obey when God is showing us a better way, instead creating bigger messes of our lives. We don’t like to listen to our spiritual teachers when the “lessons” are difficult. God celebrates each small achievement in our faith life, but still knows that there is so much more to learn.

The amazing thing about our God is that even though our best efforts are like child’s play to him, he still delights in those things we do out of love for him. We can never match up to the awesome, inconceivable greatness of God with our human efforts. Yet we shouldn’t stop trying. We should continue to work and create things for God’s glory. We should go to him for our affirmation. We should listen when God calls us his beloved just as we are, but also listen when he disciplines us so that we mature. May we fully embrace the knowledge that we are God’s beloved children, and strive to do the things that will make God proud.

Anna Gill is a mission intern with the General Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church, initially serving with GRENCODA, the Grenada Community Development Agency, on the Caribbean island of Grenada.

This post originally appeared in Gill’s blog Use the Faith You’ve Found. All photos by Anna Gill.  

Friday, April 26, 2013

“What you are before God, that you are and nothing more.”

by Elaine M. La Van

Elaine M. La Van, a US-2 missionary, shares her views on what it means to have relationships that God intends for us.

This past week, like many of you I’m sure, I was glued to the TV to see the unfoldings of the tragic news from Boston. Since most of my week involved working with our tea project, I was able to have the news on in the background. Now, this is not a post about those occurrences, because let’s be honest, I know relatively little about the event. Only the news stories that spun on every news station, which cannot lead me to claim any knowledge whatsoever. My personal ties to Boston are also very few, although I do feel a connection to my fellow runners. What the events in Boston have to do with this post is that they have been a push for me to travel a path that I have long been destined to explore.

While watching the events, again, as I’m sure many of you were, I found myself praying for those affected by the bombings. I suddenly felt convicted to pray for those responsible for the bombings. After I did as much of a double take as you can while you’re praying, I stopped to ask, “why?” I received the response of, “Because, they are still Mine.”

Now, in addition to this, as a single gal I have also recently felt convicted to examine what it means to have the kind of relationships that God intends for us to have, with not only a significant other, but with people in general. This includes family, friends, coworkers, acquaintances, strangers, etc. But most importantly, how to seek God out to have the kind of fulfilling relationship we all crave with our creator. Through a series of fortunate events I have come to be reading a book on the life and love philosophies of St. Francis. After only a few hours I have made it about half way through the book and I am already completely floored by what I have been learning.

Art by Elaine La Van

In Daniel P. Horan’s book, he states, “although the times have significantly changed…the human condition remains strikingly unchanged. Our human brokenness and sin continues to affect our outlook and daily encounters, but that intrinsic capacity to desire and know God remains.” How true is it that we seek companionship and fulfillment not only from other people and hollow things, but now also from hoping for connectedness through social media and impersonal interactions. More and more things are being added to our lives daily that only make me feel more and more alone. In all transparency what I have been seeking is an explanation of worth and purpose. It’s somehow easier to get lost in a world that claims to all be connected. Although logically, I know where to find what I need, I have not known with such deep conviction as I have lately while beginning this recent journey. It has been difficult to express my jumbled feelings lately into words but one of my favorite things that Horan says in his book is, “…we usually don’t know what we want—at least not at first.” And I love that. It’s such a simple statement, but so profound at the same time.

I know what I want, an even deeper relationship with my Creator. I don’t want to get one kind of fulfillment from Him, seek another with a friend, seek another at work, seek another from Facebook, and so on. “We must communicate our whole selves to our Creator.” Through this kind of relationship we have, “the potential to turn our whole life into a living prayer.” What a beautiful concept. This kind of relationship also has the potential to give us a whole new confidence in ourselves that no other can give. Compliments and pats on the back soon fade and lack meaning, but God’s very cause for our creation gives us a whole new understanding of purpose and value. God doesn’t love us because we are human, “God’s plan for my existence centered on me, just as God’s plan for bringing you into the world centered on you.” We have worth in us simply because God desired us to be in the world. We are, “unique, irreplaceable, unrepeatable, and individually loved by God.” Now, if we can take faith in the fact that God loves us so incredibly much to put so much individual effort into our creation, then we must take comfort and truth in knowing that He wants to continue to know us deeply and intimately. Another line that I love from Horan is that we are, “individually loved into existence.” Horan goes on to explain that without knowing this raw truth of our creator, “what can we bring of ourselves to the relationships?” If we don’t know who we are, who’s we are, and why we are, then how can we share ourselves with another?

Now, however long it takes someone to come to terms with the depths of our Creator’s love for us, we can then move on to explore, how selfish and misguided we could be to think that God would not love another just as much? The recent events I discussed at the start of my post were like a smack in the face. How could I disregard my own personal mission statement? I wanted to be a part of the work that I do exactly because I want others to know the profound love that can be found through a relationship with Christ. How could this be that I could be so stunned to think this really did mean everyone. When spiritual gifts were being handed out, “judge” was not amongst mine. But mercy and empathy were. And I need to continue to practice them.
“No one is, at the most basic and human level, better or worse than another. Every life is sacred. It is only in embracing that image of ourselves and others that we are able to in turn embrace God.”

Life occurs every day, from the earth shattering and devastating events that call for all media coverage to the little things that some don’t even see as worth gossiping about. But, in embracing who we are in Christ and what others are to God we can learn to connect with others and God on a whole new substantial level.
Seek comfort in knowing your value lies in your very creation, friends. “What you are before God, that you are and nothing more.” -St. Francis

Blessings to all of you in your daily mission fields. Until next time.

*All quotes came from Dating God: Live and Love in the Way of St. Francis by Daniel P. Horan.

Elaine M. La Van is a missionary through the US-2 young adult program of the General Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church. Commissioned in August 2012, she is assigned as an advocate at the Women’s Shelter at the Navajo United Methodist Center in Farmington, New Mexico.

This post originally appeared in La Van’s blog: “To Never Be The Same.”

Monday, April 8, 2013

Holistic Dental Health in Nicaragua

By Dr. Belinda Forbes

Orlando Jacobo receives a certificate of participation in the dental worker
training facilitated by Dr. Forbes and AMC.
Courtesy of Acción Médica Cristiana

Orlando Jacobo Cristobal is Miskito indigenous and comes from the community of Dos Amigos on the Prinzapolka River in the remote part of the North Autonomous Atlantic Region (RAAN) of Nicaragua. Dos Amigos has 378 inhabitants among 54 houses. Twenty years ago the community held an assembly and elected Orlando as a health leader. Since that time, he has been participating in trainings offered by
Dental worker Orlando Jacobo treats a patient.
Dental worker Orlando Jacobo treats a patient.
Courtesy of Acción Médica Cristiana
Acción Médica Cristiana (AMC) in first aid, dental extractions, and administration of essential medicines. The only medical doctor is in Alamikamba, hours away by rowboat, so health leaders along the river like Orlando serve as local doctors, attending to primary care needs in their communities. Orlando has participated in the recent dental health refresher training workshops facilitated by me and AMC. In my last newsletter I shared that in the RAAN there is only 1 dentist for every 50,000 people, so Orlando’s services are eagerly sought out. In March he joined a mobile dental team to the Prinzapolka River. Dr. Dean Gregson of Portland, Oregon, brought members of his staff and family to help AMC serve 6 communities with extractions, cleanings and even fillings using a solar powered drill. Orlando wore several hats during the trip; organizing patients, translating Miskito-Spanish, and delivering health care to patients. Orlando says of his work with the team, “I am so grateful to you for helping me. I am working in so many areas; I cannot meet the demand for dental care on the river.”

Orlando is an extraordinary example of the community health system that AMC has been developing for more than 25 years. Not only can he extract teeth. During our stay in Limbaikan a sick patient arrived, carried by his family in a makeshift hammock. He was severely dehydrated and his family had traveled 6 hours in a boat to get him to this community. The health leader was away but his family provided the solution which Orlando placed intravenously, monitoring the patient until he was well enough to go home the next day. This kind of first response has saved countless lives all across the regions where AMC is present.

Mission intern and nurse Sarah Frazier helps students on the
Prinzapolka River brush their teeth.
Courtesy of Acción Médica Cristiana
The professional skills and materials that Dr. Gregson’s team could offer complemented not only Orlando’s dental skills but his knowledge of local culture, language and people to create a holistic approach to the care offered, and with greater impact. Dr. Gregson remarked at the end of the trip, “Thank you so much for an amazing experience, we felt safe, cared for and useful.” The best help a short-term team can offer is to work with a local partner and help build the capacity of those on the ground who give the ongoing first response to health needs. Orlando is now serving as treasurer on the Territorial Council, a leadership role that has impact on public policy and municipal development plans.

Published in News from Nicaragua Easter 2013, missionary newsletter by Dr. Belinda Forbes, Global Ministries missionary assigned to Acción Médica Cristiana, Nicaragua.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Enough is Enough: How We at SMMS are Fighting Violence

By Hillary Taylor

“What is wrong with us men??”

This was the question that Bishop Mike Vorster asked us at the KwaZulu-Natal Christian Council meeting a few weeks ago. The meeting was about gender-based violence in South Africa. Seth Mokitimi Methodist Seminary (SMMS) sent 8 people (including me) to represent the seminary among the other ecumenical bodies in the region. Bishop Vorster (a Methodist bishop) was the chair of KZNCC, and he called this meeting because of all the recent violent news stories (Most notably the Oscar Pistorius shooting and the Anene Booysen gang rape story).

“I’m tired of men misbehaving and the ‘cat-calls’ and saying ‘wives should be submissive because the Bible says so!’ We’re doing absolutely nothing to bring systematic change to this country! Things like the 1 Billion Rising Campaign have their place, but they’re not engendering programs of action. Violence against women has increased. Maybe it’s because it’s being reported much more, but one rape is too much! Moral outrage is nothing without systematic change. And we as the Church should be the advent guard to change!”

South Africa is the most dangerous place to be a woman. Every 17 seconds, a woman is raped in South Africa. It is the “rape capital” of the world. Some media reports claim that women in ZA are more likely to be raped than educated.

Seth Mokitimi Methodist Seminary Responds

But at SMMS, we are saying, “Enough is enough!” to violence.

On February 14th, 2013 (the day before Lent), the women of SMMS put on a flash mob during the Tuesday Family Worship Service. It was the kick-off to our Lenten observance of women and children living in violence. Every Thursday since Ash Wednesday, we as a seminary wear black through the Thursdays In Black Campaign to mourn with those who live in violence, bring gender-based violence to people’s attention, and say we refuse to be a part of it anymore. This is what led us to take part in the KZNCC discussion with Bishop Vorster. And still the question was asked, “Why is there so much violence against women in South Africa?”

There were a lot of answers thrown around the table. Some people brought up the lack of good male role models in the lives of children, poor education, misinterpretation of affirmative action from the government, sexual addictions, etc. But the “rape epidemic” in South Africa has a brutality to it. “Children and grandmothers are being raped in huge numbers, and there is no sexual pleasure in this type of rape,” Bishop Vorster said. Like most other countries, rape in South Africa seems to be largely premeditated. According to the 2012 South Africa Victims of Crime Survey, “The results shows that a large proportion (44,1%) of the victims (from selected individuals) of sexual offenses were attacked by a known community member(s) from the area followed by those attacked by their relative (17%), while only 15,4% stated that the perpetrators were unknown community members. Only 14,4% were victimized by known people from outside.” Historically, rape has been a weapon of war, a social protest, and a demonstration of power. Lots of these rapes are being perpetrated by young adult males. “We must assume it is a generation that has witnessed violence,” Bishop Vorster said. “What will it do to you socially if you’ve grown up with a country in a state of violence? Better yet, what are we doing as a church to say that we’re really concerned about this?”

When we got back from the KZNCC meeting, I told the SMMS president, Dr. Dandala, about the experience and how we are helping to draw up short-term and long-term plans for both prevention and rehabilitation of perpetrators. I also told him about how we would like to involve men in this conversation of how best to tackle violence in this country. Dr. Dandala paused for a moment and said, “I think we must get the men together and talk to them about these things. I think that would be beneficial.” I’m so thankful that he did, and this is why…

In Solidarity

This past Tuesday, we all came into morning chapel like normal. Then two seminarians (Diba and Mazwenkosi) got up and said to all of us, “We men are here to stand with you, ladies! This struggle against violence is not just your battle. It’s ours too. We need to address it in our own families, with our wives and our children. And as a sign of that, we have brought flowers for you, and we would like to give them to you now as a sign of our appreciation to you and all that you do.” Then, in mass exodus, all the seminary men got out of their seats, took yellow chrysanthemums from the alter, and gave them to all the women in the chapel (including staff!). There are more men at the seminary than women, so many ladies ended up with a whole bouquet of flowers! Then another seminarian (Lubabalo) got up and said, “What my elders have forgotten to say in their old-fashioned ways is that ‘We love you! Like they said, this struggle also begins with us. No mother ever gives birth to a rapist. And we will do what is in our power to fight violence against all women and children in this country and prevent it from happening any more.’” It was touching, and as he finished, one of our female seminarians got up to speak. Slowly, she began to tell the seminary her story as a victim of sexual assault. To my knowledge, she is the first female seminarian in the history of SMMS to give a personal testimony on such an unspoken subject. I deeply admire her strength and courage to tell this story to the seminary. Her story has made this cause our cause as a seminary body (and, perhaps more importantly, the body of Christ).

We live in a day and age where sex is made to look free and easy in movies and media. We live in societies that perpetuate many myths about rape (e.g., married women can’t be raped, men can’t be raped, the side effects of rape are “not that bad,” women want to be raped, etc.) But perhaps the biggest myth about rape is that men don’t want to play any part in fighting against rape and gender-based violence. In this regard, women have not done justice to men. But that is changing here at SMMS, and we are excited to see men joining women to prevent such violence from happening.

To answer the question, I don’t think there is anything wrong with men. I believe that so long as a human being (male or female) is willing to seek justice, freedom, and peace alongside the poor and the marginalized, he or she is perfectly capable of emulating God in this crazy, broken world of ours. But if a person perpetuates injustice, conflict, and disregard of others, we as a Church must rehabilitate this person back to humanity. Because if we don’t, what does that say about us?
Hillary Taylor is a mission intern with the General Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church, initially serving at Seth Mokitimi Methodist Seminary in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa.This post originally appeared in Taylor’s blog

Monday, March 25, 2013

The Power of the Silent Garden

Grapevines rise up in the Wi’am
Garden in the shadow of the Separation Wall.
Courtesy of Wi'am

By Bishop Hope Morgan Ward

 "Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified. . .and they laid Jesus there."
   - John 19:41-42
Wi'am Conflict Transformation Center, a mission partner of The United Methodist Church and a setting of missionary service, is located at the Separation Wall encircling Bethlehem.

Between the center and the wall is a beautifully cultivated and nurtured garden. The contrast between ugliness and beauty is startling.

 I asked about the garden and heard this testimony from our United Methodist mission intern. "The garden is our witness against separation and oppression and violence."

This week Jesus is crucified. Palestinian Christians call the day of crucifixion "Sad Friday.” We weep with the faithful women at the cross. Joseph of Arimathea removes the body. Nicodemus brings myrrh and aloes. They anoint and wrap the body of Jesus. They lay Jesus in the tomb.

The tomb is in a garden. The garden is a silent witness against separation and oppression and violence. Through the dark night, through a long silent Saturday, through another night . . . the silent, beautiful garden holds Jesus.

Until the greatest of all miracles, very soon.

Prayer: Loving God, we wait in silence for your great miracle. Amen.

Bishop Hope Morgan Ward serves the North Carolina Conference. She is the president of the General Board of Global Ministries

Monday, March 18, 2013

Spiritual-Religious Paradigms in the 21st Century

by Brittany L. Browne

Have you ever heard someone refer to themselves as being ‘spiritual but not religious’? Religion plays a major role in our society, but in the 21st Century it seems to be quickly turning into an institution with which many young adults no longer want to be associated. As a way to get around it, some call themselves ‘spiritual’ indicating that they do indeed respect a higher power, but not within the limitations of doctrinal confinements and rituals that are all-encompassing to who they are as a believer.

Christians often speak about how the word of God is living, breathing and active. But how is this notion evident in our churches, when church membership is constantly declining? It is not only church membership that is declining, but philanthropic giving to churches continues to decline both nationally and internationally. What does this tell us about the way individuals are defining themselves when it comes to association with Christianity?

Being religious is often interconnected with negativity while being spiritual appears to set one free from the negativity of the religion. Individuals who consider themselves spiritual are often criticised as being a contradiction.  Christianity suggests that we are all spiritual beings and that to be spiritual is already a composition of who you are as a believer.

The discussion of whether one is spiritual or religious is not a new concept but it is growing as there are increasing demands from the Christian faith to be more transparent, authentic and accountable. 

Many new ministries are forming in small circles, without an actual church building, in an effort to detach themselves from the image of the “Church.”

In Matthew 13:13-15, Jesus told the disciples [his] reason for speaking to the people using parables saying, “though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.” Is this true of the church? Are we as a body, seeing but not truly seeing or hearing and not fully grasping the full meaning of some things?   

With the depth of the spirit so subtle to the point of others calling themselves spiritualist, the future of the church has to continue to deeply consider what it will look like and sound like in years to come. The church must see, hear and understand with fresh perspective. To ride on the coattails of history and hold on to all old understandings, or definitions is not enough. It also doesn’t mean completely rid ourselves of essential things that are imperative to our identity as Christians. But, to reject new ways of understanding the faith is an injustice within its own institution. Instead, it is important for us as a body to inquire about the depths from which the new definitions are arising.

The spiritual and religious paradigms of the 21st Century are a way for us, as the church body, to be attentive to the prophecy of Isaiah as mentioned in Matthew 13:14-15 and to act on it lest we remain remote in our revelations and our relevance in the world.

Brittany L. Browne is a mission intern with the General Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church, initially serving with the World Student Christian Federation (WSCF) in Geneva, Switzerland.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

United Methodists in Asia are vibrantly ‘first-century’

Grace to you and peace from God our Creator and the Lord Jesus Christ, the Light of the World.

I wrote this article at 36,000 feet above the Pacific Ocean on my return from my other episcopal assignment as bishop of the United Methodist missions in Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand. I bring heartfelt greetings to you from your sisters and brothers in these countries.

The General Board of Global Ministries initiated these ministries between 2001 and 2005. It is remarkable to witness what God is doing throughout the region. The Holy Spirit is breaking through. Lives and entire villages are being transformed. Disciples of Jesus are being formed and equipped for ministry. Leaders are being trained.

With limited resources the distinct United Methodist witness of soul care (cultivating love of God) and social care (loving our neighbors) is taking deep root. There are now over 14,000 United Methodists in 260 congregations in Vietnam, 4,200 United Methodists in 70 congregations in Laos, and 300 United Methodists in 6 congregations in Thailand. Nearly all the congregations are small-membership churches and the vast majority are house churches.

I was privileged to ordain the very first (twelve) “local elders in mission” for Vietnam. This new clergy category was created by the 2012 General Conference specifically to deploy ordained clergy for the fast-growing missions in Southeast Asia and other parts of the world. The candidates’ interviews and ordinations were conducted in Bangkok, Thailand, because of the Vietnamese government’s repression of religious activities. The ordination service was an emotionally overwhelming experience and blessing—one I will always cherish. I have not stopped asking God, “Why me? Why, O God, did you bless me with the opportunity to help extend your reign in Vietnam and throughout Southeast Asia?”

Transforming lives

I heard many stories of transformation. The congregations are feeding the hungry, caring for the widows, looking after the orphans and children with HIV, visiting the sick, ministering to Agent Orange victims, and starting micro-businesses. These tangible acts of Christ’s mercy, healing, and redemptive love are, in large part, why the United Methodist Church is growing in Southeast Asia.

Every conversion was celebrated. Every baptism evoked rejoicing. Every new cell group was affirmed. Every increase in worship attendance drew applause. Every child and youth was welcomed. Every song was passionate. Every new Bible study was acknowledged as a step closer “to equipping the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:12).

Every time I travel to our churches in Southeast Asia, I am reminded of the fervor and struggle of the first-century church—a church that thrived because it had no choice but to be utterly dependent upon God’s grace. I am reminded of the energy and urgency of a church compelled and commanded by the movement of the Holy Spirit. I am reminded that the early Christian congregations were “aliens and exiles” in the lands where they resided—they were clearly and unequivocally counter-cultural. I am reminded of the fruitfulness of the first-century church – a church that embraced the fruitful practices of radical hospitality, passionate worship, intentional faith development, risk-taking service, and extravagant generosity (Acts 2:41-47).

What if we were risk-takers?

I am convinced that the most important thing we can learn is how to live as a first-century church. What would Minnesota United Methodism look like if we were truly counter-cultural and not accommodating? What would it look like if we were so courageous we were considered risk-takers and not “mainline”? What would the Minnesota Annual Conference look like if every act of ministry and every expenditure of resources required a true sacrifice? What would we look like if we fully trusted the Holy Spirit to provoke us, guide, us sustain us? What would the United Methodist churches in Minnesota look like if our identity was built around ministry with the poor, the hungry, the homeless, the orphans, the addicted, the sin-sick, the lost, the children? What would it look like if we celebrated every conversion, every baptism, every new person in worship, every new disciple of Jesus Christ?

I invite you to pray, reflect, study, and discuss what your congregation would look like if it functioned as a first-century church. We have partners in mission that can inform your discovery. Re-read and study the Book of Acts. It is a lively account of God’s activity in and through the apostles and earliest disciples of Jesus. Continue to pray for the Holy Spirit to breakthrough and unleash new life in and through your congregation. Be assured that I join you in praying for the Holy Spirit to renew and revive each of our 360 congregations in the Minnesota Conference and lead us into ever more faithful and fruitful expressions of the kingdom.

Bishop Bruce R. Ough is resident bishop of the Dakotas-Minnesota Episcopal Area. This blogpost is adapted from Bishop Ough’s message on the conference website.

Living, Learning, and Working for Peace in the Philippines

Laura Wise shares some of her experiences as a new Mission Intern in the Philippines.
Photo Courtesy of Laura Wise

By Laura Wise

I arrived here in Davao on September 12th. I had about a week to settle in then got straight to work. My next 3 weeks I spent traveling to different parts of Mindanao for different events. This included: a Human Rights Defenders Training, a ‘School of Peace’ training, and a visit to an evacuation camp. I’m working with an NGO here called InPeace (Initiatives for Peace Mindanao). We do organizing and advocacy work surrounding the various issues the island of Mindanao is facing. I am doing a lot of the design and creative work associated with our various campaigns. This makes me really happy; I’m doing what’s familiar to me even in unfamiliar place.

The biggest take-away I have from these first 3 months is the incredible amount I’ve learned in such a short period of time. The issues here in Mindanao, in the entire Philippines really, are complex.

Historically the Philippines has been colonized 4 times. First by Spain when in 1521 Magellan “discovered” the islands and named them after the King of Spain, Phillip II. The island was then ceded to the U.S for $20 million as part of the terms of the 1898 Treaty of Paris. The Japanese then took over the Philippines during World War II days, and they were taken back again by the U.S. after the war. 

The country was granted “independence” from the U.S. in 1946 although the U.S. still holds very close ties with the Filipino government. Currently U.S. troops are occupying parts of the island of Mindanao, and Filipino citizens are not happy about it.

What’s been really eye opening, is how much the Filipino people know about the U.S. Some of my fellow organizers were able to teach me a few things about my own country! It’s made me realize how I, as an American citizen, have been so naïve to the happenings of world politics, although I thought I knew so much watching CNN nightly.

A large part of the struggle here in Mindanao is on behalf of the indigenous people and their rights to land. To make a long story short-- Mindanao is an island very, very rich in natural resources including gold, copper, nickel, and oil. This has peaked the interest of multi-national mining companies who have come in to search for the treasure. The problem is:

1) They are encroaching on land that has belonged to the indigenous people of this island for centuries. Land is Life is the saying, which reflects the way of life of the indigenous people here in Mindanao. The Philippines economy is 70% agriculture, so if you take away the people’s land, how do they survive? How does the country survive?

2) Large-scale mining is destructive. It is destructive, and hazardous. If it doesn’t destroy the land that was once used to harvest crops, then the chemicals that the mines will emit will poison the lakes, and rivers.
People have started to mobilize, including the organization I am working with to stand against the mining companies. Because of this, there have been many human rights violations; indigenous people and vocal activist have been murdered for their stand against the mining companies. I view this as modern-day martyrdom.

The struggles of the people here remind me of some of the struggles we as African-Americans have faced in the United States. Being here has redefined for me what means it to be black. As I’m sure you can imagine there aren’t many tall black girls with big curly hair here, so I usually attract many on-lookers as I move about town. I’m like a local celebrity!

I could type for 3 more days about all that I’ve learned so far, so I will stop here. With all that I’m learning, at times I have felt overwhelmed. It’s hard to not only see, but start to understand the issues that people here, and in other parts of the world are dealing with. 

I’m still in a period of adjustment. I’m experiencing all new sights, sounds, and culture… Overall, my experience has been a positive one. Some days I’m working on something fun at work, and am so excited to be here. Other days I wake up and think to myself, “What am I doing here?”

I don’t say this to make any of you concerned for me, but I say this to be completely honest. And to be completely honest, good days come and go, but I feel so very blessed to be here. To be at a point in my life where God has me on the potter’s wheel, once again, shaping me into something even greater.

I’ve been so inspired thus far by the culture here; the colors, the fabrics, the way of life…and not to mention the jewelry is absolutely fabulous. My brain is constantly at work. I’m writing down all my thoughts, feelings, and ideas for wherever the Lord leads me next. Overall I’m taking it day by day, soaking in every lesson big or small that presents itself.

Thank you all for your continued prayers and support. Please keep the prayers coming! I will continue to need them I promise.



Laura K. Wise is a mission intern with the General Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church, initially serving as a peace advocate associate with Initiatives for Peace in Mindanao on the island of Mindanao in the Philippines. This blog post is an adaptation of a holiday letter she wrote to some of her supporters. Follow her journey or connect with her at and

Monday, February 11, 2013

Why I'm Rising

On Sunday, the migrants of Hong Kong will join the global campaign to end violence against women called One Billion Rising. This campaign stems from Eve Ensler’s book called the Vagina Monologues and her subsequent organization that raises awareness about violence against women called V-Day. Check out the details of the campaign on:

I am rising to protest violence against women around the world. 1 in 3 women will experience some form of sexual violence in her lifetime around the world. One in Three; that’s one billion women on the planet right now who will be raped or physically assaulted in her lifetime, and it needs to stop. Today.

As a society, we need to stop making excuses for the way that we treat women. We need to acknowledge that we live in a world that does not value women’s lives.

Rape is about power not sex. Women do not invite rape. There is no “legitimate rape.” In war, men use rape as a tool of social control to humiliate and pacify the enemy. Hundreds of thousands of women were raped during the civil wars in Sierra Leone, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia, the Rwandan and Bosnian genocides, World War II, and the list goes on.

But rape doesn’t only happen “over there in Africa.” Nearly 1 in 4 female college students will experience sexual violence during their tenure at university in the US. Every two minutes, someone in the US is sexually assaulted. Husbands rape and beat their wives, boyfriends their girlfriends. Guys drug random girls at the bar and take them home.

And our society says that she “wasn’t being careful enough.” “Why did she leave the bar with him? Why did she leave her drink unattended? What was she wearing? Did she give him mixed signals?” No. Wrong. He put something into her drink. He attacked her because she said no. He forced her to have sex because he wanted power over her.

I’m angry and I’ve had enough. I am tired of watching my drink at bars. I’m tired of reading about victims of rape in the DRC. I’m tired of society explaining it all away that “boys will be boys.” So I will stand in solidarity with the migrant women of HK and dance. I invite all of you to find an event and join in the dance. Together, men and women all over the world, we can stop it.

Katelyn (Katie) Davis is a mission intern with the General Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church initially serving with the Asia Pacific Mission for Migrants in Hong Kong, SAR, P.R. of China. This blog post originally appeared on her blog “Following My Winding Path.”  

Friday, February 1, 2013

Protests and Prayer Requests from the East Belfast Mission

By Alison and Britt Gilmore

February 1, 2013

Alison and Britt Gilmore are missionaries serving at the East Belfast Mission in Belfast, Northern Ireland. This post is an excerpt from their blog post from January 15, 2013.

January 27, Update on the Unrest in Belfast
On January 17th, a meeting was hosted by East Belfast Mission where 41 local organizations (churches, community groups and paramilitary groups) agreed that the violence related to these protests was harmful to the community and needed to end (see article from UMConnections). Since that time, there have been ongoing protests related to the British flag at Belfast City Hall, but we are thankful that the violent clashes have subsided. Alison and I, along with all the people of East Belfast Mission, certainly appreciate your prayers.


Britt Gilmore

January 15, 2013
Alison and Britt Gilmore are missionaries serving at the East Belfast Mission in Belfast, Northern Ireland. This post is an excerpt from their blog post from January 15, 2013.

Over the past months you may have read about protests and unrest in Belfast. This post will attempt to give an update about what is happening in our community and share ways that you can pray. It has been difficult to write, as there is a deep complexity to the situation, with many perspectives among the local people.

Belfast City Hall with the British flag
On December 3rd, Belfast City Council decided to change its policy on flying the British flag at Belfast City Hall. There have been over 50 days of protests against this flag decision.

While some protests have been smaller, the largest of these was the evening of January 11 when many coordinated protests involved approximately 4,000 people around Northern Ireland. Several main roads in Belfast were blocked from 6-8pm.

Some of these gatherings have turned violent, resulting in clashes between loyalist protesters and police. Only a fraction of those who are protesting have engaged in violence – and this group contains many teenagers and children as young as 10. This is a saddening thing to witness.

The violence does not affect Northern Ireland equally, but has been largely concentrated in a section of East Belfast close to the Mission. EBM is about a quarter mile from an ‘interface’ with a nationalist community called the Short Strand. During the month, there have been increasing tensions between loyalist protestors and residents in this neighborhood, as groups have marched from East Belfast into the city and back. This situation has grown more fragile, and there were direct confrontations between these communities on January 12 and again on the evening of January 14.

Prayer Requests
We would appreciate any prayers that you would offer, including the following: - pray for meaningful dialog between local politicians, community leaders, the police, and those involved in protests. Pray for key leaders at EBM who are involved in these conversations, especially Gary Mason and Mark Houston.

- pray for protection for residents who live along the interface between the loyalist area of East Belfast and the Short Strand community and feel varying degrees of oppression, uncertainty and fear. We have been visiting and checking with those connected to the congregation and wider mission who live in the areas immediately affected.

- pray for the young people who are caught up in the fascination and excitement of the disturbances. In some cases, this involves children as young as 10. In many ways, they do not understand the complexity of the issues or the consequences of their actions, but are captive to the circumstances and emotions of these moments. Of course, by being involved in rioting, both their lives and their future is in danger.

At the outset of Jesus’ ministry, after he is baptized by John and then endures 40 days of temptation, he comes to Nazareth and reads these words from Isaiah 61. I am conscious of the conditions of oppression, captivity, and poverty in our community. When we seek to act as disciples of Jesus, our ministry looks to address these conditions in the world, wherever we find ourselves.

Of course, this is not just for Belfast, where the needs of our community have become suddenly obvious in a fresh way. I also remember the struggles of people facing homelessness in Orlando, the families in Sandy Hook continuing to grieve over the tragic loss of their children, and many who suffer from a lack of hope in their lives – for so many reasons. Some situations are dramatic and well-documented, while others hurt quietly.

Right now, the people at EBM are asking themselves – God, how can you use us this day to contribute to the healing of our city and our neighborhood? The answer is not always obvious, especially in a situation of crisis. Wherever you read this, it is a good question to consider.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Three Strikes, Two Options, One God

Brittany Browne visits the famous Geneva Flower Clock.
Credit: Christine Housel

By: Brittany L. Browne

   No weapon that is formed against you shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against you in judgment you shall condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and their righteousness is of me, said the Lord. -Isaiah 54:17

Do you know that you choose to channel or reject certain energies into your life? Isaiah 54:17 echoes that belief for me and furthermore provides revelation that it is a part of my heritage to prosper against any weapons that are formed against me. The term challenge is no longer a suitable word in my personal life to describe how immensely unyielding it is at times to operate in a world full of colonized history that reflects in everything we do, say and how we think, or where religion has contributed significantly to the divide in which we stand on and where people’s boxes of individuals by titles, categories and stereotypes predict the way we see one another.

Allow me to give a description of myself according to worldly standards in effort to set the context. I am African-American. I am a female. I am a part of the Millennial Generation. These three things describe how people immediately categorize me and sum up who I am. These three things are what I call three strikes. “Strikes” are categories, stereotypes, or titles which people assign to you before getting to know the depths of who you are--it is a box and an assumption that is somehow all encompassing for who you are, such as your religion or spiritual beliefs, your age, your sex, etc. If that is all I am limited to throughout my life, I thank God that my citizenship is in heaven!

My point is this, the three strikes mindset is what is damaging our Churches, the ecumenical movement and spiritual beings worldwide, affecting our relationships with one another and ultimately our success at being one body. It is no longer enough to shun what you don’t understand. What you feel is not relevant should not be dressed up as an issue that has already been resolved or that is in perfect progress. It is good to be optimistic but it is wise to be realistic. I say this only because when a “touchy” area such as diversity, racism, stereotypes, or branching out of boxes is spoken about it sometimes appears like an abomination to the environment in the non-verbal expressions of others.

In essence it is fruit that needs to be bared. If we only keep putting the seeds in the ground and refuse to water it, then we will continue to walk over the ground that has bared no fruit, unconscious that the seed is even in the ground. We walk over it in tolerance daily, boldly claiming diversity but possessing three strikes for one another.

Too often, believers give two options, telling each other to either choose to be angry or choose life. The two options become limited when there is no in between to express authentically the hurt behind it all. You are supposed to either be angry or be happy. But, there is a creator that does not turn a blind eye to expressing healthy anger and dealing maturely with our circumstances, so that out of it we come before the throne bolder and wiser. Then we can talk about choosing life!

I choose to reject the three strikes; I refuse to accept only two options and limitations of expressing my authentic self. I move beyond mediocrity, false frameworks of diversity and tolerance. I internally run and confide in one God that rejects stereotypes, ageism, racism, new forms of colonialism and embodies all things according to my heritage. I can’t go in the box, because I don’t fit! I’m too wide in my open mind, I’m too stretched in my spiritual discipline, and I am too filled with grace. Where can you step outside of your boxes or encourage others to do the same?

Brittany L. Browne is a mission intern with the General Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church, initially serving with the World Student Christian Federation (WSCF) in Geneva, Switzerland.