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 www.ellewise.com and www.ellewise.tumblre.com.

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: http://onebillionrising.org

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.