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Mission initiatives build new communities of faith in new places

 

By Sandra Brands

United Methodism in Malawi is growing under indigenous leadership.
United Methodism in Malawi is growing under indigenous leadership.
CUMNS FILE PHOTO/THOMAS KEMPER, GBGM

When people drop a check in the collection plate for The Advance or click on the online "donate" button, it's an act of faith.

Just ask the members of United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kan. Recently, members sent money online to the Eurasian Mission Initiative of the General Board of Global Ministries through The Advance. The experience was so satisfying, according to the Rev. T. Cayce Stapp, pastor of Beyond Kansas City Mission, members will be encouraged to use the online donations feature on The Advance website (www.umcgiving.org/advance) for funding their support of the Malawi United Methodist Church.

"The response time for our gift to be processed exceeded our expectations and made it possible for us to provide support to The UMC in Eurasia according to Bishop Eduard Khegay's request in a time-sensitive manner," Stapp said.

Faithful giving through The Advance is helping to create new communities of faith for new people throughout world, providing pastoral and lay education and worship space. The specific work and ministry of each mission initiative is unique to the setting, but most are in places where The United Methodist Church is new to the population. Mission initiatives are responses to God's calling to spread spiritual and social holiness throughout the world by working in specific locations.

Several of the current initiatives are mature and becoming integral parts of the United Methodist connection; some will become autonomous churches.

The most recent mission initiative to evolve into a provisional annual conference is Malawi. The 2012 General Conference approved the change of status. As a mission initiative, the church in Malawi has focused on educating clergy and laity.

Members of The United Methodist Church in Vietnam welcome visitors.
Members of The United Methodist Church in Vietnam welcome visitors.
COURTESY WEST OHIO CONFERENCE

"Funding (through) The Advance helped the mission initiative do a great job educating lay and clergy on polity, the Bible and the United Methodist connection at the local, circuit and conference levels," said Thomas Kemper, Global Ministries' general secretary. "The entire leadership of the initiative and now the provisional conference has developed a self-sustaining plan for the church and continues to work towards meeting the requirements to become a full annual conference."

Mobilizing laity

Lay mobilization in Malawi has been a strength in moving toward being a self-sufficient church. As happens in many mission initiative areas, the growth of the church closely resembles the early Methodist movement. For example, in Malawi, many new communities of faith meet at a preaching point in an outdoor location open to all. There, said George Howard, a Global Ministries' executive, ministry is "not about starting a church; it's about sharing the gospel. In sharing the gospel, in sharing what's happening in people's lives, the church has emerged. Church means communities of faith. They're not out to build a building; they're out to gather people together."

"Movements are characterized by lay mobilization, bi-vocational leadership and self-sufficiency," said Patrick Friday, director of Global Ministries' 50/50 In Mission Together Partnership program, which works with the mission initiatives. "They are not institutions; they engage people where they are in small groups. In this way, the Methodist movement has continued around the world."

Delegates to the Methodist Mission in Cambodia gathered in Phnom Penh to celebrate their first annual meeting in January 2011.
Delegates to the Methodist Mission in Cambodia gathered in Phnom Penh to celebrate their first annual meeting in January 2011.
UMNS FILE PHOTO

Through In Mission Together partnerships and financial support through The Advance, 574 worshipping communities have been started since 2008 in Belarus, Cambodia, Cameroon, Honduras, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Latvia, Lithuania, Malawi, Moldova, Mongolia, Nepal, Russia, Senegal, Thailand, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.

Building self-sustaining churches

Encouraged to grow a church that is self-sustaining, the people responding to the Mission Initiative in Senegal have asked for training in lay leadership, United Methodist structure and history and the role of the lay pastor. In 2012, 34 people – predominately lay pastors – participated in training in Thiadiaye and were charged with spreading the love of Christ in their communities.

They learned about the history of Methodism and the church in Senegal, the role of the preacher and the laity and the theology of the Trinity from presenters including a Senegalese district superintendent, an evangelist from Côte d'Ivoire and Global Ministries' missionary Bill Gibson (Advance #3021475).

The training is part of a plan to develop local leaders to build a self-sustaining church, Gibson said. "This is a change in direction for mission," he continued. "What we're hoping is that the lay preachers will each be involved with the development and growth of a local church. The hope is that the church will grow as the result of the work of these young lay pastors."

Hospice in Mongolia is door

The Mongolia Mission Initiative is already making a difference in people's lives, said the Rev. Jong Sung Kim, Global Ministries' executive secretary for justice and relationships in Asia Pacific.

A choir sings during worship at a United Methodist church in St. Petersburg, Russia.
A choir sings during worship at a United Methodist church in St. Petersburg, Russia.
UMNS FILE PHOTO/JIM ATHEARN

"There are three areas that we are focusing on," he said. Church development, leadership development and "community outreach, like hospice care and economic-development programs. We [also] have a significant and very big after-school program for children."

Founded by missionary Helen Shepherd (Advance #11810Z) after she was assigned to the area in 2002, the Grace Hospice (Advance #14928A) ministry in Mongolia now employs 13 people. It allows caretakers to share their faith through action, not through "preaching at individuals who are sick," said Shepherd.

Hospice and after-school programs can be the doorway into the church for many Mongolians. "Christianity is perceived, especially by young people, as a way to learn and to widen their perspective," Kim said. "That's why it's very attractive to young people, and that's why they first come to church. They are attracted and then become Christian, and some even go further."

The majority of members of United Methodist congregations in Mongolia are under 35. The emerging leaders are university-educated graduates who attend Bible school for training; some are commissioned as certified pastors to serve local churches.

From recovery to relationship

The United Methodist Church is well-known throughout the world for its long-term commitment to recovery in the wake of a disaster. But disaster response can also be the beginning of a mission initiative in a country that did not have a significant United Methodist presence.

Formed in the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch in 2002, the Honduras Mission Initiative continues to serve Hondurans seeking relief from poverty. It is designed to help the indigenous church foster and develop local leadership and independence.

Vietnam was home to 85 new United Methodist congregations 18 months after a Global Ministries mission initiative began there in January 2009.
Vietnam was home to 85 new United Methodist congregations 18 months after a Global Ministries mission initiative began there in January 2009.
GBGM/UT TO

Greg Gelzinnis, the 50/50 IMT Partner coordinator for Honduras, says, "For some people, short-term missions may be the only way someone can be involved — and that can be transformational, but the over-arching feeling among leadership throughout The United Methodist Church is to emphasize healthy, long-term relationships."

Gene Barber, leader of the In Mission Together team from The Chapel United Methodist Church in Brunswick, Ga., noted, "The Hondurans want to run their own church and make it self-sufficient. That's where IMT and Global Ministries' mission initiatives have moved — giving leadership over to the local church."

Sandra Brands is a freelance writer living in New York's Adirondack Mountains.

Growing churches

New worshipping communities develop from new mission initiatives supported through The Advance, www.umcmission.org/give.

  • Cambodia, Advance #00230A
  • Cameroon, Advance #00344A
  • Central Asia, Advance #14939A
  • Honduras, Advance #12928A
  • Laos, Advance #14927A
  • Latvia, Advance #00235A
  • Lithuania, Advance #12168A
  • Mongolia, Advance #00209A
  • Russia/Eurasia, Advance #11510A
  • Senegal, Advance #12594A
  • Thailand, Advance #00403A
  • Vietnam, Advance #14932A