The Rev. Wesley (Wes) Neal is a missionary with the General Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church serving as lecturer in missiology and practical ministry at the Davuilevu Theological College of the Methodist Church of Fiji and Rotuma in the South Pacific.
Fiji has a population of some 900,000, of whom 500,000 are native Fijians. Of those, two-thirds are Methodist. The Methodist Church of Fiji and Rotuma is a long-time mission partner of Global Ministries, especially in the area of training for pastoral and lay leadership. Davuilevu College is the primary institution for such education. Wes teaches in a wide range of academic and practical subjects.
Wes is an ordained elder of the California-Pacific Annual Conference and was pastor of Wesley United Methodist Church, Belleville, New Jersey from 2009 through mid-2014. Earlier he was pastor of the Santee United Methodist Church and associate pastor for youth and small groups at Fullerton First United Methodist Church in California.
He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in history and Asian studies from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and a Master of Divinity degree from Princeton Theological Seminary, Princeton, New Jersey. Born in Texas, he lived for several formative teen years in the Philippines, and spent two years teaching in Indonesia through the Princeton in Asia program. He also spent time in India as a mission volunteer. He pastored the multicultural Belleville congregation outside of Newark, while his wife Jerusha, also a missionary, attended Princeton Seminary.
“My life as a disciple of Jesus Christ began in the 7th grade,” he says, “when a youth pastor at the church my family was attending in the Philippines asked if anyone wanted to commit their life to Christ. I raised my hand.” However, he had not considered a life of professional service through the church until those years in Indonesia. Involvement with a group of Indonesian Christians who were advocating for the rights of workers led him to see the challenges and rewards of being a pastor. “My heart for mission and for the dynamism of faith across lines of difference—in faith, ethnicity, and nationality—was fostered there.
“My practice of this call has been shaped through the 15 years I have worked as a pastor. Two experiences in particular have shaped my personal understanding of God’s call to mission. The first was the years I spent working with the Joint Commission, a ministry that worked among Methodist churches north and south of the [US-Mexican] border in California at the height of the debate in the US about ‘illegal’ immigration. We worked on both sides of the border to be in ministry with people who were stranded by deportation.”
The second experience was in the Belleville church, where the people spoke nine different languages. “I had to learn much about leadership across cultural lines, and how to trust God in the midst of brokenness. What we all have in common, I have come to see, is an experience of displacement and a need for healing and new beginnings.
“My hope is to serve in a place where I can proclaim the love of God, the grace of Jesus Christ, and the peace of the Holy Spirit to those who need to know a truth that has the power at one time to anchor us and to set us free.”
He and Jerusha have two young children, Mercy, and Josiah.
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