Global Ministries

The United Methodist Church

Connecting the Church in Mission

Mission Musings

The Roma Church in Kisvaszar, Hungary

Date Posted: 9/07/2013 2:00:00 PM
Posted By: Global Ministries

by Kristóf Sztupkai

The small village of Kisvaszar—located about 10 miles from Dombóvár in southwest Hungary—has a population of about 330. Approximately 80 percent of Kisvaszar’s residents are Roma. During the 1980s and the 1990s, many congregations in Hungary started to work among the Roma. The Methodist presence in Kisvaszar dates back to 1984, when the Rev. Gábor Szuhánszky started to hold regular worship services in a local family’s home.

In order to involve more people in the congregation, evangelism events were organized as outreach to the village residents. In 1994, the church purchased an old house where the congregation—adults and children—gathered together twice a week to worship. Families grew closer to God and became more committed to congregational life. Yet poverty, unemployment, discrimination, hopelessness, and all the other problems weighing on the Roma made the church’s outreach to them more challenging. After a few years, the old house of worship collapsed, so the small but faithful congregation now holds services in its members’ homes.

 Roma church members of the UMC in Kisvaszar, Hungary.

Roma church members of the UMC in Kisvaszar, Hungary. Approximately 80 percent of Kisvaszar’s residents are Roma. PHOTO: GEORGE ETHEREDGE


A Farming Program

One of the congregation’s most significant recent achievements has been a newly launched farming program. Through this program, village residents are encouraged to get involved in the cultivation of their own food. Local Methodist families plant fruit trees, and the land where the old church house once stood has been planted with corn. These farming activities attract other Roma to help the congregation. Further plans will enable each Roma family to cultivate its own piece of land.

Those who want to grow their own food can do so and will be given seeds and gardening tools to start. As part of this ministry, participants will acquire practical knowledge about a healthy diet, gardening, and using gardening tools.

Today, four families from the Kisvaszar United Methodist Church are engaged in the gardening project. The church’s goal is to build more relationships with the local community while encouraging further development. To pursue this goal, we hold weekly Bible studies for children in the primary school of the neighboring village.

In 2012, an “In Mission Together” volunteer team from Texas joined this mission. Team members worked with the Hungarian UMC and the Roma for a week. During this short period of time, we had children’s programs with Bible stories, crafts, and lots of songs. Every evening, still lacking a church building, we organized services outdoors under the trees. We hope and pray that God will help us continue this mission among the Roma in Kisvaszar.

Kristóf Sztupkai is pursuing a degree in theology and doing an internship in a local United Methodist church in Dombóvár, Hungary. He serves as mission coordinator for the UMC in Hungary. This article first appeared in the May-June 2013 edition of New World Outlook.

Prayers for a Burmese Mother-to-Be

Date Posted: 3/07/2013 9:00:00 AM
Posted By: Global Ministries

By Shannon Kim*

The GJV (Global Justice Volunteers) here in Dallas are learning so much, and it has only been our third day of work. The weather is not too bad here, yet I feel that as the sun goes down, the warmer the temperature gets.

Our parsonage is nice and very quaint. We have had some insects (mainly cockroach and spider problems), but we were able to take care of that with bug spray. Jason has become quite the chef here as well. The RST (Refugee Services of Texas) has just been great! They have all been very welcoming and warm. I think they like the young presence here.

Shannon Kim is a United Methodist Global Justice Volunteer serving the Refugee Services of Texas in Dallas.

Photo of Shannon Kim by Christopher Tricomi


Anyway, we have already been out in the field to meet with clients and transport them to hospitals. Here is just a Facebook post I wanted to share about my experience so far:

Hello all!

I am asking for your thoughts and prayers for a pregnant Burmese refugee woman that I have been helping since the beginning of my mission internship.

Yesterday I was honored to join her and her husband for a sonogram to see the sex of the baby. To experience the sight of the baby's spine, heart, and little foot was something truly amazing.  For this couple to share such a private moment with Kyungyeon Park and I was a blessing.

This will be her first out of four past pregnancies, to give birth at a hospital with the right medical equipment. Although she is 38 weeks along her pregnancy, this was her first sonogram and she was excited to know the sex of the baby before it is born. But, because the baby is in a face down position, it was difficult to give a firm confirmation on the sex.  The doctor tells us that he believes a baby girl will be born. However, the baby's umbilical cord has two tubes instead of three. In cases such as these, the baby can be a still born, but the doctor says that the baby seems to be doing just fine.

So I hope you will just keep the baby in your thoughts and pray that the baby continues to move inside mommy. Thank you! The support you have already shown is amazing!

I will continue to keep you updated! Hope you all have a wonderful day! 

*  Shannon Kim is a United Methodist Global Justice Volunteer serving the Refugee Services of Texas in Dallas

The Global Justice Volunteers program of the General Board of Global Ministries is a short-term service opportunity for young adults, who learn and work alongside local communities exploring the role and responsibility of the church to engage in mission, ministry, and service.

Small Gifts Can Make a Difference

Date Posted: 2/07/2013 10:00:00 AM
Posted By: Global Ministries

by Carol Partridge

Abandoned by her husband, Silvana lives with her children and her mother in a two-room building in the Strumica region of southeast Macedonia. They occupy one room; their animals, the other. The village residents are of mixed ethnicity: Roma and (Slavic) Macedonian.

Through the United Methodist Central Conference of Central and Southern Europe, funds were made available to provide Roma families with useful animals. The church in Macedonia gave Silvana’s family a goat. There was some speculation that the goat might end up at the slaughterhouse, but the family takes good care of it and consumes its milk.


Next, Silvana’s family received the gift of a donkey that family members use to haul the firewood they collect in the woods and burn at home for warmth. Sometimes they have a little wood left over to sell. They can also earn small sums by hauling loads for other people. So the gift of animals has indeed improved their lives.


A goat is received by a Roma family in Strumica, Macedonia, as part of the Livelihood Goat Project.

A goat is received by a Roma family in Strumica, Macedonia, as part of the Livelihood Goat Project. PHOTO: MITKO KONEV

Last December, the Strumica UMC bought two bales of hay for use in preparing a manger scene for the church’s Christmas dramas. Afterwards, the hay was delivered to Silvana’s family for the donkey and goat. The children also received Christmas packets (similar to Easter baskets), and the Methodist church sends the family flour from time to time so that Silvana can bake bread for her family to eat.

Staro Baldovci is another Roma village where the Macedonia UMC has provided aid. Few men—but many women and children—live in this village in extreme poverty. Clothing (jeans and jackets) and shoes were provided with the support of World Mission (UMC Germany).The clothing is made in Macedonia, saving shipping costs and providing jobs to help the local economy.


As UMC Macedonia in Staro Baldovci distributed clothing in December 2011 to school children, they noticed several children outside in the yard were barefoot in the snow.

As UMC Macedonia in Staro Baldovci distributed clothing in December 2011 to school children, they noticed several children outside in the yard were barefoot in the snow. PHOTO: MITKO KONEV

Persistence Counts

Not all of the church’s efforts to help the Roma in Macedonia have been successful. The Roma culture is very different from the majority Macedonian culture, which has different values.

The church has tried to help a few Roma children stay in school, providing them with clothes and shoes suitable for the classroom and giving them a daily snack. Some stay at school only long enough to get a sandwich and then disappear for the rest of the day. Some Roma parents encourage their children to skip school and beg on the street or to collect empty bottles from the trash for redemption. If their parents do not value education, it is hard for the children to see its purpose. So, while Macedonian law states that all children must attend school through high school, the children follow their parents’ lead and many remain illiterate.

It is difficult for us to know how best to assist the Roma, but the UMC in Macedonia keeps trying and keeps learning from small instances of success.

Carol Partridge is a United Methodist missionary, originally from Maine and later from California. She serves with all 12 of the United Methodist congregations in Macedonia, especially with women, children, and youth. This article first appeared in the May-June 2013 edition of New World Outlook.

 

 

Fraternal Workers

Date Posted: 28/06/2013 9:00:00 AM
Posted By: Global Ministries

By the Rev. Ronald Whitlatch*

 “Ministry With” is nothing new to Methodism.

Soon after arriving in Argentina in 1983 as a United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries missionary, my wife Cathy and I were invited to meet with Bishop Federico Pagura who wanted to get to know us and welcome us to ministry with the Argentina Evangelical Methodist Church. After informing us that we needed to plan on staying for at least two three-year terms in order to have sufficient time to first learn the language and culture and then contribute something to the church, he told us that we must no longer think of ourselves as missionaries. “Missionary” is a term that was no longer used in that church, he informed us. Instead, we should think of ourselves as “obreros fraternales” – fraternal workers – working side by side in partnership with the church in Argentina. We would be afforded all the rights of other pastors and would be treated the same as other pastors. In essence, we were encouraged to reject notions that we had something special to offer people as missionaries from the North and instead to choose to learn and work among the people in ministry “with” them, not “to” or “at” or “for” them.


former Bishop Federico Pagua of Argentina

“Ministry With” was not a new revelation for Bishop Pagura. A decade earlier when he was bishop in Panama and Costa Rica he wrote a manifesto that caused an uproar in the missionary community that was re-thinking its theology and practice of mission. The declaration is often referred to as “Missionary Go Home!” but in actuality it concludes with a gracious invitation to stay. For me, Bishop Pagura’s thoughts, quoted below, reflect the essence of what it means to be in "ministry with."

Missionary, Go Home . . . or Stay (by Methodist Bishop Federico J. Pagura (ret.), formerly Bishop of Argentina, and earlier, Bishop of Panama and Costa Rica):

"If you are not able to separate the eternal Word of the Gospel from the cultural molds in which you carried it to these lands:

Missionary, go home.

If you are not able to identify with the events, anxieties, and aspirations of those peoples prematurely aged by an unequal struggle:

Missionary, go home.

If your allegiance and fidelity to your nation of origin are stronger than loyalty and obedience to Jesus Christ:

Missionary, go home.

If you are not able to love and respect as equals those whom once you came to evangelize as "the lost":

Missionary, go home.

If you are not able to rejoice at the entry of new peoples and churches upon a new stage of maturity, independence, and responsibility:

Missionary, go home:

For it is time to go home.

But if you are ready to bear the risks and pains of this hour of birth which our peoples are experiencing, if you begin to celebrate with them the happiness of sensing that the Gospel is proclamation and affirmation of hope and liberation which are already transforming history, if you are ready to give more of your life in the service of these peoples who are awaking, then:

Stay! There is much to do."

If you are interested in learning about the extraordinary life of Bishop Pagura you may start with this Tribute to Pagura.

The Rev. Ronald Whitlatch is a missionary with the General Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church. Since August of 2012, Ron has been serving the annual conferences of the Northeastern Jurisdiction as mission interpreter.

 

Image of Bishop Federico Pagurais is courtesy of www.ciemal.org web site.  

 

Not a Master

Date Posted: 26/06/2013 10:00:00 AM
Posted By: Global Ministries

By Elizabeth L. Nichols*

                “…so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.  We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.”                                                                                  Romans 12:5-6a 

Dear Friends in Christ, 

We finished the school year at Henry Fork Service Center yesterday with a carnival full of relay races and games for our 60+ afterschool program children. We have a couple of days to get ready, and then begin the Summer Program on Monday, June 17th with all ages coming to the campus from 9:00-3:00 Monday – Friday. As I was getting my daily dose of Vitamin D and ridding our raised beds from the weed invasion, this reflection came to me. 

Lisa Nichols with some of her K-1 students at their raised bed garden.

I’m not a master gardener, but I can work with our children and youth to grow food in our neighborhood. The preschool students started the first crop of sugar snap peas in early March, and we picked the peas a couple of weeks ago and tried them.  The afterschool students helped to plant tomato plants, pepper plants, and cucumber and squash seeds. Those plants have thrived on the rain and the warm weather, and we have peppers on the plants. I’m afraid to try them because we planted six different varieties and one of those was jalapeños! But we’ll be eating the peppers off the vines because I could take my limited knowledge and share it with the students around me.

 
I’m not a naturalist, but I can share my love for the outdoors and little knowledge of plants and trees with the children and youth around me. Last year one of the favorite themed weeks was outdoor week.  Now that was probably because we cooked our own hot dogs and got to made s’mores hot off the bonfire, but we also went hiking in one of the county parks.  We noticed firsthand that we had coniferous trees and deciduous trees (pine trees and hardwoods!). We discovered that sassafras trees have three different kinds of leaves and for “leaves of three, let them be.” We were able to spend a couple of hours in God’s creation because the teachers were willing to go with me on an adventure, and are planning to do that once a week this summer.
               
I’m not a master chef (by any means), but I can cook with the children and youth around me. The preschool students spent considerable time in the kitchen this year, making cookies and brownies and cooking Thanksgiving Dinner for their families. The Venture Crew made spaghetti and chocolate chip pancakes (not on the same day) and learned both how to work together and to cook from scratch. By giving them a chance to experiment, we learned that you can put too many chocolate chips in a pancake, and that canned is good but homemade is better.

 Lisa Nichols with some of her K-1 students at their raised bed garden.
We are seeking volunteers to work with all of our students on these activities and more this summer and as we move into the school year. There are probably organizations and activities in your church and community in which you can share your knowledge. God does not call us to be experts before we share our gifts; God calls us to share our gifts. The group of United Methodist Women from the Richmond District who recently visited Henry Fork Service Center had probably never built a fence for cucumber vines, but by working together they accomplished their task.  The following verses in Romans 12 state, “If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach, if it is encouraging, let him encourage, if it is contributing to the needs of other, let him give generously.”

Thank you for sharing generously through Covenant Relationships and the Advance.  May God bless you as you reach out in partnership with my ministry at Henry Fork Service Center and in mission in your community.

Lisa Nichols
Church and Community Worker

Photos above: Lisa Nichols with some of her K-1 students at their raised bed garden. All photos by Lisa Nichols.

Elizabeth (Lisa) Lamb Nichols is a deaconess serving as a Church and Community Worker. She is executive director of Henry Fork Service Center, a facility in Rocky Mount, Virginia, that provides Christian education, educational enrichment, recreation, and experiences in the arts to more than 100 students throughout the year.

Owning the Solution

Date Posted: 21/06/2013 9:00:00 AM
Posted By: Global Ministries

by Mihail Stefanov

As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Mark 10: 46-48


Part 1: In the Lowest Place

Line drawing illustration of blind beggarBartimaeus was a blind man sitting by the road. There was no health insurance or educational institution for blind people in Jericho at that time. The blind had no access to aid and no job training since they were assumed to be unfit for work. Their place was on the street, and the only thing they could do for a living was beg.

That’s the likely situation for anyone whose prospects for a better way of life are denied. In Bartimaeus’ time, most people believed that blindness was a punishment from God. As a result, Bartimaeus was stigmatized. No one expected anything good from him.

The story of Bartimaeus reveals a lot about people who have been stigmatized for a lifetime. In my country of Bulgaria, many Roma have their place in the society—on the bottom, like Bartimaeus. Many of the Roma have had no access to education. They work the “dirty jobs” (if they have jobs at all), and they are not paid well. Though they depend on social-service funds, they are in and out of the social and health systems. How can anything change for them?

Mark 10: 42-52 gives insight to those of us who feel called to address the needs of any who are stigmatized by society.

Part 2: Be Quiet

As Bartimaeus shouted out to Jesus, some of the people in the surrounding crowd ordered him to be quiet. They criticized him. The more he shouted, the more confused the crowd became about how to react. Bartimaeus had an unchangeable place in the society. Most people in that crowd thought he should be content with his preordained destiny.

Likewise, in many parts of the world today, nothing good is expected to come from the Roma community. Even if we bear these people no ill will and have nothing against any one of them personally, we often don’t really expect anything to change in their lives. We accept the stereotype of them that we’ve been given—not listening to them because we think we know better. We often behave with arrogance, assuming that “We know what you need; you have to follow our rules if you want to have a better life.”

The Bulgarian government intends to build new houses for Roma residents. Yet no one asked the Roma if they wanted to live in those houses. Though it may seem absurd to us, the Roma are happy in their current homes. We think that giving them access to education will solve their problems. But we want to start educating them before they even realize what they need education for.

Before we judge the Roma, it is important for us to see things from their perspective. It takes a long time and a lot of work to get through university—especially if you are the first in your family to do so. As we were renovating our church building, a Roma worker on the construction crew said to me: “I stayed in school only until the fourth grade, and then I left. A friend of mine went to the university to become an engineer. But after he graduated, he couldn’t find an engineering job. No one would hire him because he was Roma. So he came to work with us as a low-skilled laborer. You tell me, what’s the difference? Why should I go to school when we both ended up as low-skilled laborers?”

The truth is that the attitudes of the larger society toward the Roma are not being addressed. We have not really embraced their differences or appreciated their rich tradition. We project our own desires onto them, decide for them, and then tell them what they have to do. To enjoy better lives in our society, they have to be more like us. Yet even when they follow our example, go to school, and receive a higher education, they still may not be able to progress in life. So they remain trapped in poverty.

Part 3: Define Your Problem

When Jesus encountered Bartimaeus, his reaction was different from the crowd’s. He did not assume that he knew what Bartimaeus wanted. So Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” We might think the answer would be obvious. Bartimaeus was blind; he needed to be healed so that he could see.

Still, Jesus asked because Bartimaeus had to define his own problem. He had to tell Jesus what he needed. Jesus didn’t say: “Since you are blind, what you need is to be able to see. I’ll perform that miracle for you.” Instead, Jesus asked: “What do you want me to do for you?”

With this story, Jesus teaches us that it is very important to engage the Roma in conversation—to ask them what they need before developing a ministry among them. It is not our place to tell them what they need and how to get where we think they want to go. Like Jesus, we first need to ask: “What do you think you need?” From their perspective, the problem might not be what we expect, or it might be the same. But I believe that we will be able to move and change things only after people define for themselves what is good and not good in their lives—understanding what needs to change in order for them to overcome the challenges they face. For hundreds of years now, Europeans have been defining the issues and determining what is wrong with the Roma. Is it not God’s choice to decide how the Holy Spirit interacts with us? God wants to heal and change us—but not without our free will. We must be part of the whole process of transformation.

Part 4: The Will to Change

Bartimaeus’ answer to Jesus is: “Let me see again.” He wants something to change in his life. He not only defines his problem, he wants to solve it. He has the will to change what has limited his life. We can’t change anyone else’s life situation unless that person is willing to change. We can’t do anything with or for the Roma if they don’t opt in.

I know a man in my home town in Bulgaria who is a beggar. He has a disease that inhibits his movement. He has begged on the street for years. He already has enough money for surgery that would enable him to walk again. But he doesn’t seek the surgery, because begging as a handicapped person is what he does for a living. He fears that he will no longer be able to provide for himself if he can walk.

Our ministry won’t make an impact on the lives of the Roma without their having the will to change. What we first need to do is to be with them, spend time with them, live with them, and learn from them. Only then can we try to understand their needs and their dreams. In this side-by-side accompaniment, we can discover with them ways to change and enrich their social and spiritual lives. Our role becomes one of support as the Roma find opportunities and alternatives to their poverty. Loving them and sharing the gospel with them is our role. What is not our role is telling them what they have to do.

When God touches us, our eyes are opened—and both the people who serve and the people being served finally see one another in the eyes of God.

The Rev. Mihail Stefanov serves as a pastor in The United Methodist Church in Bulgaria.

Illustration by Christopher G. Coleman

"Owning the Solution" by Mihail Stefanov was originally published in the May/June 2013 issue of New World Outlook, the mission magazine of The United Methodist Church.


At the Heart

Date Posted: 11/06/2013 9:30:26 AM
Posted By: Global Ministries
By Katelyn Davis*

Justice Conference Asia group picture

In mid-May, Laura Wise (mission intern serving the Philippines), Beth McRill (mission intern serving Hong Kong, SAR, P.R. of China) and I went to The Justice Conference Asia organized by one of the evangelical churches here in Hong Kong. The conference brought together Christian activists, organizations, and individuals to discuss justice and various efforts fighting injustice in Southeast Asia. 

I thoroughly enjoyed this conference.  It provided me with an opportunity to reflect and renew my commitment to fighting injustice. I would like to share my thoughts on one of the sessions I attended called “theology of justice.”

Theology of Justice

Ken Wytsma, founder of the Justice Conference and Kilns College, gave one of the keynote speeches during the morning session. He discussed how justice is a theological necessity because by understanding God’s heart for justice, we develop our own heart for justice, and as a result, we come to know God better. He read Isaiah Chapter 58 and asked us to read it every day for one month. For him, this scripture embodies everything that we need to know about justice and God. The verse that I want to highlight is Isaiah 58:6 which reads, “Is not this the kind of fasting that I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice, and untie the cords of yoke, to set the oppressed free, and break every yoke?”

At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus proclaimed that he was sent to give sight to the blind, set the oppressed free, proclaim release to the captives and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor (epic paraphrase; see Luke 4:18-19). Jesus’ entire purpose revolved around justice work, and it sits at the heart of the Gospel, not simply creating followers of Jesus. Jesus was sent here with this purpose, and as followers of Jesus, we must have the same purpose.

So, in today’s society, who are the captives? Who are the blind? Who are the oppressed? This is of course where everything gets sticky, but to me, the oppressed are the urban poor, the rural poor, the homeless, widows, women and children. The “blind” is everyone who ignores the oppressed. It’s the bankers, the politicians, the corporations, but it’s also the churches who think that worship without service is enough.  Who questions whether this project is “worth it?”

Finally, we are all captive to something: greed, materialism, racism, sexism and every other “ism” out there. Fighting to change all of this is justice work. Jesus came to set all of us free.

We are all called to different aspects of justice work, which changes over various points in our lives. Right now, I’m a missionary fighting injustice in the domestic /migrant worker community in Hong Kong and in destination countries in East Asia. That will change, but the mission really won’t.

So, I ask everyone, can we worship God without justice? And, where is God calling you to do justice in your own life?

* Katelyn (Katie) Davis is a mission intern with the General Board of Global Ministries, initially serving with the Asia Pacific Mission for Migrants in Hong Kong, SAR, P.R. of China. View her original blog post here.

Church Growth: God’s Initiative

Date Posted: 10/06/2013 11:00:00 AM
Posted By: Global Ministries

By Thomas Kemper*

I recently met with Karen and Ut To, our missionary leaders in Vietnam. They shared their enthusiasm for mission, their dreams and plans for the growth of the church in Vietnam, and also how we can be a Wesleyan presence there that keeps personal and social holiness together. Karen and Ut hope to start 100 new churches in 2013. It is inspirational and encouraging to meet people like them from around the world who almost every day tell the story how God’s love has transformed them, and is now transforming individuals and communities around them.

The Rev. Karen Vo-To, missionary with Global Ministries assigned to Vietnam, prays for a young participant at a vocational program for the disabled. Photo: Melissa Hinnen

They are also the people behind the statistics of new United Methodist places of worship that has sprung up over the last four years— 3,175 new congregations, cell groups, circuits and preaching points. Each of these numbers represents a new community of faith that accepts God’s grace and love in Jesus Christ, and points toward the transformation of the world. Together, they enlarge the company that shares our commitment to life-transforming faith.

I read these numbers with praise and also humility which is rooted in the awareness that the growth of the church comes not from our human efforts but through God’s initiative through the Holy Spirit. We expect and experience great things in faith as we engage in God’s mission.

574 of the new churches and cell groups came through Mission Initiatives primarily in Asia and Eastern Europe, with some in areas of Africa outside of existing annual conferences. Many of these churches are in Southeast Asia, with 192 in Vietnam. Cambodia and Laos are also areas of growth in that region. The mission in Cambodia is a collaborative among five Methodist mission agencies that is moving toward being an autonomous Methodist church under indigenous leadership.

Global Ministries has responsibility for the Mission Initiatives. One priority is to train pastors and laity for leadership in these emerging churches. We appreciate the important roles that our seminaries, conferences, and congregations play in assisting with such training and donating to this ministry.

The Rev. Ut To, missionary with Global Ministries assigned to Vietnam, participates in song during a worship service in Vietnam.

The Rev. Ut To, missionary with Global Ministries assigned to Vietnam, participates in song during a worship service in Vietnam.

A central lesson we should learn from the new report is to focus on bright spots in our church and thereby create the energy to move forward. Refugees and immigrants are often pivotal in the launch of new Mission Initiatives. Several conferences and districts in East and West Africa have been planted by United Methodist immigrants fleeing from war or famine in their home countries. The remarkable growth of our work in Southeast Asia is the result of migrant involvement in God’s mission.

About a decade ago in both Laos and Vietnam, our first missionaries were indigenous persons who became refugees as a result of armed conflict. They made their way to the United States, became Christians and United Methodists, and felt the call to take the Gospel to their countries of origin. Such persons have an understanding of the culture and the language to make a significant impact.

I am very conscious of the value of immigrant missionaries in the spread of Methodism because it is how our church came to Germany, my homeland in the 19th century.  So I owe a big personal debt to a migrant missionary. Whether in Germany in the 19th century or Vietnam in the late 20th century, mission service that may seem small at the time can change the future of people, families, and communities. Those US Methodists receiving the first refugees from that far away land with love and compassion would probably have never dreamt to have sown the first seeds of a new mission movement in South East Asia decades later.  This is the way of mission: acting in faith and letting God bring about the increase.

*Kemper is the general secretary for the General Board of Global Ministries.

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The Story of My Church

Date Posted: 7/06/2013 9:00:00 AM
Posted By: Global Ministries

by Katarina Nikolic

Katarina Nikolic is a Roma local pastor for the UMC congregation in Srbobran, Serbia.
Katarina Nikolic is a Roma local pastor for the UMC congregation in Srbobran, Serbia.
PHOTO: ÜLLAS TANKLER

Pastor Katica Dukai was born in the late 1920s and raised among both Roma and Hungarians in Srbobran, a town in Yugoslavia (now Serbia). She lived in Srbobran for some years and then moved to Senta, about 65 km (40 miles) away. In Senta, she became a pastor of The United Methodist Church. Yet, every Monday, she came back by bicycle to evangelize in the Srbobran Gypsy village. None of the Roma wanted to hear the word of God, but she was moved by Jesus’ love in her heart and was ready to make a sacrifice. My grandfather on my mother’s side once said to Pastor Katica: “Do not come to us anymore. We do not want God’s word.
We are cursed people.”

But after a break, he said: “Wait! Maybe you can help our kids.”

This was a prophetic word. Before then, Pastor Katica was relegated to the streets, but from that time on, she was invited into my parents’ house. Each Monday morning—arriving by bicycle, after pedaling 40 miles to Srbobran and facing a 40-mile ride back to Senta—Pastor Katica came to read the Bible, sing, and pray with our whole family. This began in 1960.

My parents were in a hard and troubled marriage. They had lost three children, though my two sisters and one brother survived. They didn’t want to have any more children. So when my mother became pregnant with me, she wanted to abort me and tried three times. Three times she went to the doctor, but there was always something wrong that made an abortion impossible. God had a different plan for my family and for me.

The Roma congregation in Srbobran, Serbia, celebrates the 20th anniversary of the Srbobran UMC. PHOTO: KATARINA NIKOLIC
The Roma congregation in Srbobran, Serbia, celebrates the 20th anniversary of the Srbobran UMC.
PHOTO: KATARINA NIKOLIC

My parents lived in great poverty. We had a kitchen and one small room for four kids and our parents to live in. But we were glad when each Monday came, and many relatives came to our house to meet with Pastor Katica and pray. She brought peace to our house, so my parents were not always arguing. She told them that a child is a gift from God. So I was born in 1975 and they gave me the name of the pastor: “Katica.”

A Call to Serve

By the time I was five years old, there was a lot of joy in our house. Pastor Katica had already taught me the Lord’s Prayer and my first song, “God Loves Me Dearly.” We lived for 20 years in that small old house and we never quit God’s word. After that, my father constructed a new house in the same yard, and there we lived for another 21 years—in a small place, but with a lot of joy.

Pastor Katica Dukai continued to visit every week until the summer of 1992. (By then she came by bus or someone drove her by car). Within this long time, she had become part of our family. But in autumn 1992, she became very ill and could not come regularly anymore. So, on October 26, 1992, together with my parents, I started reading the church magazine and various testimonies of others out loud. That was very interesting for our family, and soon 20 adults and 20 children came to hear the readings. For two years we had a prayer hour every night with song and word. It was a blessing for our family.

From 1960 until 1992, we had thought that The United Methodist Church was only Pastor Katica Dukai, because, in all that time, no one else from a church had ever come to visit us or get to know us. We were all alone. In the winter of 1992, for the first time, our brothers and sisters from the Kisac community visited us and brought with them some small humanitarian help—food and toiletries. This was a great help for us.

Many Gypsies live without attending school or finding legitimate work. They are oppressed and destitute everywhere. It was a great joy for my community to receive this help. But then, we were alone again. Pastor Katica’s health situation worsened, and I realized in 1992 that Jesus was calling me to service. Because I was Roma, “a Gypsy,” I was not even fully included in the church, but Pastor Katica had much love for me and helped me to take German lessons. She helped me attend a Bible school in Adelboden, Switzerland. I also attended the Baptist theological school in Novi Sad, Serbia, for one year.

A Church of Our Own

In 2001, after I passed the examination by the Serbia Conference Board of Ordained Ministry, the Swiss UMC Zigeunermission (“Gypsy mission”) bought a house for us in which we still live today. That same year, Pastor Urs Gassmann from Switzerland, together with Pastor Katica Dukai, established an official United Methodist Church in Srbobran, Serbia. They affiliated 20 members (19 Roma and one Serb), baptized 15 adults, and consecrated 15 children. So in 2001, we celebrated the Holy Communion as a congregation for the first time.

Worship at Srbobran UMC in Serbia. PHOTO: ÜLLAS TANKLER
Worship at Srbobran UMC in Serbia. PHOTO: ÜLLAS TANKLER

In 2003, I passed the examinations to become a deacon in full connection. I serve thanks to the love and virtue of Jesus, but it is not easy for me as a woman to do everything on my own. I hold a community service in addition to the regular church work, which is attended by Roma women and girls. This is where we learn about health, hygiene, and reproductive issues. The women and girls also love to make handicrafts, and the young women now learn how to read.

I meet with a group of 25 children and we have lessons in the church every Saturday. I teach the children English and German. We also play different games and dance Gypsy dances, which are very interesting for our nation. Youth in our youth group are looking for work and therefore do not come very often, but we keep in touch. On Sunday afternoons, we worship; Monday is our “Care of Souls”; Tuesdays are for visiting; and Wednesday, we hold a praise service. On Thursdays I visit the elderly and sick in their homes and at the hospital. On Friday, we have prayer and Bible lessons, and on Saturday, I am with children and young people. My schedule is full and I’m grateful to Jesus for that.

Manuel sleeps at the end of Bible lessons
Manuel sleeps at the end of Bible lessons. He has two brothers from different fathers and his mother is married and living in Belgium. The kids live on the street and find refuge at the church.
PHOTO: KATARINA NIKOLIC

Even today, the people here are forsaken, without any assistance to survive. Many children are abandoned by their parents and live in the streets. They come to the church because they can find an open door here and a safe place, especially when I prepare some food or have some clothing to give them. I have a lot of ideas about how to help these children and the adult Roma, and I need prayers and support. Unfortunately, no one else from a city—or a humanitarian aid organization—or another church helps much. I have not found the right person or organization to help me so that the Roma here can live a better life and come to know Jesus. I’m grateful for anyone who will pray for this to happen.

We sing in Serbian and Romani, which is our Roma language, and we have made the first songbook with Christian songs in Romani. We are very happy people because we know that Jesus loves us as we are. We know that he will come in power.

Katarina Nikolic is an ordained deacon and local pastor with The United Methodist Church in Serbia. The article first appeared in the May-June 2013 edition of New World Outlook.

My Aldersgate Tapestry Experience

Date Posted: 20/05/2013 10:09:12 AM
Posted By: Global Ministries

by Rev. Elizabeth S. Tapia*

Young Girls in PhilippinesMy 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.

John Wesley gives money to the poor in this artist rendering . Drawing courtesy of The United Methodist Commission on Archives and History.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!

portrait of Elizabeth Tapia*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.

Children Shine in Grenada

Date Posted: 6/05/2013 4:00:00 PM
Posted By: Global Ministries

Anna Gill with her Sunday School class in Grenada
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.

They are helpful.

They are funny…

… fast…

…and adorable!

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

They are considerate.

They love being silly for the camera.

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

I could go on and 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.   

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

Date Posted: 29/04/2013 3:45:36 PM
Posted By: Global Ministries

by Elaine M. La Van

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.

self-portrait girl with long hair and quote

Artwork by Elaine La Van
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.

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.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7-sigUxXsAA

*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.”