In Christian lingo, "to discern" means to perceive God's call or spiritual direction.
This week, a class of seven young adult US missionaries, US-2s, are meeting in New York to be in community and to discern their call to work for justice one year into their two-year missionary service.
They are a diverse group, coming together from far-flung places across the United States to share the meaning and purpose of their work and to learn from and challenge one another. The young adults are "intentionally stretched spiritually, and intentionally tested mentally" during this midterm, as stated in the guide for the training, led by Elizabeth Lee, executive for young adult ministries of the General Board of Global Ministries.
During their five days in New York City, the missionaries have been meeting at the Interchurch Center, Alma Mathews House, the Media that Matters film festival, the Church Center at the United Nations (CCUN), a community organizing center, John Street Church (United Methodist Church), and the financial district. In these places they are learning about farmworkers, sweatshops, the Occupy Wall Street movement, migration, faith-based responses to systemic injustice, and discernment.
While some staff of the General Board of Global Ministries have listened in and contributed to the young adults' discussions, so, too, grassroots leaders and religious mentors have shared their faith journeys with the missionaries.
On Wednesday, October 26, 2011, the missionaries spoke at a UN-related event at the CCUN on "The Things that Make for Peace," along with Former Bangladeshi Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury, Father Michael Lapsley, and peace activist Cora Weiss. This was "a pretty impressive group," said Ms. Lee. These peacemakers contributed to the conversation on discernment by challenging one another to continue the difficult work of seeking peace and justice in communities and defying, nonviolently, the pervasiveness of violence in society.
Learning about Discernment
The day before the CCUN gathering, Father Michael Lapsey, the Anglican priest who came to international attention in the 1970s for his work on eliminating the racism of apartheid in South Africa spoke to the young adults on the topic "Living a Life of Reconciliation and Healing."
What was Father Lapsey's message to the young adults? "To love God with heart, mind, soul, strength, and to love neighbor as self."
He spoke of his own life, a life in which he chose to "follow the radical demands of the gospel of Jesus Christ in South Africa, a place where everything was defined by race."
Father Lapsey's story is dramatic and inspiring. While exiled from South Africa to Zimbabwe in April 1990, a letter bomb stuffed between two religious magazines exploded in his hands, causing the loss of Father Lapsey's hands, one eye, and shattering his eardrums. In the more than 20 years since this tragedy, Michael has journeyed to a place of forgiveness and leadership in healing, including his work as the director of the Institute for the Healing of Memories, based in South Africa.
While the seven missionaries have been part of panels on peace, discernment, and justice, they have deepened their friendships with one another and made new friends. During this midterm training, they have empowered one another to continue their missionary work for the next year.
"I feel that the midterm is a way for me to better understand what I can offer Cunningham by using tools like empowerment and organizing the youth to take charge of their futures and lives and to better their communities and families," said Camille Duhon.
Ms. Duhon is one missionary discerning her calling in society and in the church. The entire class of US-2 missionaries, their conferences of origin, and their places of assignment, includes:
California-Pacific Annual Conference
Assignment: Cunningham Children's Home
Devin M. Hanson
Dakotas Annual Conference
Assignment: N.O.A.H. Project (Networking, Organizing, and Advocating for the Homeless)
Joseph S. Hopkins
Susquehanna Annual Conference
Assignment: Interfaith Worker for Justice
Kevin E. Huff
Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference
Assignment: Calvary United Methodist Church (Neighborhood Ministry)
Jamila H. Hunter
New York Annual Conference
Assignment: Fountain of Youth
New Orleans, Louisiana
Kathryn S. Monfortte
Northern Illinois Annual Conference
Assignment: Susanna Wesley Community Center
Ashley Christine Rosser
California-Pacific Annual Conference
Assignment: United Campus Ministry
Fargo, North Dakota