Celebrating Mission in West Virginia
By Melissa Hinnen
“Without mission we lose our fire. How do we reignite that fire of mission in our churches?” the Rev. Ron Whitlatch asked United Methodists gathered early on a Saturday morning in Cross Lanes, W. Va.
For the remainder of the day, Mission Celebration participants explored ways to answer Whitlach’s question. They shared their passions for mission and heard from missionaries, volunteers and representatives from the General Board of Global Ministries.
The Rev. Gary Nelson, senior pastor of Cross Lanes (W.Va.) United Methodist Church, organized the celebration. Recognizing that churches in the West Virginia Annual Conference have a heart for mission, he wanted to celebrate what was already happening and lift up new opportunities available through the United Methodist connection.
Nelson began planning the celebration by contacting Whitlatch, a Global Ministries missionary serving as the Northeastern Jurisdiction mission interpreter. Coordinating plans with staff from Global Ministries and in partnership with the West Virginia Conference, Cross Lanes church members hosted the daylong event. They invited United Methodists from throughout the conference. The Conference Council on Youth Ministries also attended. Pastors could earn continuing education credit for participating.
“How can we get started?” asked an attendee who said her church is not outward looking. Other participants came from congregations with local ministries but wanted to learn more about what is happening globally in The United Methodist Church. One person wanted to explore new ways to engage young people in mission opportunities.
Whitlatch used the biblical story of the loaves and fishes to encourage them.
“A poor boy who was not even counted among the 5,000 offered to share his meager masa,” Whitlatch recalled, and “yet his actions were the spark to a miracle.” He reinforced the message as he said, “Put what little you have in God's hands and miracles will happen.”
Voices of Mission
Worship, workshops, presentations and question-and-answer sessions highlighted mission and ministry happening in West Virginia and around the world.
Participants met Markus Wolfmaier, a missionary pilot from Sweden who is preparing to serve in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He first felt God’s calling to be a missionary when he read Isaiah 40:4 at the age of 11. As a pilot, he said, he lives that Scripture of “overcoming the wilderness, straightening the roads and leveling the mountains and hills by flying over them.” People listening to Wolfmaier also learned how their churches could establish a covenant relationship with him or other missionaries.
He closed by asking them for their prayers. “I want to be in relationship with you,” he said. “I need your support as much as I need my plane.”
Kathy Kraiza, who leads the relief supply efforts for the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), taught participants how to start a hands-on kit ministry. She explained that the relief supply network makes it possible for donors to ship kits and cleaning buckets to their closest depot rather than pay the extra cost for shipping items to UMCOR’s Louisiana depot. Attendees had brought health kit items and, with Kraiza’s direction, they assembled kits. She also reminded them that UMCOR relies on One Great Hour of Sharing contributions to keep its operations strong. This year’s offering is on March 10.
The youth heard about the young adult missionary program from Joy Prim, a Mission Intern who recently returned to the United States after spending 18 months in Hong Kong. Prim spoke of finding her sense of self and how God worked through her to help transform the lives of migrant workers, many of whom had been exploited.
“Along the streets of Hong Kong, because I stand out when I speak out, I help reveal the faces of workers who are invisible to society,” she said. “This was transformational for me as someone who always wanted to blend in.”
The celebration closed as participants shared Holy Communion in a large circle. Looking at the gathering, Nelson remarked, “The gifts in this circle have gone around the world and, thanks to our connection, we get to be part of it!”
Planning a Mission Celebration
The overview of the Mission Celebration at Cross Lanes United Methodist Church is available for download.
Churches and conferences are encouraged to celebrate mission in their own context. Outlines of some possible programs are available at www.umcmission.org/missioncelebrations.
The next Global Ministries Mission Celebration will be on Saturday, April 6, at Olivet United Methodist Church in Coatesville, Pa. If you are interested in attending or want more information about hosting a Mission Celebration in your area, please contact the Global Ministries mission celebrations office.
(top) Participants at the Cross Lanes Mission Celebration assemble health kits.
Intern, Joy Prim, teaches workshop participants a Filipino Dance that was choreographed by migrant workers for the “One Billion Rising” campaign.
Photos by Melissa Hinnen, Global Ministries