At the Intersection of Local Plans and Global Connections
by Thomas Kemper
The Rev. Sam Om is blessed for service by fellow missionaries. Photo: Melissa Hinnen
The Rev. Sam Om is one of our new United Methodist missionaries in Cambodia. Born in Cambodia, he fled warfare there and became a Christian in a refugee camp in the Philippines. From there, he came to the United States and joined a United Methodist Church. Eventually, he was ordained as an elder and then returned to Cambodia this year to work as a missionary in Christian education. Om’s mission journey is not unusual today and points to the reality that our denomination’s ethnic/language ministry plans in the United States are local, national, and global in scope.
The national ministry plans highlighted in this issue of New World Outlook have roots in the 1980s, when United Methodists were becoming increasingly aware of the ethnic, racial, and language diversities in annual conferences and neighborhoods across the United States. The church on both its highest legislative and community levels grasped its responsibility to minister with minority and migrant populations. The need was missional and it was natural that “Global Ministries,” as the mission agency, had an important role in launching these “national” plans.
As the Holy Spirit would have it, the “global” context was prophetic. Immigration and diversity continue to enrich both church and society in many countries and, at the same time, The United Methodist Church has expanded its mission outreach globally through new initiatives and stronger ties with global mission partners. National and global reinforce one another in mission. Our national plans are global and our global outreach affects local ministries. More than just programs, the plans are ways of thinking about the wonderful, global diversity of God’s people.
Sam Om is one of more than a dozen people who left Southeast Asia as a war refugee and returned to his homeland in recent years as a missionary after encountering our ethnic/language ministries in the United States. That refugees or migrants return as missionaries to their homelands is a part of the United Methodist DNA. United Methodism has one root in German immigrants in America, who founded the Evangelical United Brethren tradition, which later joined in forming The United Methodist Church in 1968. Some of those American EUB pioneers returned to Germany as missionaries, providing a foundation for the current Germany Central Conference, which is my home conference.
There are other examples of the local/global connection inherent in the US national plans. Immigrant United Methodists from Africa are enriching and reviving congregations in Germany and other parts of Europe. A Vietnamese congregation in the US becomes a mission partner with a local church in Ho Chi Minh City. A Ghanaian church in Italy engages in a mission project in Ghana.
In her book, Christian Mission: How Christianity Became a World Religion, Dana Robert of Boston University points to the importance of bicultural missionaries in the spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ from biblical times into the early Middle Ages. Immigrants who become missionaries, national plans that recognize human diversity, and mission across borders extend the story that began at Pentecost and continues on to the ends of the earth.
Thomas Kemper serves as General Secretary for the General Board of Global Ministries. This article was published as his column in the July-August 2014 issue of New World Outlook magazine.
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