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.
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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