Global Ministries

The United Methodist Church

Connecting the Church in Mission

Thomas Kemper Address to Global Ministries Directors

General Secretary’s Report
October 22, 2012

A Covenant of Hope in Mission

Welcome and Contextual Matters:

This is an historical meeting of the directors of the General Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church, the first session under a new governance plan wherein almost 30 percent of you, the directors, are from Central Conferences. Also, it is the first meeting with United Methodist Women as a separate but related organization. We convene with a refocused strategic plan and a refined management structure ready to implement the decisions and policies that you forge for global mission in a time such as this. Our twice-yearly meetings will by necessity be concentrated and convened with the expectation that all of us, directors and staff, are equipped to engage in the dialogue and action required to carry out our mission mandates.

          We meet at a time of reassessment of structures and relationships within our denomination, but at a door of great potential, a time to be open to innovation and new forms of collaboration on many fronts. We come together not only in faith but also in hope.

I. A Covenant of Hope

My mind, no, let me say, my soul has been much fixed on hope as a theological and psychological reality in recent months and days, an awareness that came into sharp focus during an illuminating and distressing week in the Holy Land, in Israel/Palestine, earlier this month. I returned just 10 days ago from a trip timed to the formal launching of the new Methodist Liaison Office in Jerusalem, a project about which I will say more later.

          The hope that surrounded me on that trip—that remains with me, and, I hope, is evident in my whole being, came from the reliance upon God through Jesus Christ that I experienced among Palestinian Christians. Their numbers declining, their daily lives restricted by checkpoints and walls, the Palestinian faithful still abide in hope. I am drawn to Psalm 42, which is used often by Palestinian Christians, the song beginning:

As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
Where shall I come and behold the face of God?
My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me continually, “Where is your God?” (Psalm 42:1-3)

          I share this with you not because this agency is persecuted or hemmed in, but because we have the opportunity to praise God and serve God’s mission with joyful hearts, and to hear the cries and learn from the faith of brothers and sisters who are constrained.

          Let us live in hope, even as do our Palestinian colleagues. Can we now, at the very start of this quadrennium, covenant one with another, directors and staff, to live and act in hope?

          Can we covenant to pursue in hope our four mission goals?

  • Make disciples of Jesus Christ;
  • Strengthen, develop, and renew Christian congregations and communities;
  • Alleviate human suffering;
  • Seek justice, freedom, and peace.

          Hope is so essential to our work. The directors of this agency form the voice of mission accountability for this denomination! You hold the banner of hope in mission for the United Methodist people.

          It is in a spirit of hope that we hear the voices within the church calling agencies to more transparency, to greater emphasis on collaboration within the connection, with ecumenical partners, and with private and governmental entities that share our values. Often in my reports to you I will mention measures underway to implement the sense of collaboration, of mission partnership, embedded in our strategic plan.

          It is in a spirit of hope that since the 2012 General Conference we have moved to implement the reorganization formally approved there on the basis of the operational audit and strategic plan. Communications and Development—the latter includes The Advance—is well positioned to accomplish its interrelated tasks. Mission and Evangelism is settling in as the home of two important units, Justice and Relationships, and Missionary Services, the latter incorporating volunteers in mission. Mission Theology and Evaluation is the umbrella for the topics it names, as well as leadership development and General Conference-mandated programs, including the ethnic and language plans. We are also moving toward this unit as the locus of our monitoring and evaluation of the whole agency. UMCOR, an integral part of Global Ministries, is becoming even more flexible and nimble in response to disaster and in launching development and health programs, as well as serving as the implementer of the action components in the church’s Imagine No Malaria campaign. Finance and Administration quietly and with remarkable efficiency maintains our organizational integrity in matters of funding, investments, and auditing, as well as administrative service. This unit and Communications and Development are leading our efforts in collaboration with other general agencies, human resources being one particular focus. I hope you have read and will refer as needed to the helpful summary of board structure and operation in the budget booklet you received in the early October mailing.

          Later this week, you will be asked to elect two deputy general secretaries, one to head Communications and Development and one to lead Mission and Evangelism, which will fill out the board cabinet, with the exception of the deputy for UMCOR, left vacant in July with the election of the Rev. Cynthia Harvey to the episcopacy. The other two cabinet members are Roland Fernandes and the Rev. Jorge Domingues. And let me also report that Melissa Crutchfield, the new associate for Health and Development of UMCOR, will be sitting in cabinet until a new deputy is selected for that unit.

II. Mission Covenant and Theology

Hope is the foundation of the covenant we have with God to makes disciples for the transformation of the world, to take the Good News of God’s grace and love to all places. Our Global Ministries’ Mission Theology Statement declares:

God’s light shines in every corner of the earth, and God’s Mission extends to all creation. There are no places where God’s grace has not always been present, only places where God in Christ is not recognized, served, or heeded. Because God’s image is present in every human being throughout the world, mission partnership embraces witness in all cultures, traditions, political arrangements, economic structures, and languages. Partners in God’s Mission seek to hear God’s voice, to discover the signs of the moving of the Spirit through the world today, and to bear witness to God’s activity—overarching past, present, and future—in every local setting.

          These sentences came to mind a few weeks ago as I read the remarkable new ecumenical mission affirmation from the World Council of Churches, a statement received by the WCC’s central committee for consideration and, likely, adoption next fall by the council’s assembly in Busan, Korea. It is the first such document since 1982, when the Protestant and Eastern Orthodox member communions issued a mission statement. This time, both Roman Catholic and Pentecostal representatives took part in the hearings and drafting that took place over a number of years. It runs to 19 pages in length, and, no, I don’t propose to read it to you, but I must say that I thought it quite moderate in length for its scope.

          I do want to share a few of the images of mission from the WCC statement, to indicate how it resonates with our sense of purpose and covenant in mission. The ecumenical implications should not be missed, because today no communion can go it alone in mission. Our mission statement affirms the universal light of God, the breadth of God’s grace, and the wisdom to seek partners in obedience to God’s voice. The working title of the WCC document is “Together Toward Life: Mission and Evangelism in Changing Landscapes.” Like our mission theology statement, it begins with the theme of God’s creation, affirms the Trinitarian nature of God, and explores the role of the Holy Spirit in mission. Our new statement says:

The Spirit is always moving to sweep the Church into a new mission age. With openness and gratitude we await the leading of the Spirit in ways not yet seen as God continues towork God’s purposes out in our own day in a new way.

          The World Council paper acknowledges the Holy Spirit as the “liberator” that sets us free from self-preoccupation to imitate Jesus in liberating the oppressed, opening eyes, and announcing the coming of God’s realm (Luke 4:16-18), all acts rooted in hope. I quote: “He [Jesus] went about fulfilling this mission by opting to be with the marginalized people of his time, not out of paternalistic charity but because their situations testified to the sinfulness of the world, and their yearnings for life pointed to God’s purpose.”

          But the WCC statement turns upside down the image we usually have of mission and margins. Here, it is not mission from the center to the margins that is put in the spotlight but, rather, “mission from the margins.” How strongly this resonates with our current emphasis that moves us away from ministry “to” or “for” persons, leading us to affirm and join “with” the ministry of the marginalized. Hear the WCC paper:

Christian mission has at times been understood and practiced in ways which failed to recognize God’s alignment with those consistently pushed to the margins. Therefore, mission from the margins invites the church to re-imagine mission as a vocation from God’s Spirit who works for a world where the fullness of life is available for all.

          We are aware that the face of United Methodism is changing globally and within the United States, and we are being called to look toward those places and people once considered on the margins for the spiritual energy and for examples of faithfulness to the hope of God’s realm in history.

          Approximately half of our global missionaries today are from countries outside the United States, many of whom began life on the margins and found their ways through hard work and talent into professional service. The young adults, increasingly international, who become mission interns or accept short-term mission appointments, comprehend the importance of seeing Jesus in lives on the margins. One of our recent Global Justice Volunteers, a young man from Liberia, wrote when he was back home to those with whom he had worked in the Philippines for several weeks. He extolled the “with” approach to mission and the necessity of hearing and respecting the voices of indigenous people on the economic margins. He ended his letter: “May the love of God continue to abide with you, my fellow Filipinos.” Within God’s grace, we are all brothers and sisters with people of all nationalities, languages, and cultures.

          In our leadership grants both international and in the US we are seeking recipients who exemplify and celebrate mission from the margins. We are looking for missionaries who understand the importance of being at the margins and allow the Holy Spirit to lead them to the margins. If ever there was a church at the margins it is the Methodist Church in Colombia, small, poor, and beset with the social challenges of that country. Yet, Global Ministries recently commissioned four missionaries from the Colombian Methodist community for work in other Latin American countries: Mission from the margins.

          As difficult as the post-2010 earthquake work in Haiti continues to be, I believe that the success of UMCOR-related efforts there occurs in large part because it is planned and carried out in close collaboration with the indigenous Methodist Church and local communities. Our Volunteer-in-Mission teams work alongside Haitians who are trying to move their families and themselves into self-sufficiency. This is a strong model for all our future post-disaster relief and rehabilitation as well as our volunteer mission teams.

          I am convinced that the whole of our denomination should be looking to the margins for examples and energy as we seek to achieve the objectives of the bishops’ Call to Action, especially with regard to the development of vital congregations in the United States. We have discussed this idea with the Path One leadership, which, along with the Rev. Candice Lewis, the new team leader, spent two days with us here at 475 Riverside Drive a few weeks ago; our interaction was around ways to best collaborate. We believe the church can learn important lessons about congregation building from Laos and Mongolia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, or Chile. I suggested at the meeting that any new congregation in the US should start out with some mission relationship beyond itself, not only a relationship in its own community, but also globally. Think of the strength of purpose if a new Vietnamese congregation in this country were linked to an emerging church in Vietnam. Or, strong cross-cultural links could also be effective. The idea is to be global in vision, and the General Board of Global Ministries could help those linkages happen.

          Ministry with the Poor is one of the more obvious areas in which we are working from and on the margins. This has been in our portfolio since the four focus areas were introduced by the Connectional Table and Council of Bishops five or six years ago. It linked a denominational emphasis to existing Global Ministries’ commitments, and we have worked with the other agencies in broadening and deepening the United Methodist reach in the alleviation and eradication of poverty, always stressing partnership with those on the margins. We are not certain of the future of the four focus areas. Decisions will most likely be proposed next month at the meeting of the Council of Bishops. Major responsibilities for Ministry with the Poor as a focus area could be shifted to another agency, but, regardless, we shall continue to work at and from the economic margins.

          At this point, let me move to several specific reports on matters affecting the way we go about work in this era of changing mission structures and patterns. Our theology, our sense of covenant in mission, is demonstrated in our actions.

III. Realities of the Hour

1. Finances and staff: Roland’s budget presentation earlier was clear and thorough and I want to repeat none of it. I do want to underscore a few issues from the budget booklet you received in the mail early this month.

          Let me be direct. We are not entering the new quadrennium with the financial tremors but we are proceeding with great caution. As we are all aware, the 2012 General Conference reduced by 10 percent all general agency World Service allocations for 2013-2016. Of course, this cuts into our funding for mission, but let us not overlook the fact that $12 million of the reduction was reallocated for the education of new clergy around the world. The creation of the Central Conference theological education fund is a great advantage to our work, notably in Africa where the church is growing, but, we have learned from recent studies, not as rapidly in percentages as our Anglican and Nazarene sister denominations. We need a new generation of well-trained clergy in all geographical areas. The second fund targets clergy development in the US, and we welcome that as a move toward more and more vital congregations. It was with the agreement of the general agencies that the theological education allocations were made in Tampa. Theological education is a form of mission; we have a stake in these funds.

          We project a $45.1 million budget for 2013, which is $1.1 million more than this year, a figure that takes into account $1 million from reserves and transfers of funds and staff among our units. We expect a World Service payout rate of 85 percent in 2013.

          Some staff realities deserve explanation. In June of this year, we offered a voluntary severance package to all staff. Thirty-eight persons, professional and support staff, took the offer, and most of those colleagues will be leaving us in early December. We will need to replace 21 of those staff members, meaning a reduction of 17 positions through the voluntary severance. Another eight support and technical positions have been eliminated. These terminations were necessary to support emerging program initiatives, but they were painful, deeply painful, to make, and I know they resulted in anxiety and sadness. I have met with staff members upset by the action, and I am so grateful for the grace staff has demonstrated as together we live into this new structure.

While we have fewer staff through the voluntary severance and termination, we pick up 16 staff persons through realignments involving UMCOR. The UMCOR communications department is being integrated into the central communications operation of Global Ministries, and the UMCOR-NGO is being brought directly into the UMCOR unit, with financial and administrative services provided by Global Ministries. UMCOR’s cost reimbursement to Global Ministries will, therefore, increase by $1.8 million.

          If you have not already done so, I hope you will read the detailed information on unit staff additions, reductions, and transfers for 2013 found in the budget booklet.

          2. Global Presence: Our global presence as a mission agency for the 21st century is expanding, not only with respect to mission from the margins but in terms of where we represent The United Methodist Church. We now have staff based in Europe and Latin America. Plans for an East Asia Office in Hong Kong, with a special focus on China, are underway in collaboration with the autonomous Methodist Church of Hong Kong. We are collaborating with United Methodist Women on a center and program in Tokyo that will enhance community-based ministries with Japanese mission partners. Our global presence is enlarged by our series of Mission Roundtables, where all stakeholders in a particular country, region, or topic meet as equals to form strategies and make commitments in keeping with indigenous goals and objectives.

          Our global presence is underscored by the fact that our missionaries, including young adult programs, are, as we say, “from everywhere to everywhere.” We anticipate the continuing increase in the number of missionaries next year, we hope by 80, including 50 young adults.

          Earlier this year, we marked the 60th anniversary of the US-2 young adult missionary experience and the 35th anniversary of Mission Interns. We now count the truly short-term Global Justice Volunteer and Summer Volunteer programs in our young adult mission portfolio. You will be hearing in other sessions about options for the future of our young.

          The opening of the Jerusalem Office, mentioned earlier, is a case in point of growing global presence. For almost 30 years we have had a liaison missionary in Jerusalem and for 20 years we have posted other missionaries to specific ministries linked to Palestinian Christian institutions. UMCOR has been active in the area with refugees since the early 1950s, and in all of this work our major linkages are through the Middle East Council of Churches, which since 1972 has included both indigenous Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches, and Europe-originated Protestant churches
and organizations.

          Our new office, co-directed by two missionaries, expands the Methodist presence through collaboration. Our project partners are the British Methodist Church and the World Methodist Council. The physical offices are at the Tantur Ecumenical Center that is between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Our objectives are to contribute to an increase of peace, justice, truth, and mercy in the Holy Land. The office will resource Methodists worldwide on relevant issues regarding Israel/Palestine; promote theological reflection and dialogue, facilitate pilgrims and volunteers to encounter local Christian communities, and it will organize with partners ministries of healing and wholeness. The purpose statement also emphasizes the building of interfaith relations with Jewish and Muslim communities.

          The formal opening of the office was a wonderful ecumenical event, attended by many Christian leaders in the region, including the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem. Our missionaries across the years have left a positive impression of the love and hope that dwell within Methodist hearts.

          We have clear understandings with the British Methodist Church and the World Council on how we will operate going forward. Both of those organizations share our United Methodist commitment to justice for Palestinians and the removal of Israeli settlements from Palestinian land, a position repeatedly expressed by our General Conference.

I fully support the letter written by 15 ecumenical church leaders to members of the US Congress, urging them to investigate possible violations by Israel of the US Foreign Assistance Act and US Arms Export Control Act. You may have read in The New York Times on Saturday that a regular Christian-Jewish dialogue meeting, set for today, has been cancelled by the Jewish side in response to the letter.

As a German, and as a Christian, I fully support the existence of Israel within secure borders, but we cannot keep quiet when international law is broken and people are being humiliated and oppressed. So, I was pleased that the president of the Council of Bishops signed this letter, and I hope that the Jewish-Christian dialogue and relationship will continue even as we dare to speak the truth in a difficult matter.

          One of the most lasting impressions of the trip to open the office was that of “the wall”—the Israeli-built wall that excludes many Palestinians and serves as a barrier to free mobility for even more. As a German, I could not see that wall without thinking of “our wall”—the one that so long divided my country; I remember the checkpoints I negotiated in 1974 when I first took part in an ecumenical event in Rostock, then in East Germany. We sang a song about God’s transforming love, but one verse about a wall we were not allowed to sing in East Germany. Did we believe in 1974 that the wall would ever come down? I doubt it. Did we believe that the pastor of the host Lutheran church in Rostock would become the president of Germany? We did not even imagine this, but we had hope.

          “By my God, I can leap over a wall,” cries out Palm 18. “By my God, I can leap over a wall.” God makes wall jumping possible. The Palestinian Christians I encountered hold to that hope. Let us be as hopeful in our context, and let us stand in hope with them!

          We are increasing our program presence in the Bethlehem area, in the village of Wadi Foquin, where the wall and what it represents make life difficult for the population of 1,200, mostly Muslims with a small Christian minority. Through prayer and action we are trying to make a difference in that place. Wadi Foquin is to become the first of our Community Developer sites outside the United States, and the work there is approved as an Advance for the next quadrennium. The village is in the Occupied West Bank, squeezed between the strongly patrolled Israeli border on one side and the large Betar Illit settlers’ city on the other—this growing settlement of 40,000 built on land seized from Wadi Foquin. The village residents also face the likelihood of having more land taken for a new separation wall.

          Earning a living is hard, especially for women, young people, and refugees. The future looks bleak for children and victims of abuse in what is essentially a rural culture being overwhelmed by illegal urbanization. Our work there will focus on leadership and development, conducted in collaboration with a United Methodist Volunteers in Mission initiative pioneered in Wadi Foquin by the California-Nevada Annual Conference. We will place a community developer in the village to work with our personnel already in the region in assisting villagers to look for new avenues of employment, seek job training, learn Hebrew for job advancement, reclaim abandoned buildings, and organize first aid services. The project’s pilot stage is three years.

          Modest start-up funds from Global Ministries will, we hope, be augmented by Advance gifts and supported through the UMVIM network. This is an exiting new use of Community Development funds, which I am sure you know come annually from the Human Relations Day Special Offering. In Wadi Foquin, we hope to make a significant contribution to human dignity and give foundations to economic hope through prayers, presence, and hard work.

          3. East Africa Issue: Most, if not all, of you are aware that both Global Ministries and the General Council on Finance and Administration have suspended the transfer of general church funds to the East Africa Annual Conference. I mention this now, but will defer details since Bishop Peter Weaver, head of our independent audit committee, will be bringing you a report on the matter tomorrow. The suspension, which was affirmed by GCFA, was a necessary action when three successive audits could get no satisfactory reports on the disposition of funds provided to the conference.

          GCFA’s directors also voted to file a formal complaint against Bishop Daniel Wandabula with the College of Bishops of the Africa Central Conference, and intimated that other legal action may be forthcoming. Let me share with you the statement issued by Bishop Michael Coyner, president of GCFA, in September:

Our UMC structures are based upon trust, and whenever there are any concerns about trust—including financial trust—those concerns must be dealt with seriously, prayerfully, and thoroughly. The actions of GCFA reflect our fiduciary responsibility for the whole church as we work to protect, defend, and strengthen the trust our United Methodist people have in their churches, conference, agencies and projects. We take these actions in concert with other entities within the Church to assure the funds are being used for the work for which they were intended.

          Some voices have wondered if special efforts should be taken to provide supplementary funds to some ministries, notably those affecting children, while the legal and accounting matters are sorted out. As I have explained to churches raising this issue, the East Africa Conference bears the responsibility of maintaining its programs, most especially when it has received funds for them. We do not want to set up projects, or funding channels, that circumvent the conference. We want the conference to live up to its obligations. The fund suspension can be lifted; the funds can flow again, when the conference accounts for its stewardship.

          4. Global Health: I will end this section of my comments with a few words on global health as one of the major realities on our mission agenda. We are all aware of the important work done to combat malaria through the focus area of health and the Imagine No Malaria campaign—which has both fundraising and action components. UMCOR Health is a major, major player in this venture, along with United Methodist Communications. UMCOR has the capacity to work with the government health departments in Africa that distribute mosquito nets and the network to provide the kind of family and community training needed to effectively use the nets. We have trained health boards in almost all of our annual conferences in Africa as a way toward African ownership of this particular development work.

          We will continue our pivotal involvement in Imagine No Malaria and, at the same time, I am hopeful, gain a vision of broader global health possibilities. As Global Ministries we have a long, and a strong, heritage of initiatives and collaborations in the health ministries. Hospitals and clinics, literally around the world, bear the name “Methodist” because of the work of this mission board. We continue to help some of those institutions upgrade their facilities. We have been a leader in church response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic, work now concentrated in the Global AIDS Fund.

          I imagine a renewal of United Methodist commitment to health ministries on a broad scale, revitalizing some of the historic commitments, linking health more closely to ministries with women and children, identifying persons from the margins who can be effective in health services within their communities. I hope that some of our leadership development energy will flow in that direction.

          I dream of, and I hope you will help me realize, a Global Health Advisory Council for this board, a panel including some of the best minds in public health from within and beyond our denomination. I dream of ways we can position ourselves to be the catalyst for a new era of health ministries appropriate to this century—health ministries pointed toward justice as well as mercy.

IV. Conclusion

I conclude by returning to the proposal that we make a covenant one with another to pursue God’s mission in hope. The covenant is with God and among ourselves. The covenant is global. Mission must be global in theology and practice, it must be unconditioned by the restraints and preoccupations of any particular culture or country.

          The current US presidential campaign is the first I have observed up close, and I have been amazed by the degree to which much politicking in this country is, almost unconsciously, conditioned by a sense of “American exceptionalism”—a special place and people, a kind of worldwide manifest destiny. It makes me wonder if that is the case in other countries, perhaps even my own German homeland, and that we fail to notice it because of familiarity, seeing it best in others. I raise it here because it reminds me that we as Christians are exceptional because of God’s grace through the love of Jesus Christ, not because of our culture or nation, all of which are questioned by the gospel. We are exceptional because God loves us, and gives us the capacity to say “yes” to the divine call to be in mission. We are exceptionally fortunate in this calling.

          We now will go to dinner and let our fellowship around the table be a seal of the covenant we make with one another to following God’s will together—in hope—across the coming quadrennium. Thank you for having agreed to be directors of the General Board of Global Ministries.