The Work to Which We Are Called
General Secretary’s Report, October 2013
By Thomas Kemper
As we have just affirmed in the opening worship, we are here in joy, giving rise in mission to new life in the spirit and flesh, new hope for the entire world. Our joy and hope sends us into mission, into the work of the Gospel of Jesus Christ—the work to which we are called.
I turn first to scripture. Many of the Gospel stories in the New Testament deal with lakes and seas, boats, and fishing; after all, many of the Jesus disciples were fisher people by profession. Many gospel scenes are near or on the Sea of Galilee and boats were a major means of local transportation.
I want to use two of the well-known boat/sea/fishing stories to set the tone of my report to you this morning on the work of the General Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church today. First is the account found in Matthew, Mark, and Luke of Jesus calming a storm on the Sea of Galilee. I read from the NIV translation of Mark 4:35-41:
That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side [of the sea].” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”
I don’t think it is an overstatement to say that in recent years this mission agency, as representative of the Sturdy Ship Church, experienced a squall, maybe several squalls, and, like the boat in this biblical account, we had waves breaking over us. While we never drowned—we actually fared well in the wind and rain—we experienced seriously troubled water, marked by rapid shifts in leadership, budget and staff reductions, the pain of program refocus, and a turbulent 2012 General Conference.
We may not be “completely calm,” as Mark says of the sea in his story; we are sailing in less turbulent water and a more stable boat. The turbulence that frightened us—and yes, we did endure fear—seems to be past. I firmly believe that Jesus rescued us by giving us patience, the capacity to listen, and trust in the grace of God. God is seeing us into a great future.
A second sea/boat/fishing story is that of John 21. We know this well and it figured prominently in the worship theme of the Tampa General Conference. After Easter, Jesus comes upon a group of not-altogether calm disciples on the beach in Galilee. The dispirited disciples haven’t even bothered to catch any fish for breakfast. Jesus takes them out in the boat and they catch 153 large fish. Over the fish, Jesus and Peter join in that wonderful conversation about feeding and tending sheep and lambs. How appropriate that Peter himself is being fed as he is getting his mission assignment to provide nourishment and care for those God loves. He is sent!
Hear the charge:
“Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.” (John 21:15b-17, NRSV)
I dare to suggest this afternoon that after the travail of turbulent years, we of Global Ministries are called to continue with strong faith the challenge to feed and tend the sheep and lambs with Gospel love and physical nourishment. We as an organization are in a time of greater calm but not of inaction. Our boat is sailing strongly and we are summoned to equip ourselves and heed Jesus’ summons to be about the work to which we are called. From a place of security in our faith, we are feeding and tending and praising God for the fish he provides to sustain our lives. I am not suggesting that we may not encounter clouds, rain and wind, but I do submit that the General Board of Global Ministries is calm in spirit and bold in motion: engaged in God’s holy mission. My report to you today is filled with that conviction.
Our Work in a Global Context
Let me start by offering the obvious reminder that our mission context is always global, which includes the United States in multiple ways, and I want to stress our global scope with some compelling new research data from the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Massachusetts. I discovered the study in the International Bulletin of Missionary Research, published by the Overseas Ministries Study Center in New Haven, a great resource for us.
The study focuses on the years between 1970 and 2010, with projections through the year 2020. One of the conclusions is that changes in technology, the environment, and social realities over the last 40 years challenge “Christians to think differently about the people among whom they live and work, the ways in which they interact with them, and the potential for future cooperation.” One thing I like about this study is its people-centered focus.
Here are some of the realities the study says we must face in the present and the immediate future as a Board of Global Ministries.
- Statistically, the world is getting more, not less religious. In 1970, 82 percent of the world’s population was religious; that had increased to 88 percent in 2010, and is expected to climb to 90 percent in 2020. Does this not conflict with most of what we hear today, especially about the older mission-sending societies in Europe and North America? Yes, but the differential is that the popular press accounts of religion’s decline do not factor in the growth, usually of Christianity or Islam, in large parts of the world, and the particular insurgence of religion in China. The projection is that Christianity and Islam will represent 57.2 percent of the global population seven years from now. At the same time, religious diversity, including a group now called “nones,” will continue to increase in the global North.
- A second point is one we know well. The Christian center of gravity is shifting from the north to the global South. The Gordon-Conwell report states that the percentage of the Christian population in the global South—Africa, Asia, and Latin America—will have climbed to 64.7 percent in 2020. The largest growth is seen in Africa, up from 143 million Christians in 1970, or 38.7 percent, to 630 million, or 49.3 percent, by 2020. In Asia, Christianity is growing, but not as fast. It comprised 8.2 percent of the population in 2010. The increase in Latin America is modest, from 22 percent of the world’s Christian population to a projected 23.5 percent in 2020.
- Yet, in both Latin America and North America, two groups of “renewalists”—a term for Pentecostals and various Charismatics used in this study—are growing rapidly. In 1970, the number of such Christians stood at 62.7 million worldwide with an expectation of 709.8, or 25.8 percent, by 2020, an annual growth rate of 4.1 percent. That is twice as fast as Christian growth as a whole. The number of Renewalists is expanding: from 18.8 million in Africa in 1970 to a projected 226.2 million in 2020, from 12.8 million to 203.1 million in Latin America, and from 9.3 million to 165.6 million in Asia.
Statistics never tell the whole story, and the sponsors of the Gordon-Conwell study recognize this and thoughtfully include data on mission and social justice. I won’t go into great detail—we know most of the facts cited—but let me share this from the executive summary. The report includes findings on “missionaries sent and received, people in migration, slum dwellers, and global poverty. Countries of the global South are sending increasing numbers of missionaries, and countries of the global North are receiving increasing numbers of missionaries. Among key social issues, the poorest children have made the slowest progress in terms of improved nutrition, and hunger remains a global challenge.”
The report continues: “Between 2006 and 2009, 850 million people around the world still lived in hunger, 15.5% of the world’s population. Even though extreme poverty has decreased, progress has been slow in reducing child malnutrition. In 2010, nearly one in five children globally was underweight, including one third of children in Southern Asia.”
Can we hear Jesus saying to Peter, “Feed my lambs…feed by sheep?” Do we wonder why our church has priorities in Ministry with the Poor, Global Health, and in sharing the good news in and through new faith communities?
This report on Christianity in Global Context is a good reminder of our own situation and commitments, and is a reminder that we are not alone in attempting to respond creatively to God’s call to mission.
It is to better equip our agency and our church to be in mission, connected in mission, that we have worked hard over the last few years to make our institution more effective and efficient.
I want now to turn to some administrative and program reports on our labor from a relatively steady boat on a relatively calm denominational sea.
- Administrative Matters. Our operational restructure is basically complete. We have a few more jobs to fill, but I am happy to say that we have a full cabinet for the first time in…well, a long time. Our staff has welcomed the Rev. Denise Honeycutt as deputy for UMCOR, and now I want to formally introduce her to you, the directors. Denise remains interim until formally elected here. Denise is no stranger to Global Ministries. She was a director for eight years, chairing some of the key committees as we underwent our operational audit and shaped our current mission statements. Denise comes to us from the Virginia Annual Conference, where she has had a distinguished ministry in the local church and as conference mission executive. Her husband, the Rev. Pat Watkins is one of our missionaries, a Church and Community Worker, who directs Caretakers of God’s Creation ministry, based in the Virginia Conference and continuing that affiliation for the time being.
I served as UMCOR deputy for more than a year and I must say that it was a healthy learning experience for me; invaluable in fact. I led Mission and Evangelism for more than a year, and Communications and Development for several months, with Shawn Bakker and Larry Hygh as associates. I have now had hands-on responsibility for every unit except Finance—and I don’t think I could survive that. These duties have helped me to really get to know the details, the nitty gritty, of our work, and to have direct contacts with key staff members.
We have completed the structural integration of the former UMCOR NGO into the full work of the unit and the formerly separate UMCOR communications/marketing unit into Communications and Development. That, too, has gone well and we have an excellent team of professionals there.
In terms of staff, except for a few open positions, I like to say that the “people are on the bus,” or should I say “boat,” given my earlier scriptural references. Bus or boat, the vehicle is moving at good speed. We have the right people in the right jobs and are driving, or sailing. We welcomed 24 new staff members just this past Tuesday. Bishop Kenneth H. Carter, Jr. of the Florida Annual Conference was with us that day and joined in welcoming and blessing the new staff.
- Program Updates
A. Mission Personnel
- Service Opportunities for Young Adults. We are ready for next year’s full launch of Generation Transformation, an initiative to increase opportunities for young adults to engage in mission through the connection. It encompasses and incorporates three programs: Global Mission Fellows, Global Justice Volunteers, and Individual Volunteers. For every generation, young adulthood is a time of personal transformation. It is a time when persons discern calls and define relationships to the church, to others, and to society. As a mission strategy, Generation Transformation provides opportunities for challenge, change and growth in the direction of an increase in love of God and neighbor.
The Global Fellows program builds on the heritage of US-2 and Mission Intern service. It sends young adults ages 20-30 out of their home context for two years of mission service. The program engages with local communities, connects the church in mission, and assists participants to grow in personal and social holiness. The Global Justice Volunteers program is a short-term service opportunity for young adults ages 18- 30. Individual Volunteers serve at placement sites all over the world, including the United States.
- Missionaries Around the World. The fact of the global reach of Methodist missionaries forms one of my older memories. As a member of a small German minority religious community, one keenly committed to mission, the fact of our missionaries helped me as a young teenager to understand our Methodist connection, to know I was part of a world church. I came to identify particular parts of the globe with particular missionaries. To me, a missionary named Hugh Johnson was Mr. Algeria. Hugh, along with his wife Fritzi, after extensive training, spent 41 years in Algeria, first in pastoral and educational ministry in the Kabyle mountains east of Algiers. In 1975, Hugh was appointed to Algiers as pastor of the Protestant Church there. Hugh and Fritzi retired in 2004, but have kept busy in the cause of God’s mission from their retirement home in France. There is so much more to tell and I invite you to ask Hugh about his work during the board meeting days.
Directors of the General Board of Global Ministries, it is my incredible honor to present to you my missionary—Mr. Algeria, Hugh Johnson, a missionary legend. Hugh, thank you for a half century of witness for Christ. And please give our kindest regards to Fritzi.
Our new class of missionaries, those we will commission tomorrow night, extends our emphasis on missionaries from everywhere to everywhere and underscores the point in the Gordon-Conwell report that more missionaries are coming from the global South to the North. We have new personnel from Costa Rica going to the Dominican Republic, from Panama and Puerto Rico to Mexico, from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Senegal, from Brazil to Georgia in the US, Hong Kong to Japan, and so on.
There is one more issue dealing with our standard-support missionaries, and that concerns pensions. You will be hearing about a missionary pension-plan revision, first in Roland’s report, and then, those of you on the finance committee, in a detailed presentation, and possible recommendations will be brought to the full board on Saturday. I want here to commend the work of a special task force set up last March to look at the issue of missionary pensions, an issue that is hardly new. It has been under consideration for six or seven years. The need for such a fresh look at the issue of missionary pensions and the need for possible plan changes reflect demographic, financial, liability, and sustainability issues. It also entails theological consideration, including equity of service and the need to account for our expanding understanding of missionaries from everywhere to everywhere. We want to keep retirement issues from becoming a deterrent to missionary service.
B. Mission Initiatives. The Mission Initiatives are the international research and development centers for The United Methodist Church as a whole, laboratories in evangelism, church growth, and social outreach that take account of cultural, linguistic, historical, and economic realities in carrying out God’s mission. They are also the major means of new church starts. In the four years between 2009 and 2012, a total of 574 new worshipping communities were launched within 13 initiatives, a harvest far exceeding the goal of 400. The new goal for new churches and faith communities for the new quadrennium is 600.
I will only mention the importance of the initiatives here. We will celebrate them in more detail later in the afternoon. They deserve special recognition from time to time.
C. Global Health, a part of UMCOR. We are looking at new work—research and educational emphasis—on the context and impact of the US Affordable Health Care Law on congregations, communities, and healthcare institutions in this country. This was launched just last week at a forum sponsored by UMCOR and Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare and held at the Methodist University Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. Thirty people from healthcare networks and institutions, general agencies, academic institutions, congregations, and communities took part. We examined the question, “What does it mean to promote really healthy communities?” Along with the sub-question, “How does the church contribute to that goal?” We also looked at what UMCOR’s experience with preventive aspects of community-based health brings to the challenge facing the US healthcare system. Part of the motivation for this effort is the realizations that: 1) Many Americans may not be able to afford health care under the new plan, in large part because so many states are not expanding Medicaid to cover the poorest; 2) Governments and societies around the world are grappling with growing healthcare needs; and 3) Some of the most pressing issues globally involve non-communicable diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and cancer. Community-based approaches—and we have significant experience in that field—show promise to connect people and communities to the services, knowledge, and resources they need to become and stay healthy. The Parish Nurse movement, to which UMCOR Health and its predecessors have related for a decade, has a place in this initiative. People becoming and staying healthy: that is the objective of our global health initiative.
The start of the enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act is an opportunity for United Methodists to take an active part in helping people to understand and enroll in the plan. In Memphis, we heard five watchwords: advocate, inform, enroll, engage, and heal.
D. Ministry with the Poor. We have new momentum with our Ministry with the Poor focus area. We continue our demonstration projects in the Philippines and Kamina in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Here in the US, we have new energy coming from a new configuration of advocacy and program outreach. For this quadrennium and by common consent, Global Ministries is sharing oversight of this focus area with the General Board of Church and Society, and doing so in close cooperation with the Justice and Reconciliation Table of the Council of Bishops. This is a great development and one that is already reaching out for the collaboration and input of annual conferences.
This new trilateral effort shows promise in promoting and strengthening ministry with the poor on congregational and community levels. Since our last board meeting, representatives of the three have met and laid out a multipoint plan which has the enthusiastic endorsement of Bishop Michael McKee of North Texas, who chairs the Justice and Reconciliation Table. The plan has several components, including: 1) The identification of existing effective ministries with the poor within annual conferences that engage people in social and spiritual ways across class, ethnic, and racial lines to address causes and conditions of poverty; 2) Organization of training events featuring local ministries with the poor to inspire and equip others to develop creative approaches to the focus area; 3) Training in community organizing relevant to ministry with the poor; and 4) Two Ministry with the Poor Mission Roundtables—one in Dallas in November 2013, and one in Chicago in December—to provide planning platforms for a series of trainings to begin in 2014. We are progressing well with organizing these invitational roundtables and a press release mentioning them will be going out soon.
E. Collaborative Disaster Response. At our last board meeting you donned your jeans and sweatshirts for a day of work in New Jersey and Long Island in response to the devastation of Superstorm Sandy. I want you to know that a wonderful collaboration in the ongoing response continues, with UMCOR, annual conferences, general agencies, bishops, United Methodist Women, young adults, and VIM teams all involved. The humanitarian response, including church reconstruction, continued across 2013 and will extend into ensuing years. This work is a strong example of what can happen when United Methodists really work together.
UMCOR continues to play a major role in strategizing and fundraising. UMCOR’s reputation has resulted in major contributions from outside church sources, including US $2.5 million from the American Red Cross for home reconstruction. As days turned into weeks and weeks into months, stories of the impact of the United Methodist response took on the faces of real people, as we have documented in many news stories and visuals.
One collaborative response to Superstorm Sandy has been a multiyear service project named Restoration Generation, which began as a conversation among young adults in the Northeast United States to discern how they could better support, strengthen, and empower one another in ministry. Energy was turned toward the response to Sandy. The goal is to recruit and equip as many as 3,000 young adults to take part in the physical restoration of the region, and as a result promote spiritual restoration, connection, community, and hope.
Sponsors of Restoration Generation include the Connectional Table; the General Boards of Discipleship, Global Ministries, and Higher Education and Ministry; UMCOR; United Methodist Communications; the General Commission on Archives and History; United Methodist Women; and five annual conferences: Eastern Pennsylvania, Greater New Jersey, New York, Peninsula-Delaware, and West Virginia.
Global Ministries has placed two US-2 missionaries on the staff of Restoration Generation for a two-year period.
F. Solidarity with Others in Times of Terrorism and Tragedy. Humanitarian relief is not always possible or in order in the face of tragedy. Yet we are called to be in solidarity with those who suffer through military, terrorist, or technical disasters. In recent weeks, I, as General Secretary, have reached out in the cause of peace and justice in three situations of great concern, expressing where appropriate our condolences with mission partners. On the third weekend of September, the historic All Saints Church, a place of great spiritual and architectural significance to Christians in Peshawar, Pakistan, was bombed by terrorists, killing more than 80 persons and injuring dozens more as a throng of worshippers left the building for food on the grounds outside. Among those killed were the two children and mother of a Pakistani Christian personally known by Global Ministries’ staff. I expressed our solidarity to Bishop Humphrey Peters of the Peshawar Diocese. I hope you will add concern for the safety and rights of religious minorities in Pakistan and other places of limited respect for religious freedom to your daily prayer lists and to your political advocacy causes.
Also, that same weekend, 76 persons were killed when terrorists invaded a shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya. On our behalf, I wrote to church leaders. As part of the one body of Christ, we at Global Ministries share in the sorrow of those affected by such tragedies.
Early this month at least 274 persons by last count, immigrants from Eritrea and Somalia, drowned within sight of land off the Italian island of Lampedusa. This prompted both a call for prayer and an expression of indignation. This tragedy is just the latest in an ongoing clash between the aspirations of the poor to improve their conditions and a “fortress Europe” mentality of indifference and hostility to migrants—an attitude that Pope Francis has resisted on numerous occasions.
In my statement, I said: “The place of migrants in our church’s mission and ministries cannot be overstated. Many of our missionaries work with migrant communities, dealing firsthand with the conditions that make migrants, hearing how government policies against migration lead to exploitation and tragedy.” Migrants are a priority in our Ministry with the Poor emphasis and, I believe, in the economy of the Christian gospel. The very week of the Lampedusa accident, we took part in the Peoples Action on Global Migration, Development, and Human Rights. Global Ministries also sponsored a United Methodist delegation to the High Level Dialogue on International Migration and Development, held in connection with the United Nations General Assembly.
G. Links with Christians in China. I spoke of the pending trip to China in my last report and am excited to give you a very favorable follow-up to the visit. We left just a week after the April meeting—Bishop Warner Brown, president elect of the Council of Bishops; our own president, Bishop Hope Morgan Ward; Bishop Hee-Soo Jung, our UMCOR chair; Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar of New England, president of the Office for Christian Unity and Interreligious Relationships of the Council of Bishops; and its ecumenical officer Bishop Mary Ann Swenson. The staff from Global Ministries included George Howard, Rebecca Asedillo, and me, along with a reporter and photographer from UMCom.
It was an occasion of great poignancy when, on April 20, 2013, we divided into two groups to worship in Shanghai with overflow congregations at Mu’en Church and Jinglin Church, which were founded by the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. In his greetings at Mu’en Church, Bishop Brown told the congregation that love for “the people who love Jesus in China” had long been a part of the Methodist heritage. “Even when we were unable to be in communications, we still cared,” he said.
At Jinglin Church, Bishop Ward was impressed by the energy and vitality evident during worship. “It was a strong connection with the heritage of Methodist mission in this historic place, as well as a yearning for faithfulness as the church moves into the future,” she said in one of the news reports.
The importance of the visit, the first official reception of a United Methodist delegation, is that it expands the opportunity for mutual relations between the church and one of the places of greatest Christian growth of the 21st century, even though, and because, Christianity in China today is post-denominational. “This is a new possibility of doing mission and ministry together from a global perspective,” according to Bishop Devadhar.
The cloud that fell over the church in China in the days of the Cultural Revolution has lifted to a large degree, opening the door to incredible church growth in both the officially recognized groups and the unregistered house churches, which are a significant factor in Chinese Christianity. I was glad that the Gordon-Conwell study acknowledges the impact of China on the whole Christian world. As you know, Protestantism is represented by the Three-Self Patriotic Committee, formed in 1954 to signal a new identity under the new government of the People’s Republic of China. The committee relates closely to the China Christian Council.
A meeting on April 21 with officials and staff of the China Christian Council included an acknowledgement of that heritage and the continuing relationship between United Methodists and Chinese Christians. In his opening remarks, the Rev. Kan Baoping, the council’s top executive, spoke of continuing friendship and voiced confidence that “in the future, we will work together as before.”
The Rev. Gao Feng, president of the China Christian Council, told us that what Chinese Christians most need from us is continuous prayer. Rev. Feng, who is one of our former Crusade Scholars (now World Communion Scholars), told us that “rapid growth also has brought a lot of new challenges and issues.” One of those challenges, he said, is the need to develop 21 existing seminaries and other Bible colleges as a means of dealing with a severe shortage of pastors.
There is more I could share, but I need to wrap up and will save some things for next time and our work in committees. Let me return in my conclusion to the language of feeding and tending from the Gospel of John, Jesus and Peter on the seashore, out of the boat, joining in a meal: feed my lambs, feed and tend my sheep.
We in mission feed and tend both spiritually and literally, and we don’t always know what the results will be. Feeding and tending young ones always has a degree of risk, as many parents can testify.
But feeding and tending is what we do as Christians, and this came home to me with considerable force when I was asked to make a brief video, a message of greeting, to be used in connection with the 150th anniversary of the Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church out in Ohio. This large multisite congregation—about 5,000 in worship each Sunday on its campuses—is a strong mission partner with Global Ministries, especially in UMCOR relief and development work in the Darfur region of Sudan, and in church development in the new country of South Sudan. Oh, Ginghamsburg has far-flung ministries.
What I want to emphasize today is the feeding and tending that stands at the origins of Ginghamsburg Church. The congregation has roots in the gospel labors of a circuit rider, one B.W. Day. This man, about whom history has left little record except for his spiritual feeding, his church tending, one day rode into the village of Ginghamsburg. He gathered a small group for, I am sure, Bible study, Methodist class meetings, worship, and maybe a Sunday school to teach reading and writing. It remained a small village church for many decades and until 1920 was on a four-charge circuit with part-time preachers. It did not have a full-time pastor until the late 1970s.
The Rev. B.W. Day, that very first pastor, fed and tended in faith, never dreaming, I am positive, of what would eventually become part of his mission heritage.
Every time we start a new faith community through one our initiatives, or educate a pastor in Congo or Bolivia, or place a missionary, or organize a team of mission volunteers, or put a community back on its feet after a storm—in all of those situations we run a risk: the risk of starting something the Holy Spirit can bring to fulfillment. Like Circuit Rider B.W. Day, we may never see what develops from our feeding and tending in faith—but we feed and tend anyway, doing the works we are called to do by the love of God in Jesus Christ.