Thomas Kemper, General Secretary
As general secretary of the General Board of Global Ministries, Thomas Kemper is the chief executive officer of the worldwide mission agency of The United Methodist Church, its regional conferences, and local congregations. The agency includes units responsible for missionary and voluntary mission service, ministries in global health, and the promotion of local church engagement in global evangelism and service. Global Ministries incorporates a major disaster relief and development unit, the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), and The Advance, the denomination’s designated-giving mission giving channel. Global Ministries relates to personnel, projects and partners in more than 125 countries.
Kemper is a layman, raised in a United Methodist parsonage in Hamburg, Germany, and is the first person from outside the United States to lead a United Methodist program agency. He is fluent in German, English, and Portuguese and competent in Spanish and French. Since his election as general secretary in 2010, Kemper has promoted increasing internationalization of both mission operations, having opened several regional offices, and of missionary personnel, including young adult Global Mission Fellows. He has popularized and interpreted the concept of mission and missionaries “from everywhere to everywhere."
Earlier in his career, Kemper held positions that helped to prepare him for his work at Global Ministries. He and his wife, Barbara Hüfner-Kemper, were missionaries in Brazil for eight years, 1986-1994, through the German United Methodist Board of Missions. Back in Germany, he worked for a regional unit of the Evangelical Church in Germany until in 1998 he became mission director for the United Methodist church in Germany. As a young man, he was active in the international Methodist and ecumenical student movements. He earned two master’s degrees, one in adult education at the University of Hamburg and one in sociology at the University of Bielefeld. He also spent two years as a youth working in London with young adults and Vietnamese boat people through the German Methodist Mission.
Kemper’s mission theology puts strong emphasis on the relationship of piety and mercy, personal and social holiness, as taught and exemplified by Methodist founder John Wesley in 18th century England. He is motivated “to help local churches around the globe to feel and see themselves as part of a worldwide family, and to overcome the boundaries of culture, race and denomination in the name of Jesus Christ.” He profoundly believes that the Christian “gospel can transform individuals and the world.”
Kemper and his wife live in Atlanta and are active in the North Decatur United Methodist Church. They are the parents of three adult children, Ana, Lena, and Joshua.
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