Global Ministries

The United Methodist Church

Connecting the Church in Mission

Challenges and Blessings of Migration Explored by Mission Staff

By Ivy Couch and Elliot Wright*

Atlanta, Georgia, April 4, 2017--Both the challenges of growing numbers that migrants face today along with the blessings they can bring to the church were explored by United Methodist mission staff and key partners in an all-day seminar on March 30. It concluded with an affirmation of migration as a continuing high priority of the denomination’s General Board of Global Ministries.

The March 30 session was in preparation for a workshop the following day, in which representatives of nine United Methodist agencies and the church’s Council of Bishops met to shared information and discussed ways to collaborate in ministries with migrants, including unprecedented millions of refugees caused by conflicts in the Middle East and Africa. See United Methodist Agencies Pull Together in Migrant Ministries.

In opening the Global Ministries seminar, Thomas Kemper, the agency’s chief executive, noted that The United Methodist Church and its relief and development unit, the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), has been engaged with migrants for many decades, but that the current need is intensifying.

More People Forcibly Displaced

The number of forcibly displaced people today is almost 66 million. Some 22 million of them are refugees, of which 54 percent come are from Afghanistan, Somalia, and Syria. Eighty percent of the forcibly displaced people are in Africa. These are record highs, according Erol Kekic of Church World Service, an ecumenical organization, one of nine certified refugee resettlement operations in the United States and the one with which UMCOR works.

Kemper also stressed that migrants, even refugees, beginning in biblical times and into the present, have played a valuable role in the spreading of the Christian gospel and the revitalizing the church. “Methodists from Africa are enlivening our churches in Germany, Italy, and Ireland,” he said.

An informal staff statement of program commitment formed during the day included the “acknowledgement that the experience of migration involves fear and deprivation but also can be a blessing to the church and to the spreading of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

The reality of deprivation was emphasized in an opening devotional by Bishop Minerva G. Carcaño of the San Francisco Episcopal Area. She is chair of the United Methodist Task Force on Immigration, an interagency group created in 2008 by the denomination’s legislating General Conference. Bishop Carcaño told of mothers in Latin America being so desperate that they would allow their children to set out for a foreign land alone for the chance of a better life. 

Bishop Minerva G. Carcaño calls upon local churches to remain a "sanctuary" to the men, women, and children seeking refuge in the United States.

Rights and Resources

The formal theological underpinning for Global Ministries’ work with migrants is a biblical-based resolution entitled “Global Migration and the Quest for Justice,” revised and readopted by the 2016 General Conference. This puts issues of migration in the context of the use and misuse of the earth’s resources and the principles of justice and human rights.

The staff session reviewed the resolution. David Wildman, executive secretary, for the Middle East and for human rights and racial justice, noted that migrants have long been seen by governments through the lenses of security rather than as a resource issue. Reminding colleagues that migration is a central biblical and missional concern, he described the General Conference resolutions as being “about sharing resources and being in the body of Christ together.”

Mission Programs

Other presentations included:

● The sociological perspective on global migration by James Perdue, a United Methodist missionary to migrants in Central America and Mexico.The research covered the causes and dynamics of migrant movement in key corridors, such as Central American and parts of Africa, and how migration is affected by such realities as the global economy, policies of nation states, the rise of global cities, international rights organizations, and transnational organized crime. Perdue outlined the negative effects on human rights of the cultural and social dominance of one group over a minority.

● Response by UMCOR to crisis situations involving migrants in such locales as Syria, Iraq, and Horn of Africa countries such as South Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia, and Uganda. The Global Ministries’ Global Health Unit is also part of the response to the displaced in Africa. Dr. Olusimbo Ige, MD, director of Global Health and interim director of UMCOR, discussed the current challenge resulting from civil disorder and famine in South Sudan. “Some 3,000 refugees pour into Uganda from South Sudan each day,” she said. “The scale of the problem is too large for one organization to handle.” The situation is intensified by the fact that other nations around South Sudan, including Somalia, Ethiopia, and Yemen, are also suffering catastrophic droughts.

● The work of National Justice for Our Neighbors (NJFON), a local church-based ministry of legal services for migrants in the US originally established by UMCOR and now a non-profit corporation with its own board of directors. NJFON board chair John A. Redmond and executive director Rob Rutland-Brown, shared information on how congregations and volunteers collaborate in offering legal clinics for migrants in 17 locations across the country.  

Rob Rutland-Brown shares about the work of National Justice For Our Neighbors (NJFON) and the current fears of immigrants and refugees in the United States.

● The expanding engagement of missionaries in ministry with migrants, according to the Rev. Dr. Judy Chung, executive director for missionary services. At present, 41 missionaries and young adults (two-year Fellows in Mission) work predominantly with migrants in Europe, the U.S., Latin America, and Asia.

● The role of the racial/ethnic and language ministry plans of the church in relating to migrants, both in the US and, increasingly, in other parts of the world. Four of these church-wide plans are administered by Global Ministries—the National Plan for Hispanic/Latino Ministries, the Korean Ministry Plan, the Asian American Language Plan, and the Pacific Islanders National Plan. Two other plans, for Native Americans and the Black Church, are administered by 
Discipleship Ministries.

*Ivy Couch and Elliott Wright of Global Ministries contributed to this report.