United Methodist Leader Details Mission’s “Unfulfilled Dreams”
By Elliott Wright
Having relocated its headquarters from New York to Atlanta and moved toward a network of regional operating offices, the worldwide mission agency of The United Methodist Church is taking a deep look at program performance and fiscal accountability.
It is also strengthening its stand against global racism and sexual abuse, including within its large personnel network.
These issues were among the mission agency’s “unfulfilled dreams” addressed in the semi-annual report of General Secretary Thomas Kemper to directors of the General Board of Global Ministries, which has mission personnel, projects, and partners in more than 125 countries.
The April 2018 directors’ meeting commemorated the life and legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the 50th anniversary of his death. Kemper entitled his report “Unfulfilled Dreams,” taken from the title of a sermon King preached in Atlanta on March 3, 1963, a month before his assassination in Memphis. Kemper both enumerated unfinished mission dreams—he termed some “struggles”—and challenged the directors and United Methodists at large to continue King’s dream of achieving justice and freedom for all.
Sexual Abuse Policy
Using quotations from the sermon, Kemper highlighted the need for strong faith in God to have the strength to pursue unfulfilled dreams. The sermon repeatedly affirms the presence of God: “Never alone, no, never, never alone.”
Kemper began his presentation, which included slides, video clips, and in-person guest spots, with an issue out of the headlines: the #MeToo movement, which targets sexual abuse and harassment. He reminded the mission directors that the agency had long-standing policies and systems related to such actions and charges, including a child safety and sexual ethics compliance officer. He noted that the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), a Global Ministries unit, had recently joined a coalition of US nongovernmental, international aid organizations in pledging to protect their staff members and the communities they serve from sexual abuse.
The mission leader announced that he was asking each of the 37 directors, who make agency policy, to complete the 90-minute online training course on sexual harassment and discrimination prevention that all staff and missionaries are required to take. “You should experience what is asked of staff and missionaries,” he said.
Struggles and Challenges
Among other unfinished dreams, or continuing mission “struggles,” Kemper included:
• Program monitoring and evaluation that results in more strategic planning and more equitable stewardship of resources in proportion to regional needs; he used examples from Africa, Haiti, and Southeast Asia involving a range of ministry types.
• Expanding collaboration with other agencies in response to natural or human-caused disasters to increase scope and efficiency. He used as an example UMCOR’s collaboration with London-based Muslim Aid, a relationship that opens humanitarian doors in parts of the Middle East and Asia that would be otherwise closed to United Methodists.
• Dialogue with representatives of other faiths to find commonalities that contribute to global peace and justice.
• Study to learn how to best make Christian witness in a multicultural and interreligious world.
Agricultural Mission in Africa
In a section on mission and witness in Africa, Kemper raised the question of how church land in Africa might better be used to sustain the African church and its people. He said that more focus on agricultural mission was under consideration in collaboration with United Methodist leaders on that continent. He said that Global Ministries already has 19 people—seven missionaries, two Global Mission Fellows (short-term personnel), and 10 Nationals in Mission—engaged in agricultural mission in Africa.
Kemper included in his report video footage from a special February 2018 conference in Burundi reuniting two United Methodist groups at disagreement for a decade.
During comments about the response to Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico hurricanes last summer and fall, Kemper invited Bishop Hector F. Ortiz-Vidal of the Methodist Church of Puerto Rico to address the directors. The bishop, a Global Ministries’ director, was unable to attend the meeting last October because of Hurricane Maria. He offered profound gratitude to The United Methodist Church, its conferences and bishops, and especially to UMCOR for assistance. “UMCOR is a global treasure,” said the bishop.
Having an Anchor
Kemper ended the report with another quote from King’s “Unfilled Dream” sermon:
The winds are going to blow. The storms of disappointment are coming. The agonies and the anguishes of life are coming. And be sure that your boat is strong, and also be very sure that you have an anchor. In times like these, you need an anchor. And be very sure that your anchor holds.
The symbol of United Methodist missionary service is an anchor cross—shown by Kemper in conclusion.