Global Ministries

The United Methodist Church

Connecting the Church in Mission

Mission Through the Lens of Culture and Context

By Amy Valdez Barker*

Arusha, Tanzania, March 8, 2018—Rev. Dr. Mutale Mulenga-Kaunda, a theologian from South Africa, opened the 2018 Conference on World Mission and Evangelism with a keynote address describing how Christian discipleship in the 21st-century church continues to be challenged by the lens of diversity of culture, context, and experiences.

The postdoctoral research fellow at the University of KwaZulu-Natal spoke to more than 1,000 people gathered in Arusha for this ecumenical event that takes place approximately every 10 years under the sponsorship of the Commission on World Mission and Evangelism of the World Council of Churches (WCC). The participants represent leaders from member churches of the WCC, affiliated bodies, and wider constituents.


The conference opened with dancing, drums, and a celebration of the history of the first such event on the continent in Africa in 1958 in Achimota, Ghana, and today’s celebration with 243 delegates from the member churches of the WCC and 148 delegates from affiliated bodies. The most notable difference between the Achimota and Arusha gatherings are the number of participants from the continent of Africa, bringing to light how evangelism and mission have significantly changed over the 60 years.

Dr. Mulenga-Kaunda noted the distinguished honor she was given to be the first keynote speaker for this gathering as a woman from Africa on International Women’s day. She opened her address by quoting Brené Brown, reminding leaders that “stories are data with soul.” Dr. Kaunda continued to tell her story, that of a young woman, raised by a single mother who died when she was a teenager and left to raise her two younger sisters and make her way through life on less than $100 a month.

Dr. Mulenga-Kaunda’s story was a journey of poverty at the margins, faithfulness in Christ, and ultimately justice and peace that has led her to serve as a voice for the marginalized in mission and ministry. Her opening testimony opened the theme of the conference, highlighting the context of Africa, reminding those gathered of all the gifts and graces for mission and ministry that are present in the African context.

The theme, “Moving in the Spirit: Called to Transforming Discipleship,” was planned by the Commission on World Mission and Evangelism over a long period of time, and with the engagement of United Methodist mission leaders, including Bishop MaryAnn Swenson (retired), vice moderator of the WCC’s central committee, and Thomas Kemper, chief executive of the General Board of Global Ministries.

Two United Methodist missionaries have been deeply involved in the planning and development of the conference, serving as WCC staff. Joy Eva Bohol, serves as the youth executive secretary for the WCC and the Rev. (Kay) Kyeong-Ah Woo, serves as the coordinator for the conference as a whole. Other United Methodist delegates are as follows:

• Bishop Mande Muyombo, North Katanga Episcopal Area, the Democratic Republic of the Congo;
• Christian Love Daroy, a missionary in the Longos Dumpsite in the Philippines;
• The Rev. Dr. Roar Fotland, an elder from the Norway Annual Conference and professor at the Norwegian School of Theology;
•  Molly McIntire, mission training and volunteer coordinator in the Florida Annual Conference and a member of the Global Ministries board of directors;
• The Rev. Dr. Joon-Sik Park, an elder from the West Ohio Annual Conference, who holds the E. Stanley Jones professor of World Evangelism position at the Methodist Theological School in Ohio;
• The Rev. Dr. Jean Hawxhurst, Office of Christian Unity and ecumenical staff officer for leadership development of the Council of Bishops; and
• The Rev. Dr. Amy Valdez Barker, executive director of the Global Mission Connections unit, Global Ministries.

Ms. McIntire highlighted the value of such ecumenical experience by recalling a small group discussion with delegates from the Quaker tradition: “It’s so interesting to learn about their understanding of mission and evangelism today and how much they have changed as their culture and context has changed over time, too.”

*The Rev. Dr. Amy Valdez Barker is executive director of the Global Mission Connections unit of Global Ministries.