Global Ministries

The United Methodist Church

Connecting the Church in Mission

Missionaries connect with one another at Berlin event

By Reinhold Parrinello*

Gathering in Berlin in late October, 19 missionaries of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries had a chance to meet and visit with one another and to get some well-deserved rest.

In her opening sermon, the Rev. Külli Tõniste reminded the missionaries of the Mark 6 account in which Jesus and his apostles wanted to rest but could not do so because of the many people seeking attention. She is the new rector of the Baltic Methodist Theological Seminary in Tallinn, Estonia. People demand missionaries’ time, Tõniste said. In the Bible passage, Jesus seemed to demand this from his apostles. By feeding 5,000 men and their families, Jesus found a solution.

“The point was – everyone got fed from heaven,” Tõniste said. “Nobody cooked that night. This was a much-needed rest for more than the 12 weary men; it was rest for all the weary travelers.”

Organized by the Rev. John Calhoun, coordinator of international missionaries for Global Ministries, the event drew missionaries and their families serving in the Europe, Eurasia, Middle East and North Africa region as well as seven Global Ministries staff, about 40 people in all. Years ago, missionaries in residence suggested such gatherings, which are held every quadrennium for several regions of the world.

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The group of missionaries take time to introduce themselves, getting acquainted with the work they do and where they serve. PHOTO: ÜLLAS TANKLER

The missionaries of the region who attended work in 12 locations in 11 countries. They play many roles: serving as local church pastor, planting congregations, coordinating specific work with the World Council of Churches, teaching future pastors, teaching other people, directing church institutions, consulting in migrant ministries, and more. Üllas Tankler – Global Ministries regional representative for Europe, Eurasia, North Africa and the Middle East – based in Tallinn, Estonia, also attended the gathering.

Meals and coffee breaks offered good opportunities to converse. Strolling together around Germany’s capital city was another great chance to becoming acquainted with other attendees. Some discovered they shared opinions, challenges and experiences, or knew the same people. The most-used language was English, but some preferred Korean, Russian or German to talk with one another.

A highlight was Sunday worship with the local United Methodist congregation of Berlin Friedenau. The Rev. Holger Sieweck preached about Jeremiah 29:7, NRSV: “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” Sieweck reminded attendees that the Berlin Wall divided the city into East and West for 28 years, from 1961 to 1989. “It separated families, friends, citizens and even church congregations,” he said. “It brought so much suffering and anger to the people on both sides.

“At the end of 1989, it was also the power of the peace prayers in the churches, the power of the demonstrators on the streets, including many Christians, that brought the communist regime to its knees. All this happened without bloodshed. This is also a miracle.”

Respecting cultures

During small-group discussion on providing pastoral care, missionaries admitted they sometimes feel isolated like a person living in exile. This may particularly be the case when missionaries arrive in a new place or for missionaries living as a single. Missionaries sometimes need pastoral care, said the Rev. Bill Lovelace, a discussion leader and former missionary trainer.

When missionaries provide pastoral care, they must overcome cultural boundaries. If a missionary learns, for example, that a parishioner punishes their children by beating or humiliating them because it is an acceptable practice in that country, he or she must decide how best to respond. Should the missionary remain silent and keep the members in the congregation or react with the high risk that the family will leave the congregation? These questions could not be generally answered.

Other small-group discussions focused on developing local relationships, engaging in advocacy and mentoring and embracing migration.

On Saturday, the entire group, including spouses and children, traveled by bus to Potsdam near Berlin. They visited the Sanssouci Palace and Park. On Sunday afternoon, the group went to the inner city on a walking tour of the Berlin Wall, the Brandenburg Gate and the Holocaust Memorial.

Eun Ha “Grace” and Jae Hyoung “Jay” Choi, new missionaries in residence in Atlanta, their son Soo Hoon and Benjamin Huth, a United Methodist in Berlin, provided child care while parents were busy with activities of the gathering. This included taking the children to the German Museum of Technology and the Berlin Zoo.

Special time was reserved for conversation with Thomas Kemper, top executive of Global Ministries. He told the group about the beginning of what is now Global Ministries. John Stewart (1786-1823), an African-American, was one of the first missionaries of the then-Methodist Episcopal Church (MEC). From shortly after his conversion in 1816 until his early death of tuberculosis, he brought the gospel to the Wyandots, a Native American nation living in Ohio at that time. In 1819, a mission organization was founded in New York to support Stewart. In 1820, this mission organization was officially recognized by the MEC general conference and became its mission agency.

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General Secretary Thomas Kemper leads the group in conversation. PHOTO: ÜLLAS TANKLER

The Rev. Douglas Childress, lecturer of church history and theology at the Baltic Methodist Theological Seminary, said he thought the most important aspect of the gathering was “meeting with other missionaries and praying with them, fellowshipping with them, and hearing their stories (of) what God is doing in other parts of the world. It is refreshing,” he continued, “to connect with other people and … inspiring to hear amazing things going on around the world.”

His wife, Külli Tõniste, added, “Definitely connecting with other missionaries has been a very significant part of the gathering, and we learned so much. We realized that there are some parts of the world where life is very difficult right now for missionaries and other parts where there is lots more hope than it ever used to be. As a mother, I would say it's been very wonderful for our children to come and speak to other missionary children and speak in English because they have not been able to do that a very long time.”

*Reinhold Parrinello is a professing member of The United Methodist Church and volunteer writer for United Methodist Communications based in Germany.