On the Way to the Council

As I write this blog, I am sitting in a hotel room in Nashville, Tennessee, Wednesday October 29th.  We have just finished the annual fall meeting of the United Methodist Publishing House Board. (Cokesbury & Abingdon Press are two of the better known divisions.)  I have been privileged to serve on this Board for the past 10 years (four as a representative from the Southwest Texas Conference and six as a bishop representing the Council of Bishops (COB).

During those 10 years, we have lived through (and are continuing to live in!) a revolution in the publishing business.  The advent of new technology spearheaded by Amazon has transformed the publishing enterprise beyond previous recognition.  And yet, Amazon just posted the biggest loss in its history.  With the superb leadership of President and Publisher Neil Alexander we are sailing through storm tossed seas, battered but still afloat, and slicing through the waves.  (It is worth noting in this same time period, Borders has declared bankruptcy; Barnes & Noble is losing money and cutting back; Nazarene Press is closing; Augsburg (Lutheran) is in turmoil fighting a lawsuit for failure to honor its pension commitments.

We had a good meeting as we planned future strategy and made strategic decisions.  GROW, our children’s curriculum, is outstanding.  So too is the new adult Covenant Bible Study series.  UNDER WRAPS: The Gift We Never Expected, a new advent study, looks outstanding.  Revival: Faith as Wesley Lived It  is exciting in possibilities.

As I reflect on our time and work together, an old song by Bob Dylan comes back from my college days.  “The times they are a changin’”

Tonight, I will join a special gathering put together by the Path 1 (“New Places for New People” focus area) staff of the Discipling Ministries (which used to be known as The Board of Discipleship).  The event is a gathering of seminary professors of evangelism and new church start practitioners.  The hope is for an intensive interaction between the theology and practice of new church development.  One of the key areas of focus is on why “Wesleyan church planting matters.”

I will be offering an opening “theological reflection/devotion” (that is the actual title of my assignment) entitled “The Challenge of Why.”  Central Texas Conference members have heard a precursor of this extended work offered in a series of sermons at the 2012 Annual Conference.  Simply put, the challenge of “why” is to answer the question of “why bother being Christian or worship God by going to church.”

One shudders in recalling the casual comment of a church staff member to her pastor, “We’re Methodists; we can believe whatever we want, can’t we?”  No, we can’t!  Answering the “why” question necessitates recovery of a core orthodoxy at the heart of our teaching and preaching.  It is central to any faithful future for the Methodist movement in North America.

Thursday night I fly home and a brief part of Friday morning will be spent in the office.  We’ll drive to Oklahoma City Friday afternoon so I can take part in a rehearsal for Saturday’s Connectional Table Webcast event of a panel discussion of the bishops who wrote Finding Our Way.

The Council meeting starts Sunday afternoon with a traditional Memorial Service.  I hope to offer reflections on our gathering during the week.  In my devotional time I am reminded again of a song we sang at Taize, In The Lord I’ll be Ever Thankful.

In the Lord I’ll be ever thankful,
In The Lord I will rejoice!
Look to God, do not be afraid.
Lift up your voices, The Lord is near,
Lift up your voices, The Lord is near.

Church Typologies and Crucial Shifts

The great church leadership, administration and church growth guru of the late 20th century for mainline Protestantism was Dr. Lyle Schaller.  Among the many insightful concepts he popularized was the notion of church typologies.  Church typology is a way of understanding churches and common behavior found in similar-sized churches.  The Alban Institute, a highly respected think-tank for mainline Protestants, also offered valuable insight in why open country rural churches worshipping between 50 and 70 on an average Sunday would act much the same and why large downtown “First” churches confront similar challenges.  Both championed the notion that worship attendance was a key (if not “The key”) variable for helping congregations understand their internal dynamics.

I often use my own short-hand version of their deeper insights.  A simple way of thinking about churches based on size is through worship attendance.  (I hasten to add that there are many other factors such as urban, rural, county seat, suburban, etc.!)

Average Worship Attendance Typology
Less than 70 Family chapel
70 to 150 Small
150 to 300 Medium
300 to 750 Large
750 to 1800 Regional
1800+ Mega

There are interesting variations in this shorthand (and admittedly overly simplistic) way of viewing congregations.  For instance, a downtown first church will often have a regional characteristic even if its worship attendance is not around 750.  So too with the perceived leader in an urban ethnic community.  A county seat church will often be a large church even if its worship attendance puts it in the medium category.

There are two size subsets that are important to note:  Less than about 25 or 30 in average worship is a much more distinctive family chapel.  On the other end of the spectrum, at around 500 in average worship a large church starts to act and feel more like it is semi-regional.

There are some common touch points for United Methodist Churches worth noting:

  1. Most churches operate as one size smaller than they really are.  Thus, they tend to shrink to a smaller size just to fit the way they are operating!
  2. We (the UMC) have tended to staff for one size smaller then we are.  Over the last 10 years this has changed, and I see many churches staff bigger than they actually are!  This can hurt the importance of a shared lay ministry.  It is tricky and important to staff for growth without over-staffing.
  3. As church growth breaks into the next size category is much like going through the sound barrier.  Moving to a bigger size means engaging in church operations differently.  People unconsciously often resist such change.  It is not uncommon to see a pattern over a 20 or 30 year time period of a church that approaches a size and then falls back to the smaller size (especially among larger churches).  This is because it is difficult to change the way we consciously operate!  Changing to a larger size is a category shift and requires “doing church” differently.  A lot of congregational fights are really over system issues that have to do with size.
  4. Context – that is the ministry area, mission field, and congregational history – affect the way our “typology” interacts with our ministry, but no church is exempt from wrestling with the issues presented by a category shift!

I am headed out for three days in Nashville.  Two will be spent in the annual meeting of the United Methodist Publishing House Board, which it is my privilege to serve on (along with Dr. Eric McKinney from the Central Texas Conference).  The third day will be participating in and giving an address to a gathering of evangelism professors at various seminaries and a group of new church development pastors.  I’ll fly back in Thursday night and leave Friday for 8 days at the Fall Council of Bishops meeting held this session in Oklahoma City.  (The Council itself only meets for 5 days, but I am on the Executive Committee which adds a pre-meeting meeting, plus I am a part of a panel interview of those who co-authored the book Finding Our Way.)  I ask for your prayers for the Council of Bishops meeting.

My Name is Elizabeth

Anyone who has taken an Intro to the Old Testament class in seminary quickly learns that in Hebrew tradition the naming of someone is critically important. It shares the essence and character of a being. To be named is to be important and significant. To be named is to have lived. A name is not just a label for identification; it is an expression of the essential nature of a person. A name reveals someone’s character. So crucial is this concept that the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) lifts up to significant status the naming of God as in burning bush (Exodus 3). In Exodus 3:14, God replies to Moses, “I Am Who I Am. So say to the Israelites, ‘I Am has sent me to you.’” The Lord’s self-naming denotes the character of both being and action – the sovereign Lord God.

While at the Maua Methodist Hospital in Kenya, Rev. Jim Monroe (CEO of the hospital) shared a story that came out of his first mission trip to Maua Methodist Hospital which I share with you now with his permission.

As Jim first toured the hospital, he came into a ward with six beds and multiple women sharing each bed. Moving into the ward, he was told the patients were dying of AIDS. Jim would stop, pray, and share what he could. Then, at one bed, when he paused, one of the three women sharing the bed got up. She was a very beautiful woman dressed in a hospital gown. The only thing that marred her physical beauty was that her face and arms were covered in sores. As she faced Rev. Monroe, very slowly she took off her gown and turned around so that he could not help but to fully see her. Then she leaned over and said something to him in a language which he did not understand. After sharing, with almost regal stateliness, she then put back on her gown and laid back down in the bed with the other two women, curled into the fetal position, and turned her back to him. Jim turned to the hospital worker who accompanied him and asked what she had said.

She said, “Tell them my name is Elizabeth and that I lived.” The worker explained that she was an unmarried women, triply stigmatized in the community by (1) her lack of marriage, (2) her failure to bear a child and (3) her having AIDS.

Jim shared with our silent listening group that it was this incident which convinced him of the importance of mission work in Maua and Kenya. As I have reflected on this moving story which sticks in my mind it speaks of something deeper. The Christian faith lives on the heartfelt conviction that every human being matters to God. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ is for all, no matter how close to God or how far from God they/we might be.

The name Elizabeth, interestingly enough, means “my God is an oath” or “God is satisfaction.” It is a treasured and indeed honored name that connects directly to the character of God. More personally, Elizabeth is also the middle name of our own precious daughter (Sarah Elizabeth Lowry Meek, and the mother of our granddaughter The Amazing Grace!).

Elizabeth reminds me again of a truth we know well: Absolutely every person matters to God. It tells us again and again that we have a moral responsibility and duty to share Christ – his love, redeeming grace and offer of salvation to every human being we can reach. It emphasizes again a truth about the character of God who reaches out to the hungry, the homeless and the hurting. It calls us again and again to missional deeds of love, justice and mercy.  It teaches us, through the essence of naming, core values of the faith we hold and share.

Elizabeth’s story rings in my heart: “Tell them my name is Elizabeth and that I lived.” I pray that we may continue as churches and a people of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and be dedicated to reaching out to all the Elizabeths of this world with the gospel of God’s grace and sharing Christ’s love in words and deeds under the lordship of Jesus Christ through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.

 

Anniversaries of Joy, Discipleship and Sacrifice

During the past 2 months I have had the joy and privilege of participating in the anniversary celebrations at four difference Central Texas Conference Churches. Alvarado UMC celebrated its 150th anniversary; Morgan Mill UMC and Cranfills Gap UMC had their 125th anniversary; First UMC, Temple celebrated the 100th anniversary of its magnificent historic sanctuary (the first sanctuary burned to the ground in 1911 and they rebuilt completing the new/current sanctuary in 1914). I will have the joy of sharing in the 100th anniversary celebration of Saginaw UMC.

As I have done my research for each of the five churches listed above, I have been deeply struck by the discipleship (committed, disciplined following of Christ) and sacrifice that each anniversary represents. Consider the times these various churches launched out as a new church. In every case they went ahead and started the church or built the sanctuary in the face of internal trials going on in America that would make a reasonable person pause.

Alvarado UMC began in the midst of a raging Civil War. Morgan Mill UMC and Cranfills Gap UMC both began in the midst of great national debate and division. In 1889 President Grover Cleveland was succeeded by President Benjamin Harrison in a contentious election that would be reversed four years later. (Sounds familiar doesn’t it?) War between America and Germany over an incident in Samoa was barely averted. Racism in all its virulent evil stalked the land. 125 years ago a religious crimes code was passed by Congress “to deny Indians their 1st amendment right: freedom of religion. It was designed to drive away the Indian religious ceremonies and only allow those made and created by white men.”

In Temple, the great First Methodist Episcopal Church sanctuary burned to the ground in 1911 and they went ahead and rebuilt in the face of really tough times. Under President Woodrow Wilson, the peace President, an international misunderstanding with Mexico (then undergoing a revolution) erupted into armed conflict and the occupation of Veracruz. In the initial fighting “19 Americans were killed; 72 wounded. Mexican losses were around between 150 and 170 soldiers killed, between 195 and 250 wounded, and an unknown number of civilians killed.” Meanwhile back at home labor unrest was rampant. The Colorado National Guard attacked a tent colony of 1,200 striking coal miners killing 24 people in what became known as the Ludlow Massacre.

This tumult paled in comparison with the start of World War I in August and the closure of the New York Stock Exchange because of the war. While the stock market reopened about 3 ½ months later, eventually World War I resulted in over 37 million military and civilian deaths. Comparatively the United States got off light because of when we entered the war and it was fought on foreign soil. With respect and honor to those who so nobly sacrificed, 117,465 deaths are recorded as silent witness to how bleak the times were. You would have thought that the good people of Alvarado, Morgan Mills, Temple, Cranfills Gap, and Saginaw could have picked better safer more congenial times to begin a church.

You would have thought they would have better economic sense than to sail forward into the headwinds of a closed stock market, or contentious national election, or a Civil War. But no, they moved forward in discipleship as committed, disciplined followers of Jesus Christ. In their discipleship they were full of joy. It is easy to be a fan of Jesus; to sit in the stadium and cheer when things are good. It is a whole other thing to live in a deep-seated joy that is committed, disciplined, loyal even – no especially – when times are tough.

This brings me to the second cardinal, biblically-grounded, insight I found in my research. They got to the joy of their anniversaries through sacrifice. Consider the biblical and theological truth that Jesus doesn’t need advice. He is the one giving advice. The Master does not covet fans. He seek followers, friends, who will go beyond being advisors to being sacrificial followers. Reflect on the teaching of Jesus as reflected in John’s gospel. “I have said these things to you so that my joy will be in you and your joy will be complete. This is my commandment: love each other just as I have loved you. No one has greater love than to give up one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I don’t call you servants any longer, because servants don’t know what their master is doing. Instead, I call you friends” (John 1511-15a). This is the example the people of these churches set a hundred plus years ago.

Our ancestors thought it was worth the price to sacrifice so that these churches could come into being. I like to remind every congregation that there was a time in their life when this congregation was a new church. This is part and parcel of the biblical reason new church development is so critical. It is not about whether we will have faith. It is about whether our children and grandchildren will have faith. It is a pearl of great price. “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure that somebody hid in a field, which someone else found and covered up. Full of joy, the finder sold everything and bought that field” (Matthew 13:44).

Anniversary joy comes in deep sacrificial discipleship! It knows sadness and grief. It lives in times of tumult whether it be 1864, 1889, 1914 or 2014. It ascends the hill of personal prejudice and plants the flag of Christ atop the peaks of violence and rancor. Joy comes in the committed disciplined living as a disciple precisely because it is sacrificial. It is built on our relationship with the Lord and not on our personal preferences. I thank God and those five churches for the joy of sharing with them!

Take My Baby

Our second day at Maua Methodist Hospital in Maua, Kenya, we split  to various  tasks.  A part of our group went with the hospital chaplain on her rounds.  As they moved from ward to ward, they came to the maternity unit.  The ward did not have private rooms (or semi-private) as we are used to.  Instead about 8 beds were spread out in a large rectangle ward offering some limited privacy.  Newborn mothers with their babies were mixed in with some mothers whose babies had not survived.

The reader can imagine the sensitivity and prayers that were needed as members of the team visited with various mothers.  One person would be in great joy because of the birth of their new child and the next bed over a mother would be in deep grief over the loss of a still-born child.

As our team shared individually with the mothers, one of the team members visited with a mother who had a beautiful newborn.  However, instead of great joy, she too was in grief.  As our team member listened, shared and prayed, the new mother offered the team member her new baby.  “Would you take my child?”

As you can imagine the team member was shocked by the offer.  Who would willingly give up their beautiful baby?  I literally could not imagine doing so!  As a father, being a parent is near the top of my list of the truly great things that have happened to me.  (Converting to Christ and marrying Jolynn come first and second.  Our children, Nathan and Sarah, along with our granddaughter, Grace Jean, are all tied for 3rd!)  When I think of giving away a baby, scenes from TV crime dramas come to mind.  You know the kind – Some bad guys cook up a scheme to sell babies for profit and the great detectives of Law & Order or NCIS save the day.

The woman’s offer — “Take my baby” — didn’t fit any of those manufactured dramas.  Instead the offer was made by a mother’s love.  Impoverished with too many children already to feed, the mother out of love for her newborn child hoped that someone would be able to take care of her child better.  She was willing to give the child away as an act of love.  (One member of our Team who has worked with the poor as a nurse commented, “I can take you places where this is happening in Fort Worth too.”)

As our Kenyan Mission Trip team member shared the story, I was blown away.  How could a loving parent ever willingly give up a child?!  Yet the more I reflected on the offer (which by the way was rejected) and the more I discussed it with others, the more I came to see the deep love involved in the grieving mother’s actions.  In love, she was offering her baby to another.

I have been thinking and praying about this incident on our Mission Trip for the last 3 + weeks.  Slowly it has dawned me that this is exactly what God has done with His “only begotten Son.”  The Lord God, the ultimate loving parent, has given His/Her son in love to a spiritually impoverished, morally bankrupt, and physically damaged world.  In love God has said to us, “Here, take my baby.”  This is the greatness, the awesome greatness of God’s love.

As we move into the fall, I invite and challenge us to prepare for the Advent and Christmas season focusing on the great parental love of The Lord.  Doctrinally this is called the incarnation.  It is the awe-inspiring story of the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us (John 1:14).  It is  one of three truly great distinctives of the Christian faith (along with the doctrine of the Trinity and the Resurrection.  There is an argument that can be made for others, but that discussion is for a later day.)

For those of you engaging in Advent planning, I urge you to go to Cokesbury.com and investigate the excellent new resources for teaching the meaning of Advent and Christmas (the doctrine of the incarnation).  Let this great love of God dominate our preaching and worship this Advent and Christmas!

Re-Learning from John the Evangelist

In an earlier blog (September 26, 2014 – Medical Camp & the Ongoing Ministry of Ken Diehm), I wrote about the incredible experience of participating in a Medical Mission Camp near Maua, Kenya. We were among the poorest of the poor and engaged in a great ongoing mission venture. While engaged in the medical mission camp, a host of unusual things took place. One of them was meeting John the Evangelist.

As we were handing out malaria bed nets and directing the flow of a long, long line of people seeking medical care, a nicely dressed (suit and tie in the midst of an incredibly dusty, rugged situation) young man appeared on the scene. People (both from the village area and the hospital) started happy exclaiming “John the Evangelist is here!” Rev. Jim Monroe, the CEO of Maua Methodist Hospital, commented, “I knew he would show up.”

Jim made a point of introducing us. It was exciting to meet and visit with John the Evangelist (as the people called him). John shared with me and Randy Wild that he had planted 8 churches. Joking, Randy asked when he was going to start #9. Not getting the joke, John replied in full seriousness, “Soon.”

I know that many of those churches are quite small and effectively are what we would term “house churches.” Yet as we visited, John shared that one of them had grown from 17 members to 300 members (worship attendance if I understood him averages more than 300).

I get it that the Kenyan climate for new church development is radically different from ours. I’ve been a part of starting a new church and fully realize the difference in context and environment. Still, the zealous commitment to evangelism, witness, and new church development is awe- inspiring work of the Lord to which they (the Methodists of Kenya) are highly, incredibly highly, committed. I cannot help but wonder what it would be like if we held to a similar high commitment.

I am not sure that I correctly understand the various steps and their order for ordination in the Methodist Church of Kenya. As John the Evangelist explained to me, he hopes soon to be ordained. Carefully he shared that one is an evangelist first and then becomes a pastor. To him the connection seemed obvious. It was as if he was telling Randy and me, “Of course you can’t be a pastor until you have proven yourself as an evangelist.”

As I listened to John the Evangelist, our Cabinet Retreat of 2011 came back to me. Dr. Ted Campbell, (Associate Professor of Church History at Perkins School of Theology and a specialist in Wesley studies) led the Cabinet through a learning experience from early Methodism in American. Ted had us read the autobiography of Rev. William Stevenson, who was a pioneer itinerant in the southwestern part of the United States. In 1815 Rev. Stevenson was the “first Protestant of any denomination to preach within the bounds of what is today Texas. He was also among the first Methodists or Protestants to preach in Oklahoma as well” (The Autobiography of Rev. William Stevenson, Edited by Ted Campbell).

John the Evangelist operated much like Stevenson. They were both courageous frontier evangelists (witnessers) for Christ and the Wesleyan way of salvation. They both risked physical hardship. They both put together in a marvelously faithful way public evangelism and a concomitant call of commitment to Christ with an active ministry of social aid and justice. In ways that were obvious and seemed instinctive, they both got the combination of evangelism and missions (the deeds of love, justice and mercy).

After visiting for a while, I watched as John the Evangelist moved among the people waiting patiently in line. Their mutual affection and relationship to each other was obvious. In a pleasant and grace-filled manner, he listened, counseled, and helped to connect them to the needed care. He did so explicitly lifting the name of Jesus Christ and, where appropriate, pausing to pray with them.

I cannot help but think we have much to learn, or more properly re-learn, from John the Evangelist.

Kenya and Habitat

Over the past three weeks much (though not all) of the focus of my work has been on missions and missional issues facing the church. By missional, I broadly mean engaging in deeds of love, justice and mercy. This falls under the broad theological rubric of sanctification and is what John Wesley would refer to as holiness of heart and life.

For almost two weeks, I was a participant in the Conference Mission Trip to Kenya. Over the years many of our churches have been engaged in great ministry in Kenya. I have been writing a series of reflective blogs on my learnings from the Kenyan trip, and I will be writing more in the next few weeks. One of the deeply moving experiences for me was visiting the Methodist Church of Kenya’s Guest House in Meru. There on the wall was a plaque noting that Dr. Ken Diehm laid the foundation stone and another dedicating the conference hall in his name. The partnership between the Central Texas Conference and the Methodist Church of Kenya is deep and strong, stretching over a number of years. (We will be having a wonderful day of sharing and learning on October 25 through a Global Mission 101 Event held at First UMC, Fort Worth.)

Monday, October 6th, I had the joy of offering the prayer at the great Habitat Carter Build Work Project taking place this week in Fort Habitat Carter buildWorth. It was a tremendous act of the greater community coming together for the common good. Gage Yager, the director of Habitat in this area (and a member of Arlington Heights UMC) commented to me that the United Methodist church is the largest participating group they have. Habitat is truly a godly, missional (“love, justice and mercy”) activity!

Periodically people ask me whether I believe we should be engaged in mission work at home or overseas. My answer is always YES! It is a both/and and not an either/or. The two activities feed each other. Churches that engage in vibrant local ministry sooner or later are led by the Holy Spirit to engage in missional ministry to the larger world. Likewise, churches that engage in missional activity overseas are inevitability led by the Holy Spirit back into greater local missional effort. The two feed each other!

I’ve noticed that in the great plan of the Lord healthy churches are inevitably involved in both local and global missions and missional activities. Somehow the interconnection of the two – local and global – reflects an interconnection of the Holy Spirit and the heart of God in the life of the local church. We become more like Jesus and are in very truth “the body of Christ” (I Corinthians 12:27).

At lunch on Monday I offered the following prayer:

Great and gracious Lord God, we come before you this day about the ministry of Habitat for Humanity mindful always that you first came among us a homeless refugee. We confess, Lord God, to inhabit a world where our priorities are often upside down. Forgive we pray, the ways in which we by omission and commission have participated in the wreck of human life which you hold holy. Your words echo in our thoughts; you have told us what you require of us: “to do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with y[our] God” (Micah 6:8).

Grant now in our actions and activities, regardless of creed or clan, nation or race, economic or educational status that we might be found faithful to this great ministry. Bless, we pray, those who lead us. We give you thanks this day especially for the ministry and example of President and Mrs. Carter. We ask that you guide and direct and multiply this ongoing activity to your Glory. Amen.

High Windows

A week ago Wednesday (September 24th) I stood outside the chapel at Maua Methodist Hospital in Kenya.  The hospital conducts daily chapel worship every morning with the expectation that all hospital staff will attend.  Graciously they had asked that our Central Texas Conference Mission Team lead worship on that day and that I preach.  The assigned text they gave (as a part of an ongoing series they were involved in) was 2 Timothy 1:1-4.

As I stood outside mentally going over my message, the words of the text flowed over me.  It was as if I could hear the author of 2 Timothy speaking to the staff of Maua Methodist Hospital.   “I’m grateful to God . . .  I’m reminded of your authentic faith … I’m sure that this faith is also inside you. … God didn’t give us a spirit that is timid but one that is powerful, loving, and self-controlled.”

The explicit vibrancy of the Christian faith in our north east Kenyan setting was everywhere present.  The words of 2 Timothy continued to echo: “So don’t be ashamed of the testimony about the Lord or of me, his prisoner. Instead, share the suffering for the good news, depending on God’s power. God is the one who saved and called us with a holy calling. This wasn’t based on what we have done, but it was based on his own purpose and grace that he gave us in Christ Jesus before time began.”

The Kenyan Christians are explicit about their faith.  Amidst a bewildering variety of denominations and expressions (some European and North American implants and other expressions homegrown denominations), they are not ashamed of their faith.  Nor do they take it for granted.  While Kenya is far more Christian as a whole than the United States, there is a still a freshness to their witness that inspires.  We have much to learn from them.

Earlier that week on Monday morning as we stood outside waiting to join the first of our weekly chapel services, Rev. James Monroe, CEO of Maua Methodist Hospital, had called our attention to the placement of the windows in the chapel.  They were not in the normal position but instead high up on the outside walls.  Rev. Monroe went on to explain that when Christianity first came to the area (only a few generations ago) people would throw stones through the windows at Christians worshipping together.  The stones would hit and injure people in the pews.  So, when the built the chapel, as a protective measure they put the widows high up on the outside walls.  In this way people worshipping were less likely to be struck by a thrown rock.

The rock throwing didn’t stop the worship; nor did it squelched their public witness.  They remained, in the words of 2 Timothy, “not ashamed” of the gospel.  Today, because of their public witness, explicit evangelistic sharing, monumental good works for all people (even – especially – those who were not Christian), and steadfast reliance on the Holy Spirit, something like 80% of the population of the Maua region of Kenya is Christian (active and practicing, not just on a role!).  The high windows are both testimony and legacy.  There provide a pointed lesson to us.

I wonder, are we – am I – willing to suffer for Christ in boldly offering our/my witness?  Are we unashamed of the gospel and willing with courage and utter reliance on Christ to say “This is also why I’m suffering the way I do, but I’m not ashamed. I know the one in whom I’ve placed my trust. I’m convinced that God is powerful enough to protect what he has placed in my trust until that day” (2 Timothy 1:12).  Do we “Hold on to the pattern of sound teaching that you heard from me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus [?]. Protect this good thing that has been placed in your trust through the Holy Spirit who lives in us.”

I return from Kenya thankful for the teaching and prodding they offer us.  We have much to learn.

KENYA_preaching

MEDICAL CAMP AND THE ONGOING MINISTRY OF KEN DIEHM

On Wednesday (and again today – Friday, September 26th), the Central Texas Conference Mission Team share with key personal in an incredible experience called “Medical Camp.”  Leaving after morning chapel at the Maua Methodist Hospital, we drove for about an hour out into what seemed like desolation.  Leaving the green foothills around Maua, we went out into a drought-stricken region that made our own West Texas drought area look verdant by comparison.  In a Methodist School out among the poorest of the poor, we set up a clinic providing basic medical care.

On the far side of the school yard was the area well.  It is an incredible scene of life-giving water being pumped into 10 gallon yellow plastic jugs all day long.  The water is then carried, sometimes miles, on the back or in a wheelbarrow back to a home with no electricity or running water.  The wells themselves (we saw two) were in part put in by various United Methodist congregations from the Central Texas Conference, the Oregon-Idaho Conference, some churches in the Western North Carolina Conference and some parts of the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference.  The power of connection, the United Methodist Connection, and the connection we have with the Methodist Church of Kenya was incredibly evident in a life-giving Christ-honoring way.  Matthew 25:44 came alive before our eyes.

A group of us demonstrated the use of the malaria preventing bed nets.  It was my tremendous joy to present the first bed net ever given out in that area to a young mother holding a small child.  The gratitude was palpable. Malaria sickness was the most prevalent Kenya_bishopdiseaKenya_jolynnse we encountered on Medical Camp.  The nets are prized possessions that often a number of family members will sleep under together.  I made the presentation on behalf of the Central Texas Conference as we gave out 200 nets.  We ran out!  More were needed.  Tomorrow we will give out another 200 at the next Medical Camp.

 

These life saving Medical Camps could not happen without Mission teams from places like Texas, Oregon, North Carolina and Pennsylvania.  They provided two crucial ingredients that, as good and as dedicated as there wonderful staff are (and make no mistake there are tremendously committed!), cannot provide — personnel through critically needed person-power and financial resources enabling the hospital to get the necessary medical supplies.  It was an exhausting, incredibly gratifying, truly holy day.

Thursday, while most of the team prepared for Friday’s medial camp and made contact with Zoe Ministry at the hospital, Randy Wild, Jolynn Lowry and I traveled to a special project.  We went to Mari, Kenya and visited with the Synod Bishop of the Kaaga Synod (Synod = District; Synod Bishop = District Superintendent).  In 2006 the Rev. Dr. Ken Diehm through his attendance at the World Methodist Conference in Seoul, Korea made connections with the Presiding Bishop of the MCK (Methodist Church of Kenya) and thereby began this incredible ministry that a number of CTC churches have been involved in every since.  On the wall of the HIV/Aids office were page after page of papers listing the orphaned destitute children being supported by First UMC of Grapevine, First UMC of Salado and Foundation UMC.

Later, we went to lunch at a guest house and retreat center the Kaaga Synod is building in partnership with First UMC, Grapevine.  There at the entrance was plaque stating that the foundation stone was laid by Rev. Dr. Ken Diehm, July 4, 2008.  Across the corridor there was another plaque dedicating the meeting hall in Ken’s honor and memory.

As I reflected on the day’s events, I find myself profoundly moved.  God is a work here literally half way around the world.  And we as Christians and churches and as the Central Texas Conference are incredibly privileged, honored and blessed to be a part of that ministry.  The great Methodist doctrine of sanctification is unfolding before our eyes.  Bible passages like Luke 10:25-27 and Matthew 25:31-44 are taking place before us.  I thank you, the members of the Central Texas Conference, for this good and godly work so nobly begun through the visionary leadership of Ken Diehm.  If you are not following the blog on the Kenya Mission trip written by Rev. Katie Meek, I urge you to do so.

MAUA MISSION

The day opens with worship at 7:30 in the hospital chapel.  The simple but pleasant sanctuary fills with hospital staff and we stand to sing.  The music comes from an old British Methodist hymnal and is known to many of us.  As the voices lift in song, the day begins with the Lord.

We arrived in Maua, Kenya on our mission trip to the Maua Methodist Hospital (an “Advanced Special” offering site of the Methodist ministry in the north east of Kenya) a day late.  Mechanical delays at DFW meant that we missed our connection in Dubai.  As a result, we spent an unplanned night in Dubai.  Most of us took the time to tour the city.

Opulence was the descriptive word!  On our tour we went past one magnificent structure after another.  The lights, the glitz, the extravagant wealth all combined for the ethereal experience.  At first I was impressed and then gradually I became depressed.  It was all too much.  Whatever the religion, the reigning God appeared to be financial wealth.  I am rightly judged by my inclination to be initially impressed and even covetous.  I am liberated by Christ calling me back to my better self.

At Maua Hospital, a ministry of the Methodist Church of Kenya (an affiliated Methodist Church of the UMC), a work of God unfolds in a ministrykenya_kids that only begins in the hospital.  A part of our mission travels took us yesterday to a pre-school for children who have been orphaned by AIDS and other poorer children in the community.  The poorest of the poor are not abandoned by the church but embraced.  One of the truly great God moments happened as Rev. Katie Meek let us in a singing, handwaving, dancing interaction with children who are starved for love.  This outpost work of the hospital is a phenomenal sharing of the love of Christ with most often unloved.

The hospital’s vision is far greater than simply a call for physical health care to those in the hospital.  It sees itself as responding to a call and claim for the Lord to a wider ministry beyond the hospital grounds  - especially (but not limited to) the poor.

What stands out the most for me, however, is the manner in which they understand true health care as accompanying both the spiritual and the physical side of life.  The morning worship is only one component.  Here at Maua Methodist Hospital they are explicitly but not exclusively about the Christian.  By that I mean they are consciously clear about praying to Christ, lifting up Christ, and seeking to be faithful to HIM as Lord and Savior by both word and deed.  The intertwining of the two is natural and instinctive.

Theologically speaking, this mission work seeks at its best to combine our understanding of justification and sanctification.  It yokes being saved by Christ to living for Christ in love and service to all.

Wednesday morning I will be the chapel preacher.  The assigned text they have given me is 2 Timothy 1:1-14.  (I invite the reader of this blog to read the text in full.)  2 Timothy gives thanks to God for their life and ministry.  I shall do the same.  One of my seminary classmates is a former presiding bishop.  (They have term episcopacy and he now serves in a Methodist University in Nairobi.)  The writer of this marvelous passage goes on to admonish Timothy not to be ashamed of the gospel but rather to offer a bold witness.  Such is being faithfully done in Maua and the surrounding area of Kenya.

The church here is not perfect.  Challenges abound.  But, significantly I think, we have much to learn here.  We also have something to offer.  It is in the combination of the two that God is honored and the gospel of our Lord is lifted up.  I know myself blessed to be on this mission trip.

For those who would like to learn more, the Conference mission trip has established a regular blog site led by Rev. Katie Meek, a member of the team from First United Methodist Church in Round Rock.  I commend your reading of this ongoing blog about our mission trip

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