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New Room Report

For the last two and a half days I have been in Franklin, Tennessee attending the New Room Conference. I was warned not to go. I was told that the New Room Conference was a gathering to plan the schism of the United Methodist Church over the issue of LGBT marriage and ordination. I suppose such rumors came about because the New Room talks about building a new network of Wesleyan Christians.

The notion that this is some schismatic Wesleyan-United Methodist group couldn’t be farther from the truth. There has been no talk about leaving the United Methodist Church from any of the Conference speakers. New Room has used explicit language about a new annual conference. But such talk about a conference is not structural.

The New Room Conference is about a global Wesleyan movement. It is an effort about connecting Wesleyan Christians from all over. In their own words, “it’s a decisively, unapologetically, creatively, Wesleyan gathering.” Yesterday I sat next a retired University President who is (as he put it) “a salvationist,” by which he meant a part of the Salvation Army. We heard a lecture from the Presiding Elder (translate Bishop) of the Wesleyan Church (Jo Anne Lyon). Her moving address connected a Wesleyan understanding of sanctification with ministry among those who have been maimed and mutilated by extremist in Syrian refugee camps. [The official from the Wesleyan Church who introduced her commented that some people work for the “man” but they work for the woman and are proud of it!]

If there is a theme, it is about the recovery of a full Wesleyan understanding of sanctification with a large (very large) dose of movement (work) of the Holy Spirit. These folks are deeply serious about genuine discipleship and deep allegiance to Jesus Christ as Lord. The focus is worldwide and not just a North American-centric vision.

Dr. Stanley John gave an impassioned address on the rise of immigrant churches in North America and the changing face of American Christianity. [“Stanley John is a member of the Indian diaspora born and raised in Kuwait. He serves as the director of the Alliance Graduate School of Missions and Assistant Professor of Intercultural Studies at the Alliance Theological Seminary of Nyack College in Nyack, New York.”] There is a great emphasis on church planting and evangelism that is yoked with sanctification in the best Wesleyan sense. Mike Breen, leader of the 3DM, led a workshop I attended that challenged us to consider how we move beyond mere cultural Christianity. Lisa Yebuah, Pastor of Inviting Ministries at Edenton Street United Methodist Church in Raleigh, NC, and Andrew Forrest, Pastor of Munger Place UMC in Dallas, both gave exciting illuminating talks. Kevin Watson, Assistant Professor of Wesleyan and Methodist Studies at Candler, gave an excellent address on the role of class and band meeting (similar to an address he gave to the Council of Bishops in Oklahoma last year). I could go on but hopefully you have received a taste of what for me has been a heartwarming and wonderfully encouraging conference.

The original purpose of an annual conference meeting was to investigate what to teach and how to teach and not about running an institution. This conference (spelled with a small “c”) is focused on the original purpose and not a political gathering. I hope to go to next year’s conference, time permitting.

As I closed this blog, I would be remiss if I did not note the recurrence of prayer for and conversation about the persecution of Christians. Persecution is a present reality in a number of places around the world. We tend to think of the Middle East and ISIS but the struggle is far wider. One report from India was particularly chilling. Amid the reality of persecution there is a wonderful converting ministry which is a work – one of the Holy Spirit offering love in the place of hate. I ask you to join with me in prayer for all those suffering for the faith and for those causing the suffering. May Christ be known! May our discipleship grow in both sanctification (personal and social holiness in heart and life) and grace-filled love for all people!

Whose Side Are You On?

The daily news of divisions assault us. I have been watching with many of you the nightly news of debate amongst the contenders for the Republican Party’s nomination for president. Are you for Trump or Cruz, Perry or Fiorina, Rubio or Kasich, Carson or Bush, or any of the other (what is it now –17?) candidates. Maybe instead your preference leans into the Democratic Party’s race for the nomination. Do you support Clinton or Sanders, Webb or Chafee? The rhetoric of division and demonization has already scaled the foothills of the absurd.   I cannot help but think of Donald Trump’s trip to Laredo and his claim that he had put his life in danger by going there. (The last time I went there I helped open a new United Methodist Church!)

Before we settle into the holy arrogance of the elite, we must pause and confess the divisions among us. For starters there is the obvious denominational division which is a scandal on the body of Christ. But the issue of whose side are you on strikes closer to home. Nowadays almost everywhere I go in the United Methodist Church there are debates and divisions about whether United Methodist pastors should be able to perform same gender marriages and about ordination of those who are a part of a same gender married couple. Whose side are you on?

Recently as a part of my daily devotional life, I perceived the Lord directing me to read the book of Joshua. I confess that I am more a New Testament guy (through I do regularly read and study both). Trying to be faithful, I have slowly been reading through Joshua and contemplating its lessons.

One day, I went through a series of experiences where the divisions impacted me directly. I watched (but did not take part in) a debate around various Republican candidates. People kept pushing each other to declare whose side they were on. The argument quickly became strident. Later in the day I was directly involved in a painful strife-laced tense argument about how the United Methodist Church should respond to the recent Supreme Court decision declaring marriage a constitutional right. I went to bed that night more than just a little disturbed by the divisions tearing at both our society and church.

The next morning as I went through my devotional time the fifth chapter of Joshua came up for reading in the regular rhythm of my devotions. Joshua 5:13-15 reads:

13 When Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up. He caught sight of a man standing in front of him with his sword drawn. Joshua went up and said to him, “Are you on our side or that of our enemies?”
14 He said, “Neither! I’m the commander of the Lord’s heavenly force. Now I have arrived!” Then Joshua fell flat on his face and worshipped. Joshua said to him, “What is my master saying to his servant?”
15 The commander of the Lord’s heavenly force said to Joshua, “Take your sandals off your feet because the place where you are standing is holy.” So Joshua did this.

I heard the Lord speaking to me and us as a people of faith. It is well past time in our debates and divisions that we embrace a godly humility. We do not have God on our side. Humbly we pray that we might faithfully align ourselves with the only one who can rightly be called Lord and Master.

This does not mean we should not have opinions, preferences and convictions. We can and should. It does not mean we should not debate issues, even passionately stating the case as best we understand it. Again, we can and should.

It does mean that we should sit lightly. However sure we are that we are right, the last word belongs to Lord God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. However convinced we are that our “side” is the Lord’s side, only the Lord Jesus Christ alone can truly make such a claim.

The Lord stands in our midst and speaks again to our challenge of whose side you are on. The answer is once again clear. “Neither! I’m the commander of the Lord’s heavenly force. Now I have arrived!” (Joshua 5:14a). We too, like Joshua, need to fall on our faces in worship asking only, “What is my master saying to his servant?” (Joshua 5:14b).

A Call for Prayer and Healing from the Council of Bishops

council of bishops logo 2014_medOnce a quadrennium, the United Methodist Council of Bishops meets intentionally outside the United States, which reminds us that we are truly a worldwide church. As we gather in Berlin, I ask for your prayers, especially for those Christians undergoing persecution, civil unrest and violence, as well as those dealing with the devastation brought about by natural disasters. I also request prayers for all the bishops as we gather together to discern the Holy Spirit’s guidance of this great church.

On the opening day of our meeting, Bishop Warner H. Brown, Jr., president of the Council of Bishops, sent an open letter to the people of The United Methodist Church requesting that we all join together in prayer for the church and the world. Bishop Brown, not only remembered those who are suffering around the world, he also commented on the recent eruption of violence in Baltimore and the need to no longer be in denial about the powerful impact of racism in the U.S. Bishop Brown currently serves as bishop for the San Francisco Episcopal Area, but he grew up in the very neighborhood of Baltimore that is ground zero for the rioting and unrest in the area.

I offer up to you his letter as a guest blog post.

“To the people of The United Methodist Church:

Grace and peace to the people called United Methodist and all people of good will. I greet you in the name of Jesus, the Christ who is risen. From May 1-7, the Council of Bishops of The United Methodist Church will hold its 2015 meeting in Berlin, Germany. During this week, we will be praying for the church and taking actions that we hope will help lead the church in a faithful response to the call of discipleship. Please pray with us, for the church and all those the church seeks to serve.

We are a church that practices ministry to the world in Jesus’ name. While United Methodist churches are primarily in Africa, Europe, the Philippines and the United States, our ministry partnerships connect us with every continent. So, we grieve when the news of the day reminds us of the many ways the people of our world are hurting and suffering under the weight of tragedy. We seek to respond readily with prayers and aid to the natural disasters such as we have just witnessed in Nepal. And the human inflicted pain also requires a prayerful response that declares that terrorism, human exploitation, bullying and abuses of power will not overcome us.

Please join me and the Council of Bishops in prayer, reflection and action toward overcoming the issues that sometimes divide our societies. Together we can find ways, appropriate to our social context, for healing the brokenness between us.

For those of us in the United States, our attention has been called to the powerful impact of racism on all of us. If we seek healing, we cannot continue to be in denial. Some of us have read the shocking Justice Department report on Ferguson and most have seen the violence that tragically erupted there against police officers. Since then other unarmed Black men have been killed in several cities and now Baltimore has also erupted in violence.

As a Black man who grew up in the very Baltimore neighborhood we have watched explode, this is personal. I grieve over what I see in my old neighborhood. The anger in the community is real because of decades of distrust.

Video documentation has raised expectations that claims of wrongdoing would be seriously considered; so distrust grows because very few police officers have been held accountable.

A just society cannot be built on violence. Violence and misconduct by either a misguided police officer or an angry citizen will not lead us to beloved community. Reconciliation can occur when we tell the truth and take responsibility for our actions.

Rev. Willis Johnson, pastor of Wellspring United Methodist Church which serves Ferguson, Missouri, said this: “Who is going to become a model for dealing with reconciling and truth? That is the role of the Church!”

In this season of resurrection, the Council of Bishops and I believe that we followers of Jesus are called to lead the way. Let us examine and repent of our own sins of racial bias and abuse of privilege. Let us proclaim and live the Gospel of love and justice for all. Let us become proactive in modeling that gospel in our churches and teaching it to young and old alike. Let us be disciples who are engaged with God in transforming our world, beginning in our own communities, working for justice, judicial reform and good police/community relations. Let us break down the walls that divide us and build relationships that vanquish our fears. When we work together for justice and peace, we will no longer be strangers.

Remember, all who would follow Jesus, he calls us again and again to “love your neighbor as yourself.”(Matt.22:39) Even out of the injustice and violence he experienced, Jesus leads us to hope and resurrection. Let us believe in and practice the power of prayer for our world, our church, our neighbors and our own lives.

And, the risen Christ said to his followers, “remember, I am with you always.”(Matt.28:20)

Your brother in Christ,

Warner H. Brown, Jr.”

Following the  release of the Bishop Brown’s letter, Bishop Gregory V. Palmer of the Ohio West Episcopal Area called for the Council to issue a pastoral letter on racism and asked the president to appoint a task force to work on this effort, to be completed by May 7.

A Critical Advent Sharing

One of the newsletters I read regularly is Update from the Lewis Center for Church Leadership of Wesley Theological Seminary.  Dr. Lovett Weems is a very wise and practical writer about the American church scene and especially about the United Methodist Church.  Recently I read the following article by Dr. Weems which I found striking and deeply insightful. Graciously Dr. Weems has given permission to reprint his recent article.  I do so with a strong recommendation to Pastors and Lay Leaders:  Read this article and next week, before Christmas(!), act upon it in some significant way.  This article is reprinted by permission from the free e-newsletter of the Lewis Center for Church Leadership of Wesley Theological Seminary and available at www.churchleadership.com.

The Emergence of the Dones

A friend alerted me to a blog by Thom Schultz, founder of Group Publishing, on “The Rise of the Dones.” At first I thought there must be a misprint. Surely the title meant to refer to the rise of the “Nones,” the increasingly large number of people, especially among those under 30, who choose as their religious affiliation “None.”

But “Dones” was correct, so I set out to learn more about this new group. Dones are those who typically were at one time the most active and loyal of church members. Now they have left. They did not go to other churches. They stopped going to church completely. Sometimes these persons are referred to as the “dechurched.”

Schultz points out the danger for churches. “The very people on whom a church relies for lay leadership, service and financial support are going away. And the problem is compounded by the fact that younger people in the next generation, the Millennials, are not lining up to refill the emptying pews.”

Drawing on research by sociologist Josh Packard, Schultz points to people fatigued with being talked at through countless sermons and Bible studies when they really want to be more engaged and to participate instead of a Sunday routine of “plop, pray, and pay.”  

Schultz asks if they will return. “Not likely, according to the research. They’re done. Packard says it would be more fruitful if churches would focus on not losing these people in the first place. Preventing an exodus is far easier than attempting to convince refugees to return.”

Often I will ask a pastor to think of a few people in the congregation who, if they left in the next year, would cause the church to be most vulnerable. Once they come up with their list, my follow-up question is, “What personal engagement have you had with them in the last two weeks?” Usually the answer is “none,” precisely because these are the people who are most loyal and dependable. They do not “require” or insist upon attention. But not giving attention to them is dangerous.

Pastors, staff, and congregational leaders need to spend time with the most active people to stay in touch with their thinking and feelings. Such ongoing connection can pick up clues about concerns or opportunities that would be missed otherwise. Decisions to leave are not made suddenly. They have been brewing for some time. Once people leave, often the clues that something was not right become all too obvious in retrospect.

Finding ways to talk with long-time, active members about their spiritual journeys and the connection of those journeys with your congregation can go a long way toward understanding the heart of the congregation and issues that can guide congregational leadership. Schultz suggests these questions.

*  Why are you a part of this church?
* What keeps you here?
*  Have you ever contemplated stepping away from church? Why or why not?
*  How would you describe your relationship with God right now?
*  How has your relationship with God changed over the past few years?
*  What effect, if any, has our church had on your relationship with God?
*  What would need to change here to help you grow more toward Jesus’ call to love God and love others? 

Remember that leaders listen. Leaders usually have to listen to those expressing upset and displeasure. Good leaders make sure they are finding time to listen to the most faithful well before any of them become “Dones.”

Lovett H. Weems, Jr.
December 3, 2014
http://www.churchleadership.com/leadingideas/updates/141203.html

 

 

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!

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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