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Christ the Refugee ©

The words are so simple and common. They come at the conclusion of Matthew’s great story of the Savior’s birth. We read the story at Christmas but rarely focus on closing verses and still less preach on them. “When the magi had departed, an angel from the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up. Take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod will soon search for the child in order to kill him.’  Joseph got up and, during the night, took the child and his mother to Egypt” (Matthew 2:13-14). Jesus was a political refugee fleeing political persecution.

Today we are confronting a similar refugee crisis streaming out Syria. In May, while in Europe for a Council of Bishops meeting, the European refugee crisis dominated the news. Today we are just beginning to confront the breadth of this horrible crisis and the way it is impacting not just Europe but the wider world. The level of human suffering is massive. The numbers are staggering. The need is enormous.

I have read a variety of articles about who is to blame. Clearly the primary guilt resides with the oppression of the Assad regime and the true evil of ISIS. The casual reader can consume articles about the failure of various European countries and the way they are handling the crisis on their door step. Some articles go wider afield and note the failure of wealthy Arab regimes in the area to help. Some point to the actions of U.S. and Coalition governments in pulling forces out of an unstable country in neighboring Iraq (inadvertently and unintentionally aiding the establishment of ISIS). Still others point to the slow response of the U.N. relief agency.

As a Christian, a Christ follower, I challenge us to avoid getting caught in the blame game. Instead focus on a basic biblical truth. Christ was a refugee from the brutal oppression of Herod. Our Lord and Master can be found among the Syrian refugees. As Christ followers we are to reach out with help in compassion and love. It really is that simple.

One of the truly great worldwide ministries of the United Methodist Church is UMCOR (The United Methodist Committee on Relief). There is a detailed separate article on the Central Texas Conference website about the refugee crisis and our response. I urge you to read the full article. It notes in part: “For more than a year, the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) has been responding to the conflict in the Middle East by assisting refugees and displaced persons in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Turkey. Working with local and international partners and via grants totaling nearly $2 million, UMCOR has helped alleviate suffering in the region by providing food, water, clothing, household items and improved places for children to learn and play. UMCOR’s efforts are continuing in this arena, including additional projects expected to be approved during the last quarter of 2015.”

As we reflect on Christ the refugee, I am asking the members and churches of the Central Texas Conference to take two very specific actions. First, please be in committed dedicated prayer for the refugees. Lift them up in worship services at your church. Make prayer for refugees a part of your daily prayer life. Second, I urge you to respond through your local church in tangible financial gifts through the great UMCOR ministry. To support UMCOR’s ongoing efforts in response to this and other disasters as well as its work to reduce disaster risk, I ask that an offering be taken for the International Disaster Response Advance, #982450

Just prior to attending the 2008 Jurisdictional Conference where I was elected a bishop in the United Methodist Church, Jolynn and I went on a spiritual formation retreat through the Pastors Retreat Network. In my directed spiritual reading, I came across a piece of writing by a Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Bishop. My vague memory is that the Metropolitan Bishop was writing in 1880s. I cannot remember his name but the words have stuck with me: “Whenever someone new enters a room, Christ enters the room. And, oh, he [Christ] comes in such disguises.”

Join me in seeing Christ in the refugee. However well disguised, the Lord is present.

 

 

 

Flood Waters, Tornados and the Connection ©

Wednesday morning I arrived back in the Central Texas Conference offices from Montgomery, Alabama.  Jolynn and I had been gone for the previous three and a half days while I had the honor and joy of serving as the Conference Preacher for the Alabama- West Florida Annual Conference.

A few years ago, terrible tornados ripped through the Auburn, Alabama area (the northeastern part of Alabama-West Florida).  With other United Methodists all across the nation, Central Texas responded in offerings and prayers for those affected.  While in Montgomery, the prayers and concerns of the good people of the Alabama-West Florida for those affected by the flooding in Texas was a constant blessing.

As I settle back into my office, such a trip into another Conference reminds me again of just how powerful the United Methodist connection is!  We do far more together than we could ever do separately.  Already the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) has sent an immediate financial grant for help plus other support.

In coming back to the office, I checked in with the Center for Mission Support.  Rev. Laraine Waughtal, the Central Texas Conference Disaster Response Coordinator, reports that our response to the flooding and tornadoes has been immediate not only across our conference but also assisting the Texas and Rio Texas Conferences.

As the storms began a month ago in Stephenville, Rio Vista, Italy, Morgan Mill and Hillsboro, the Conference Task Force was on the ground working with city and state officials to make assessments in the communities and to see if our help was needed.  Some of ERTs deployed at that time, but most of our communities were fortunate that home flooding and damage was limited.

In the meantime our ERTs (Early Response Teams) traveled to Wimberley and Martindale to help in the tragedies that took place in those communities.  Those communities are in the Conference I served for over 30 years.  The pain of loss is real.  As a family we have “tubed” down the Blanco River.  I thank God for those who have reached out across the connection to help our brothers and sisters in another area!

As the storms progressed through the month our Task Force was continuously on the ground working with communities, local Methodist pastors and others to see what the needs were.  Again we were fortunate until recently.  Now, we are responding to flooding in Eastland, Cisco, Ranger and Grapevine.  We will continue to serve both in the Central Texas Conference and in others areas of Texas which are in need.  As the flood waters progress southward, we will be looking at opportunities to respond in DeLeon, Comanche, and Hutto with our ERTs to begin with in this disaster. Multiple trained teams are responding to these areas to help with the muck-outs.  When we needed flood buckets we asked FUMC Mansfield to supply us with those since they were already working to make some in the near future.  When we asked for 40 they made 110!  Health kits that were made and previously given by area churches were also distributed to the families.

Many of these homes that are flooding are homes which have never flooded before and are not in flood zones.  Therefore, they do not have flood insurance to lean on and especially need our assistance in rebuilding and recovery.  We are asking for a Conference-wide appeal to help raise funds in this recovery effort.  Money can be sent to the Conference office with the designation Disaster Fund.  In time, as the homes dry out, UMVIM teams will be invited to come and help with the rebuild effort.  With that in mind for future planning, be thinking about your mission teams organizing to respond!

You will be hearing and reading more about various disaster relief efforts from the flooding and tornados.  I ask that you follow along using the Central Texas Conference website.

I give thanks to God for your faithfulness as a people and your graciousness in response to these disasters.  The Lord is with us!

A New Church Being Called Forth by the Holy Spirt #6:

 

A MISSIONARY CHURCH

Shortly before I was elected as bishop in the United Methodist Church, I stood with others, including two bishops, at a tiny country church in Leesville, Texas.  A plaque was dedicated to Alejo Hernandez who had been ordained at Leesville in 1871 by Bishop Enoch Marvin.  In part the plaque reads simply, “He was a burning bush and the first to preach the gospel among the Mexicans in the manner done by the Methodists.”

In 1873 Bishop Keener charged Hernandez “with the responsibility of opening a Methodist mission. With the result, as described by the secretary of the Board of Missions:  ‘Brother Hernandez has been subjected to the dire necessities of poverty, to the persecutions of superstitious ignorance and bigoted power, and to the no less potent influences of flattery. But out of all the Lord hath brought him by his power.’” (http://www.gcah.org/history/biographies/alejo-hernandez)

Reverend Hernandez was a man on a mission.  He understood himself as driven by the Lord through the Holy Spirit and assigned by the bishop.  Illness caught up with him in Mexico, and he did not live long.  Buried in Corpus Christi, Texas, his tombstone reads:  “He was a burning bush and the first to preach the gospel among the Mexicans in the manner done by the Methodists.”

Methodism began as a missionary movement!  People like Hernandez were the norm not the exception.  The term missionary comes from mission and it details a person sent on a mission in the name of and by the power of the Risen Christ.

For decades the term missionary was dismissed as a form of cultural imperialism.  Yet today the Pentecost movement in China is largely the legacy of North American missionaries prior to World War II.  The phrase missional with all its variations on “mission” and “missionary” calls those who are Christ followers back to the deep sense of being sent by Christ.  It is the awakening of the claim of Matthew 28:16-20 – The Great Commission.  Rightly it has been said that the church doesn’t so much have a mission, the church is a mission – a people sent to share the gospel in word and deed by Christ himself.

Alan Roxburgh, author of The Missional Leader, writes:  “If ever there was a word that has shaped North American Christianity in the opening decades of the 21st century it is the word missional.”  He continues with the following:

In 1998 Eerdmans published a book with the title Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America.  It was written in the most unlikely manner by a team of missiologists, theologians and practitioners who met for three years to compose the book.  The book’s genesis lay in the convergence of various people inside a new network called the Gospel and Our Culture Network.  Comprised of people from a variety of church backgrounds (Methodist, Lutheran, Reformed, Baptist and Anabaptist) GOCN coalesced around the writings of Bishop Lesslie Newbigin, a missionary in India for over thirty years.  Newbigin, upon his retirement in the mid 70’s returned to his native England to encounter the fact that the Christian culture he had left some thirty years earlier had all but disappeared.  Having a keen missionary sensibility Newbigin recognized that by the latter part of the 20th century the mission field for the Gospel had shifted dramatically.  The greatest challenge to Christian mission was now those very nations that had once sent missionaries out around the world.  It was the peoples of Europe, shaped by the Western tradition, that were rapidly losing their identity as Christian.  In one memorable epithet Newbigin asked the question: Can the West be converted?  That question captured the imagination of church leaders in the UK and Europe.  It represented one of the fundamental issues that had to be addressed by the church but had not been articulated so clearly until that point.  The challenge facing the Western churches was the re-conversion of its own people.”  (From a paper presented by Alan Roxburgh to United Methodist Church Developers in 2007, “What is Missional Church?”)

What we need today, what God in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit is calling into being, is a new church – a missionary church in the truest sense of the word!  Properly understood a missionary church is a sent church.  Such a sending comes from the authority of the risen Christ.  By its very nature it encompasses both personal and social holiness, both justice/mercy and evangelism, both justification and sanctification – “make disciples” + “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded.”  The focus of attention is not on institutional survival but on serving the Lord through loving others in the fullest understanding & sense of love.

Again Roxburgh is on target.

“The biblical narratives are about God’s mission in, through and for the sake of the world.  The focus of attention is toward God not the other way around.  The missio dei is about a theocentric rather than anthropocentric understanding of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection which itself, as the apocalyptic engagement of God with the world, breaks into creation in order to call forth that which was promised from the beginning – that in this Jesus all things will be brought back together and made new.  But the focus of the missional is doxological.  It is not about, in the modern, Western, expressive individualist sense, meeting my needs.  The perpendicular pronoun is not the subject of the narrative; God is the subject.” (Alan Roxburgh, IBID)

Put bluntly a missional church is a movement for Christ that goes into the world (thus is incarnational at the essence of its methodology).  Worship, spiritual formation, bible study and the like provide a critical shaping that propels us forward.  The ancient theme so well explicated in 1 & 2 Peter of “in the world but not of it” is applicable at the very core of the churches’ being.

What are some of the practical elements of a sent church, a missionary church?  A missionary church will be:

1.  Christ centered at its heart.
2.  Spirit led in its soul.
3.  Sacrificial in nature.
4.  Servant oriented in character.
5.  Incarnational in methodology.
6.  Explicitly evangelistic in witness.
7.  Creatively engaging in its expression.

All this sounds good until we get down to particulars.  Yet if the gospel is anything, it is about the scandal of particularity.  The High God of the universe comes in the baby named Jesus.  This same Lord God in Christ through the Holy Spirit is calling a new church into being.  As the years unfold we can expect and even rejoice in a wondrously different shaping of the “United Methodist” part of the church universal.  We are at the end of a time of cultural privilege and accommodation.  The days of the guaranteed appointment in its current form are numbered.  The dominance of a physical structure (building) is receding.

Who knows what will happen?  Only God.  Methodism started as a missionary movement.  This is where our future lies.  We are in for a wild, exhilarating, terrifying wild ride.  The Holy Spirit is calling a new church into being.

Progress on Imagining No Malaria, Prayer Missionary & Captives ©

One of the great Focus Areas of the United Methodist Church during the last eight years has been combating killer diseases.  In particular, the United Methodist Church has focused on combating the killer disease of malaria through Nothing But Nets and the larger emphasis called Imagine No Malaria. The Central Texas Conference has been a part of this great mission emphasis contributing $539,458 to date.

It is a joy to share some wonderful good news passed on via Newscope (The United Methodist Publishing House’s weekly newsletter).  The World Health Organization reports that “the number of people dying from malaria has fallen dramatically since 2000 and malaria cases are steadily declining.”   In an article written by Joey Butler of United Methodist Communications, the use of insecticide-treated bed nets is given as one important reason for the drop.  He goes on to note that:

  • “Between 2000 and 2013, the report says, the malaria mortality rate decreased by 47% worldwide. In the WHO African Region-where about 90% of malaria deaths occur-the decrease is 54%. The Dec. 9 report estimates that, globally, 670 million fewer cases and 4.3 million fewer malaria deaths occurred between 2001 and 2013 than would have occurred had incidence and mortality rates remained unchanged since 2000.
  • In 2013, 49% of all people at risk of malaria in sub-Saharan Africa had access to an insecticide-treated net, a marked increase from just 3% in 2004. This trend is set to continue, with a record 214 million bed nets scheduled for delivery to endemic countries in Africa by year-end.
  • Since April 2010, The UMC’s Imagine No Malaria initiative has distributed more than 2.3 million bed nets and is less than $10 million shy of its goal to raise $75 million by 2015 to dramatically reduce deaths and suffering in Africa. Significantly the report closes with a challenge and a holy call to action. “Despite these victories, malaria remains a major threat and greater global commitment is necessary for success. In 2013, one-third of households in areas with malaria transmission in sub-Saharan Africa did not have a single insecticide-treated net, the report noted. Approximately $5.1 billion is needed annually to achieve malaria control and, eventually, elimination; but current annual funds remain around $2.7 billion” (Newscope, Editor Mary Catherine Dean, Vol. 43, Issue 08 / February 25, 2015, “WHO REPORTS ‘DRAMATIC’ DECREASE IN MALARIA DEATHS” by Joey Butler, UMCOM).

In other mission activity, I ask that the congregations of the Central Texas Conference to join in praying for Rev. Phyllis Sortor, a missionary for The Free Methodist Church who has been abducted and held for ransom by terrorists/criminals in Nigeria.  I also ask that we continue to join with Christians around the world in prayer for the Assyrian and Coptic Christians who have been persecuted by ISIS.  News reports indicate that a significant number of Coptic Christians, one of the most ancient branches of the Christian faith, are being executed by ISIS.

It is important that we do not react with hate and especially important that we do not ourselves persecute the many (majority) peaceful Muslims in our midst.  Let goodness be known to all as we keep all those who are persecuted in our prayers.  To this end I request each church in the Central Texas Conference to make a point of lifting up Rev. Sorter and the Assyrian & Coptic Christians in our prayers.

An Unfolding Work of the Holy Spirit

 

On returning home from the Council of Bishops week-long meeting in Oklahoma City, I find myself slowly getting back into the issues of ministry in our local setting.  Among the disagreements at the Council, the great sign of encouragement was our agreement around the importance of building vital congregations.  Here is a divinely ordered platform on which we can come together.

These musings led me back to an email report I received about a month ago.  I detour to set some context for the report.

Last Conference we made an unusual appointment of Pastor Denise Bell Blakely to Everman UMC as Associate Pastor for Mission, Community Development and Evangelism.  Rev. David Griffin is the senior pastor at Everman.  Everman is a community undergoing change.  Once a predominantly Anglo community, it now has a majority Hispanic population. Collectively both the congregation and the cabinet wondered how we could engage this new environment.  Already, Everman UMC was working on ministry with those attending school right by the church.  They were open to reaching out in a new and creative way.  So too was Pastor Griffin.  Enter Rev. Blakely who lives with a courageous sense of the Holy Spirit calling her.  (It is worth noting that Rev. Griffin is Anglo, Everman UMC is predominately Anglo, and Rev. Blakely is African-American.)  Through the combination of the a grant from the Texas Methodist Foundation (TMF), Conference mission support and the local church, together we stepped up to risk-taking mission and service.  Through a supportive church and senior pastor, a new and highly innovative mission work was begun.

After 3 ½ months on the job, Rev. Blakely filed a report which (edited for length) included the following:

  • “Developed English and Spanish Language handouts to the community of Everman and Forest Hill, containing information about Everman UMC, the Lord’s Prayer in English and in Spanish, weekly prayers for children, and the household for Victory in Christ, also in English and in Spanish.
  • Delivered the handouts in door hanger format and in person in the neighborhood surrounding Everman UMC.
  • Visitations at Hugley Senior Center and Communion Service at the Senior Activity Center
  • Home and hospital visitations with the Stephenson family.  Grief counseling for the family.
  • Assisted senior pastor at the Graveside Service for Beverly Stephenson.
  • Attended orientation at the Tarrant County Food Bank.  The orientation is mandatory for access to services at the Food Bank.
  • Developed volunteer handbook for “Hanging Out” that can crossover to all volunteer activities at Everman UMC.
  • Served as primary contact for all walk-in and phone inquiries pertaining to Hanging Out and other mission activities.
  • Attended the Opening Convocation Service for Everman ISD and met with the Superintendent of Everman ISD, the school board members, principals of the schools, Dr. Bean and some of the teachers of the school.  The purpose was to initiate conversation about the expectations and goals of Everman UMC and Everman ISD and how we can help each other achieve these goals.
  • Filled in for the Senior Pastor for three weeks while he was on vacation, carrying out the instructions of the Senior Pastor and mindful of the faithful representation of Jesus, and the United Methodist Church.
  • Began a ministry of grace, handing out bottles of water to those walking in the 100+ heat.  The bottles of water are labeled, “Courtesy of Everman UMC.”
  • Handing out blessing bags consisting of hygiene items and snacks to the homeless in Everman.

Rev. Blakely closed her unusual report with the following: “These are the projects in progress. At I-35 and Everman Parkway, working on developing communication with the prostitutes.  Still discovering Everman. Working with the Senior Pastor in planning a revival.  Working with the volunteers and preparing for Hanging Out 2014-2015.”

She added, “Everman UMC has had eight visitors to the church so far, I believe this is the fruit of prayer in action.  Please pray for the mission and my family, we need all the prayer we can get.”

Wow!  After all the effort and energy at the Council of Bishops, it is this kind ministry that inspires me and fills my soul!  I don’t know many pastors who would set up a dialog with prostitutes, be in conversation with school leaders, establish multi-lingual prayer meetings and plan a revival.  Most of us would get the last three – school, prayer, and revival.  It is the first one I choke on – a ministry with prostitutes.  I confess that I would be afraid to do so.  And yet, the more I think about, I do know someone else who established such a ministry.  His name is Jesus.  I can actually think of a few other pastors who have done so as well.  (Including a Presbyterian minister/missionary and his wife in Hong Kong back in 1968.)

We don’t know how this will come out.  This is work of the Holy Spirit unfolding in ways we do not understand and cannot control.  And yet there is a lesson and witness here for more than just Everman UMC.  The future of the larger United Methodist Church lives on in such Holy Spirit- led ministry.

In my reflection, it is the Lord who is calling us to courageous risk-taking mission and service, willing to evangelistically offer Christ to those most in need.  I want to publically thank the good people of Everman UMC and Pastors Griffin and Blakely.  I also want to be a part of a church that reaches out to those most in need – sharing in both (!!) Word and deed!

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.

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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