Like many of you, my year has begun with a full slate of ministry activities. It began January 3rd with a day and a half in the office to answer emails and plow through paperwork accumulated from the Christmas – New Year break time. The afternoon of January 4th I drove to Austin, Texas for the twice yearly South Central Bishops Conclave. The Conclave is a gathering of the active (i.e. residential or non-retired) bishops of the South Central Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church under the sponsorship of the Texas Methodist Foundation (TMF). It is an invaluable time of learning and sharing. Using the Harvard Business School case study approach, we wrestle together with leadership challenges facing us and the church as a whole in our work. Often we have a special presentation on a critical subject or issue facing the church. We engage in this time of significant learning and sharing under the guidance of Dr. Gil Rendle, Senior Consultant for TMF. His most recent article on Courage is a seminally insightful document about leadership in the Protestant Church in America during the second decade if the 21st Century. The Conclave is one of the most valuable times of learning that I have.
I arrived home from the Bishops’ Conclave on Friday evening in time to finish packing for a Saturday morning flight to Kenya (via Dubai). For the second time it is my great privilege to take part in an ongoing ministry the Central Texas Conference has (along with about 10 other U.S. Conferences and teams from Germany and the British Methodist Church. Many churches and individuals from across the Central Texas Conference (CTC) have been involved in this God-honoring ministry. Dr. Ken Diehm, then Senior Pastor of First UMC, Grapevine, Texas helped pioneer this work. On this trip, under the leadership of Rev. Dawne Phillips, Director of Missions for CTC and Dr. Randy Wild, Executive Director of the Center for Mission Support, we have joined a key group from the Oregon-Idaho Conference led by Rev. Jim Monroe and Rev. Sue Owen. Jim and Sue have served as pastors and District Superintendents in Oregon and more recently as missionaries at the Maua Methodist Hospital in Maua, Kenya.
Bishop nThombura asked that we come back to share in teaching clergy along with engaging in other critical mission ministry. Jim Monroe and I have spent the two previous days teaching a seminar on the Bible and Preaching for pastors in the Methodist Church of Kenya (MCK) at Kenya Methodist University (KeMU). It was an exciting and challenging time of teaching. Some of the Pastors have seminary degrees from Schools of Theology in Kenya, England and the United States. We dealt with a question related to the controversial “Jesus Seminar” and I had a challenging conversation with a graduate from Wesley Theological Seminary in DC. Other pastors have very little education and almost anything we can share is greeted with appreciation. We will be heading to Nairobi, to repeat our two-day seminar there. Overall, we will have addressed approximately 350 to 400 pastors.
Meanwhile the combined team made of folks from both Conferences have been holding a medical clinic out in a remote area of Kenya that does not have regular access to medical treatment. Sharing with schools (a deworming clinic, supplies, etc.), the ongoing historic work of Methodism in education is bearing rich fruit in Kenya!
While the outlying clinic work is taking place, half of our combined group has been rotating in and out working on a project high in the hills. Through the great ministry of Maua Methodist Hospital, a single mother of four (including a three month old infant) with AIDS (from the Father of the infant who has disappeared) was living in a shack (barely standing) made of two wood walls and two plastic sheets. It is poverty and desperation at its worst and lowest. Additionally the elderst daughter (11 years old) also has AIDS. A Christian neighbor brought her tremendous need to the attention of the hospital and working together hospital staff, the local village and our mission team have built a house for the family (two rooms; the kitchen is outside and the “restroom” is about 15 feet behind the house) in one short week! Frank Briggs, Jim McClurg, Randy Wild, and Tom Larson (from Bend, Oregon) left before dawn over nearly impassible roads to finish the house building before the 11 am community wide celebration and dedication of the house. It was a Kenyan version of an emergency “Habitat” house build!
Tomorrow I have been asked to preach and assist Bishop nThombura in the installation of a new Synod Bishop in Thaarka, Kenya. A Synod Bishop is the equivalent of our District Superintendents. (Bishop nThombura is called the Presiding Bishop.) While I am there, the rest of the team will be spread out preaching at other churches in the area. We are tired but phenomenally blessed by this ongoing shared ministry. The CTC and its member churches should be deeply gratified to learn that the ministry so many of our congregations have taken part in is continuing to share the Word and Way of Christ. Together we are sharing with Christians around the world in building a vibrant Christian witness in Kenya!
I must give a special shout out to Grapevine UMC in closing. There is a “Guest House” (the Kenyan version of a Retreat Center) in Meru, Kenya (the center of Methodism in Kenya) named after Dr. Ken Diehm. I had visited it two years earlier and after our Pastors School presentation I got to stop by for a brief visit again. The work continues to go forward. Most of the 2nd floor is now finished and initial construction is taking place on the 3rd floor. For those who are from the CTC, think of the Diehm Guest House as their Glen Lake. I learned that follow-up teams from First UMC Grapevine have continued to come and work on the Guest House. What a tremendous blessing of faithfulness! This is truly a work of the Lord.
We will land at DFW the afternoon of January 22nd after a 6 hour flight from Nairobi to Dubai and a 14 hour flight form Dubai to DFW. After a day of sleeping and recovery, I hope to be back in the office on Tuesday, January 24th. We have a Cabinet meeting coming up on January 30th.