In the wake of General Conference, it has become fashionable to moan about the future of our denomination, including griping about the general agencies that extend the ministry of the church around the world. As someone who has worked for one of those agencies for 27 years, I can certainly muster up a few gripes of my own. But I continue to be amazed by the way that lives are being transformed around the world because of our church’s mission.
I was in Thailand last week, where I spent two days photographing Gary and Cindy Moon. They’re United Methodist missionaries who manage an orphanage for HIV-positive children in Chiang Mai, in the north of the country. They also support the development of United Methodist faith groups, and I went with them to document the baptism of three new members of a small congregation among the hill tribes near the Myanmar border.
From Thailand I flew to the Philippines, and spent a day photographing Grace and Jae Choi. They’re also United Methodist missionaries. Grace works as part of the community-based health program of Harris Memorial College, the deaconess training facility near Manila. Jae teaches eco theology at United Theological Seminary, a Methodist-related school here, helping pastors and church leaders understand the links between justice, land, and the realm of God.
The Moons are Korean-Americans. The Chois are Koreans. Both couples are an example of how the faces of missionaries look different these days than a few decades ago. My missionary face is looking more and more pale these days, as we as a church are steadily moving toward being the rainbow people of a color blind God. That’s exciting.
Take a look at their faces by clicking on this link, which will take you to a small gallery of images. If you’d like to download any of these images to post on a bulletin board along with this letter, use the password “mission”.
Tomorrow I fly to Mindanao in the south of the Philippines, where deaconesses and other United Methodists are intimately involved in helping indigenous communities defend their lands against foreign mining companies that are displacing thousands of people with the collaboration of the U.S.-backed Philippine military. I’m going to Mindanao again in order to tell the story of our sisters and brothers working there for justice and peace.
In recent months, I’ve had assignments documenting the church’s work among the Roma people in Serbia and native communities in Oklahoma, and the work we’re doing with human trafficking victims in Hawaii. In coming weeks, I’m going to travel to Indiana to speak at a retreat of Church World Service staff, then on to Washington, DC, to cover how people of faith participate in the International AIDS Conference, then to Alaska to document ministry in Nome, then I’ve got trips cooking to Liberia to document the work of women in putting a war torn country back together, then back to Bulgaria and Hungary for more work on the Roma.
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All this work, both that which I do as well as that done by missionaries like the Moons and the Chois, is possible only because you provide the funds necessary to make mission happen. By continuing to support my ministry as a congregation, you don’t increase my salary, but you do free up money to pay for new cutting edge mission work all over the world. I get the privilege of seeing that happen, just as you have the privilege of seeing lives changed because of the mission of your congregation in your local community. Thanks for making both of those happen.
General Conference may have ended with a bit of rending of garments, but I am proud to be a United Methodist involved in mission. You should be, too.