Being physically in Asia makes a statement, “we are actually here, not from afar,” says mission staffer.
United Methodist News Service
Christian leaders from around Asia joined in celebrating the opening of a regional United Methodist Global Ministries office March 23, and welcoming the spirit of partnership that the office represents.
“Once, you sent missionaries out to Asia Pacific regions; now, you are in Asia,” said Bishop Chong Chin Chung of the Methodist Church of Singapore, as he congratulated Global Ministries staff at the dedication.
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung, president of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, said the new regional office in Seoul, South Korea, “brings us to a new day.”
“As we celebrate the opening of this new office, we make our ‘Global Ministries’ more than just a name,” said Jung, who also leads the Wisconsin Area. “It is our lived witness to go, be present and work where the need and the opportunity are the greatest.”
He added that this is not a United Methodist ministry “to Asia” but instead a ministry partnership among Asian Christians and The United Methodist Church.
Thomas Kemper, top staff executive of Global Ministries, invited those gathered to be in mission together. “There is only one God; there is one mission; and we are participants in God’s mission in this world,” he said.
The office was dedicated with a multicultural worship service and love feast at Kwanglim Methodist Church. Guests included ecumenical and Methodist leaders, seminary representatives, and staff with the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry, Discipleship Ministries’ Upper Room and United Methodist Communications. The World Federation of Chinese Methodists, the Amity Foundation of China and the Asia Methodist Council were represented.
“We have deep admiration and appreciation for Global Ministries setting up a regional office in Asia, and we welcome it with great gladness,” said the Rev. Lam Sung Che, president of the Asia Methodist Council.
Kemper noted that missions today are no longer directed from north to south or from Europe and the United States to other parts of the world. “We say mission is from everywhere to everywhere.”
The opening of the office reflects that emphasis and is part of a strategy that has entailed moving Global Ministries’ headquarters from New York to Atlanta, and dedicating a regional office in partnership with Upper Room Ministries in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in April 2016. A regional Global Ministries office is planned for French-speaking Africa in 2018 or 2019, Kemper said.
“We want to be closer so we can live and learn alongside your mission activities here,” Kemper said. “And we want to hear the voices so that they are better understood all over the world.”
The office is for the whole of Asia, he said, “but being in Korea, we are also very aware of the tensions in this part of the world. … So we commit ourselves also to work for peace and reconciliation on the Korean peninsula.”
The Seoul office is within blocks of where the first Methodist missionaries to Korea began working in the 1880s, starting schools and health care ministries and laying the foundation for a flourishing Methodist denomination. The Korean Methodist Church is doing well today because of the work of the early missionaries, said Bishop Myung Gu Jun, presiding bishop of the denomination.
“We as the Korean Methodist Church welcome you with open arms and look forward to working in partnership with you,” he said.
The Korean Methodist Church is providing office space free of charge for Global Ministries, which had made a donation for the building’s construction.
“I hope we as Methodists can stay together not only in the U.S. but around the world as a sign of what God wants this world to be.” ~ Thomas Kemper
The office has been in operation for about two months, said the Rev. Paul Kong, Global Ministries’ Asia regional representative. The agency has ten staff people from diverse backgrounds related to the office, including seven people on site and three others in Atlanta, New York and Nanjing, China, he said.
Kong cited several factors in Seoul’s selection, including opportunities for partnership with and learning from the Korean Methodist Church, which is heavily involved in mission work; the presence of nongovernmental organizations and other potential partners; and proximity to China, where Christianity is growing. The office is also in the financial and political center of South Korea, within eyesight of the presidential residence, the Blue House.
Being physically in Asia makes a statement that “we are actually here, not from afar, but we’re here with you,” Kong said. “That is what is being welcomed.”
The office symbolizes that Asia is no longer just receiving God’s mission but is also a sender and giver of mission, said Joy Eva Bohol, who is on staff as mission advocate for Global Ministries’ Young Adult Mission Service.
Bohol, who is from the Philippines, said more people in the region are applying to be in mission service because Asians are seeing that they can be missionaries.
The Philippines is the only country in Asia where the denomination has a central conference — an official regional structure. The new office received strong affirmation during the dedication from the presence of two United Methodist bishops from the Philippines, Bishop Ciriaco Francisco of the Manila Area and Bishop Rodolfo Juan of the Davao Area.
Juan described the moment as a joyful day and expressed gratitude for Global Ministries’ work, particularly its response to Typhoon Haiyan. “I pray that the presence of Global Ministries through its regional office will allow us to continue working contextually with the people of this region,” he said.
Following the event, Kemper said it is important that partners know The United Methodist Church isn’t coming to Asia to expand.
The denomination’s lawmaking assembly, General Conference, adopted enabling legislation last year for the creation of a provisional central conference for Southeast Asia and Mongolia. Kemper said the objective was to allow for ownership of the mission work by the people of the respective countries, not to expand the denomination.
This could mean that United Methodist churches would develop in some countries, while autonomous Methodist churches would develop in others, such as Cambodia, where United Methodists and Methodists from Singapore, Korea and China have helped grow the church.
Having an open spirit is important, Kemper said, “because it’s about God’s mission and not The United Methodist Church.”
Kemper said the church has to think of mission globally and “as the full body of Christ as it’s expressed in different cultures, languages, colors and parts of the world.”
He added that he hopes those who are advocating splitting the denomination over theological differences “are realizing how we are damaging the Body of Christ, which is so diverse, so global.”
He added: “I hope we as Methodists can stay together not only in the U.S. but around the world as a sign of what God wants this world to be.”