Thank you, Curtis (Rueter), Bill (Land), and Mary Ann (Neeval) for your nominating speech – it is a joy to work with you as the officers of Wider Church Ministries!
God is good! All the time. All the time. God is good! AMEN.
I want to thank all of you who were delegates to the General Synod two years ago who elected me to fill an unexpired term for this amazing office, and I would very much like to serve for a new full term! It has been an incredible privilege for me to serve as Executive Minister of Wider Church Ministries, which also makes me Co-executive of Global Ministries along with the other co-executive, (the Rev. David Vargas, President of the Division of Overseas' Ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).
I wish that every one of you could have the experience I have had these two years, of learning so much about the wonderful and faithful ministry we support all around the world! And I wish each of you could get to know our amazing staff – both our home-based staff in Cleveland and in Indianapolis and our overseas staff, fully funded missionaries as well as partially funded and long and short term volunteer mission personnel – all gifted, talented, and completely dedicated to God's global mission! The work that our church supports around the world is literally transforming lives and communities. Even with shrinking dollars - and let me tell you the budget-cutting, staff cutting, part of this job is challenging and even painful when David Vargas and I had to cut $1.2 million from our combined budget for world ministry (it's a good thing the rest of the job is so energizing!) - but even with shrinking dollars, I believe we can maximize the numbers of persons we share in mission around the world and in this country, with your help! Last night Wider Church Ministries honored a couple, Mary and Bill Ruth, who, upon retirement, have given five years in volunteer service in different locations across the United States, through our Partners in Service program. This is just one example of many.
Because of my background as a local church pastor for eighteen years and then ten years as a conference minister, I have been especially gratified to help Wider Church Ministries and Global Ministries seek more and deeper ways to connect with local churches, conferences, and regions. Two years ago I promised that I would work to make "our" Global Ministries really become "OUR Global Ministries", belonging to and connecting with the whole church! That work is underway. Now I'm looking forward to really see it happen! The synergy when we work together is fantastic. Wider Church and Global Ministries can offer helpful connections, information, and "best practices" that can help make your local-global mission connection an even more transformative experience for your congregation and conference. And, you have energy, excitement, passion, and resources to offer to support this work . Together we can make an enormous difference!
Our mission ties are historic. As most of you know, we continue an almost 200 year old tradition. Unbroken. I stand here tonight, on your behalf, not only as Executive Minister of Wider Church Ministries and co-executive of Global Ministries but also as the executive of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Mission (ABCFM) -1810 started by Massachusetts Congregational leaders, and I stand here, on your behalf, as the leader of the International Board of Mission of the Evangelical and Reformed Church, as well as several other historic mission and service agencies of our predecessor bodies, including the United Church Board for World Ministries. Those mission corporations were never dissolved; they simply changed their name so that all that powerful history and "firsts" live on today. I want to borrow from the wonderful theme of yesterday's United Black Christians' luncheon - from Zechariah: "Remembering our way into the future!"
The "why" of our engagement in God's global mission has never changed – we have always been committed to taking God's love to the farthest corners of the world, as Bill Moyers challenged us. Of course the "how" of global ministry has changed over the years. As you heard Scott Libbey's voice say on the video Friday night, NOW we do mission in partnership!
One of our talented staff members, Derek Duncan, has come up with some new ways of talking about this work: MissionNOW ….
"Like you, we weren't born yesterday. And we don't do yesterday's mission work. The world is different now – closer, more complex. And together we can turn challenges into opportunities. Your mission … our mission. God's mission for today's world."
"We've changed, for God's sake. We've turned "doing to" and "doing for" others into "doing with", in genuine global partnerships. Mission is a willingness to be transformed ourselves through our relationships with others." David and I are so humbled to be in leadership in this important work!
Last night I tore up the speech I had written over recent weeks and asked some of our staff and Board members what they would want me to say to you today. (It's a good thing they weren't all there or it would have been a very long speech!)
One of our staff members said that he would want to pick up on Bill Moyers' challenge, and remind us all that our churches need to know that OCMW, Our Church's Wider Mission, is the primary revenue source for working together, all the churches together, on all those issues that Bill Moyers was addressing! Alone, one local church can do some very good work – together, we can, in fact, be part of God's miracles of transformation.
A board member sitting with us lifted up the incredible generosity of our church members who gave almost ten million dollars in 2005 to respond to the tragedies of the gulf coast hurricanes and the tsunami in southern Asia - - she wanted me to challenge every one of us to find that generosity inside ourselves every year, every day! We don't see the minor disasters and the tragedies of poverty on our television screens every day but they are happening every day, and the church is called upon to respond! Let's build on our church's "extravagant welcome" – let's be extravagant in our giving! That kind of generosity really changes the world!
The great thing about giving through our church is that we know and trust our partners around the world. They can identify the deepest needs and we can support and help equip them to respond in meaningful ways – using the money and resources we send with great care. For example – after the devastating earthquake in northeastern Turkey several years ago, our missionary rushed there to help organize relief efforts. After the immediate needs for supplying tents and food had been met, the task turned to helping organize the people to address other important needs. A $2000 grant from One Great Hour of Sharing, given to a group of women who spent their free time doing needlework together and supporting each other - - there's only so many times you can sweep out a tent –that grant multiplied, like the loaves and fishes – and eventually the women created a cooperative that makes and sells these gorgeous scarves (show mine)and the project now supports every woman to afford school books and uniforms for her children and a living stipend for the widows among them, as well as a community center and a number of playgrounds around the community for children!
When Bill Moyers talked about what the media doesn't tell us - - - I immediately thought, "but our global partners tell us"! Let's listen! You can go to the web to read about what our partners and mission personnel are telling us!
Maria Otero educated us all about the fantastic possibilities of small micro-credit loans to individuals and groups! You know what, we are already doing that in a number of places around the world. I met a woman in the old section of Cairo, Egypt, a Muslim woman, whose husband divorced her and that meant she had no way to support herself and her young daughter - - but our partners in Egypt, the Protestant social service agency, CEOSS, has a micro-credit project through which we are able to help. With just a $100 loan that woman was able to rent a tiny space – about the size of a closet – and to purchase small household items to sell – in six months she paid back the loan and got another one to expand the goods she could sell – and now she and her daughter are well fed, housed and clothed!
We are partners with OIKOCREDIT and ECLOF, two religious organizations which are doing micro-credit work around the world!
Another staff member suggested that we focus on the importance of welcoming the stranger – to our churches and communities. In the coming year, we expect that the United States will be asked to resettle several thousand refugees from Iraq! How will we respond? With an extravagant welcome? Or not?
Last night at our Wider Church – Global – Ministries International Dinner we listened to the voices of children from around the world. We saw the beautiful faces – and statistics - of children dealing with HIV-AIDS, orphaned, raising their brothers and sisters! Our partners in southern Africa, in China – and so many other places, are thrilled to work with us to provide housing, education, and love for these children
MissioNOW: "We do mission for today, not the last century. Mission up-dated. Relevant. Mission in which we receive as much as we give. A mutual partnership, sharing God's love and the gifts we've been given and receiving the amazing gifts of welcome and hospitality in return! Together we are building a new community, around the world and right here at home. God's mission, for today's world."
God is good, all the time! All the time, God is good!