As United Methodists, we often speak of connectionalism and global ministries. We use these words so often in fact, that they sometimes sound more rhetorical than relevant, more theoretical than real. But despite the sometimes watered-down meaning of such words, The United Methodist Church is indeed a global denomination, a fact I learned through some international travel with fellow United Methodists.
This past April, I had the privilege of traveling to Manila, Philippines with the Connectional Table of The United Methodist Church. The Connectional Table is a global group of the UMC that provides a platform for discussion about the vision, mission and money of the denomination. As a group with international representation, the Connectional Table tries to meet at least once every four years outside the United States. In April, that meeting was in Manila.
In addition to the official meeting in Manila, I took advantage of an optional side-trip to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. The experience opened my eyes to the global reality of United Methodism. In addition to the delightful and hospitable Vietnamese culture, I discovered United Methodist ministries producing tangible results within a country that monitors religious movement.
In Vietnam, most people travel on motorbikes. Like schools of fish, motorbikes flow through the streets of Ho Chi Minh City, weaving through cars and pedestrians. My heart pounded pretty fast the first time I attempted to cross a busy street. If Vietnamese pastors wish to visit their congregants and travel efficiently, motorbikes are incredibly useful. To fill this need, volunteers from the West Ohio Conference rode motorbikes through the hills of Vietnam, ending at a new United Methodist Center near the international airport in Ho Chi Minh City. The motorbikes were then donated to Vietnamese United Methodist clergy. During my second day in Vietnam, I attended the dedication ceremony of that United Methodist Center in Vietnam.
Looking toward the long-term life of the United Methodist Church in Vietnam, Bishop Bruce Ough of the West Ohio Conference then traveled to Hanoi to meet with Vietnamese government officials to discuss the official recognition of The United Methodist Church in Vietnam. I heard the volunteers from West Ohio discuss returning to Vietnam regularly. Doing ministry is good, but doing lasting and adaptive ministry is best, and the West Ohio Conference is doing great things in Vietnam.
Leaving Vietnam, I flew directly to Manila, Philippines and was greeted with smiles and gifts from hospitable Filipinos, some United Methodist and some not. The next day, a group of delegates from the Connectional Table, including myself, met with Atty. Leila M. De Lima, chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines. In the Philippines, several human rights issues exist, including the wrongful jailing of forty-three health workers. These 43 health workers were accused of engaging in rebel activities and were arrested with the help of a default warrant. They remain in prison today. United Methodists across the world have spoken out against this injustice, and they have done so from church pulpits and from the steps of Capitol Hill in Washington D.C.
Global ministries and social justice seem to be at the heart of United Methodism. I recently spoke with the executive director of a benevolent non-profit, and he told me that some people assume the non-profit is directly affiliated with the United Methodist Church, because so many of its volunteers are United Methodist. From John Wesley to today, United Methodists have tried to care for the hungry and marginalized around the world.
Before traveling to Southeast Asia, I thought “wide-reaching” was a good adjective for the work of the United Methodist Church around the world. Now, I prefer to say that our denomination’s global ministry is just that: global. As an American, to say that United Methodism is “wide-reaching” is to imply that United Methodism somehow flows from the United States out toward the rest of the world. Whatever the history of our church, The United Methodist Church today flows from a variety of geographically and culturally diverse communities.
The United Methodist Church is a truly global church, and this allows Hoosiers United Methodists and United Methodists around the world to learn from a wide variety of cultures, ideas and lifestyles. It provides us with a global mission field with endless opportunities to do good, both at home and abroad. My prayer is that we take advantage of as many of these opportunities as possible.
Ben Boruff serves as a young adult lay member of the Indiana Conference. He is a member of First UMC in Noblesville and a student at Indiana University.