Sunday, April 28 was a busy one for me. After Sunday morning worship with my wife, I drove up to Epworth Forest to participate in the dedication of the new entrance and road into that camp and conference center. Then I rushed back to Indianapolis to participate in the banquet celebrating our Operation Classroom missions partnership with the Liberia and Sierra Leone Conferences in Africa. It was a long day, but it was a good day of celebrating two of our core values as Indiana United Methodists – reaching young people through our camping ministries and connecting around the world with missions.
The Epworth Forest entrance is the result of many years of planning and dreaming about a new way to enter that camp and conference center (rather than drive through several streets of private residences) in a way which feels more like “getting away” to a retreat and which also allows us to provide more security for our children and youth attending events. That new entrance, along with the two new lodges built recently, gives Epworth Forest a new feeling of progress and creative ministry. Hopefully, it also prepares the way for the construction of the other four new lodges envisioned and then the new auditorium/ministry center, which will bring the entire facility into readiness for the newer ministries of this 21st century.
The Operation Classroom celebration looked back over 25 years of providing education, refugee relief and medical care in two countries, which have needed and appreciated our help. Many Indiana United Methodists have traveled there, participated in work teams, and given gifts to supply those schools and medical facilities – even in the midst of civil wars and some chaos during the years. But more than just looking back, the Operation Classroom event looked forward to strengthening these partnerships. So we honored Joe and Carolyn Wagner for their leadership in Operation Classroom the past 25 years, and we welcomed Bob and Sandy Coolman who are the new directors.
The connecting link for those two events and two values (camping/youth ministry and missions) is the Mission/Purpose of our United Methodist Church. I hear many people say that they get confused by our use of the word “missions” and our use of the word “mission.” Here is how I understand they relate: the Mission of our United Methodist Church is our purpose (“making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world”). Both our camping ministry and missions work are expressions and examples of how we fulfill that Mission/Purpose. Camping and youth ministry are all about helping new, younger generations come to know Jesus Christ and to begin their journey into discipleship. Missions projects (at home, around Indiana, and around the world) are efforts to live our discipleship in works of compassion and care - and yet participating in those missions partnerships also helps us to become better disciples, too. That is why everyone who has ever been on a missions trip will tell you, “I received so much more than I gave.”
Camping, youth ministries, missions projects, and many other ministries are expressions of our central Mission and Purpose as The United Methodist Church. The key element of those expressions is simply this: being an outward-focused and other-focused church for the sake of making disciples and transforming the world.
That reality stands in stark contrast to a survey report I saw recently which indicated that 89 percent of all church people say that “church exists to take care of me and my spiritual needs.” While that statement is certainly true, it is only half of the truth. The other half of the truth is that once we are invited, welcomed, and encouraged in our discipleship – then we must become outward-focused and other-focused. Church is not just about having my needs provided, it is about equipping and sending me to care for the needs of others. Apparently, too many church people in America just don’t “get it” – they don’t understand the Mission/Purpose of the church.
As one of our conference leaders recently said to me, “I am so grateful for all of the United Methodists here in Indiana who really “get it.” The “it” he spoke about is our Mission/Purpose, and there are many ways we can see how Indiana United Methodists not only “get it” but they “do it” for the sake of Christ and his Kingdom. I am also grateful, and Sunday, April 28 was a good reminder.
from Bishop Michael J. Coyner,
Indiana Area of
The United Methodist Church