The power of the United Methodist connection
There is nothing like the United Methodist Church when the United Methodist Church is working right!
Seriously, no other Protestant denomination can even come close. There is no other institution in the world that can do what the church of Jesus Christ, in any denomination, can do when the church is following the leading and guidance of the Holy Spirit.
One of the foundational core values of the people called United Methodist is the ability to hold and wed “vital piety” and “social holiness.” In simple terms it means we have discovered how to simplify our faith by “loving God” and “loving God’s people.” This is the bedrock foundation of methodism.
The concepts of vital piety and social holiness is why the Methodist movement established churches, built clinics and hospitals, and started schools all over the world. Methodist are known for sharing the love of God through Jesus Christ and for practicing and implementing the loving actions of Jesus Christ within the context of communities and places of need.
A prime example is the work that is being done at Africa University in Zimbabwe. Before I talk about Africa University, I need to tell you about Fairfield Orphanage in Old Mutare Zimbabwe. Old Mutare Mission is home to a hospital, a church, schools, a dental clinic, and an orphanage.
For over a century, this Methodist mission has reached out to members of the local community. This work was started by Methodist missionaries that wanted to share the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel message is not just about spiritual conversion, it is about changing the world, while helping people experience personal transformation in every area of their lives. To offer spiritual help while failing to address the hurts and hazards of life is spiritual malpractice!
Years ago, a little child lost both of his parents and became an orphan. He was taken to the Old Mutare Mission. This frightened and abandoned boy found a new family at the Fairfield Children’s Home. While there he not only had his tangible needs cared for, but he also learned that he was loved by God and that God had a plan and a purpose for his life.
People from Methodist congregations all around the world gave money, provided workers to do mission projects while serving on voluntary mission work teams that addressed the needs of this growing orphanage and school. Time will not permit me to tell of the various “connecting” points that the Holy Spirit orchestrated. God brought that abandoned orphan to a place where this child was cared for and was given hope.
Long story short; the kid grew up, accepted Jesus Christ as his savior, completed school at the children’s home, went less than half a mile down the road to a place called Africa University,graduated, went to the United States to a United Methodist Seminary in Illinois (Garrett Evangelical Seminary), graduated with honors and is now back in Zimbabwe, teaching at Africa University. My friends, we are in the greatest business of all; we are called to the task of transforming the world for Jesus Christ.
This is not a “one and done” story. It is a story that is repeated over and over.
When United Methodists in the Illinois Great Rivers Conference raised funds for the Jonathan and Beverly Keaton endowment for scholarships to Africa University, one of the stipulations of those funds was to annually provide funding for one scholarship for a student from Fairfield Orphanage. You are part of multiplying that story over and over again.
Africa University recently celebrated 30 years as an institution of higher education and ministry. It is the “crown jewel” in Methodism for three reasons:
1. It demonstrates what God can and will do when we follow the dreams planted by the Holy Spirit. Dreams that are of God are not self-serving, but are those that often require sacrifice and hours of prayer and discernment.
2. It shows the power of what it means to be a “connectional” church. The Holy Spirit brought together people, resources, gifts, graces, and talent to build a world-class school that honors Jesus Christ and is transforming the continent of Africa, and the world.
3. It is the perfect example of ministry transformation that Christ intends that affects every part of life. The mission of the church is to go into all the world and preach the gospel. It is not just about sermons and platitudes, but it is about bringing the reign of God into every area of life and society.
Bishop Jonathon Holston is famous for saying, “If you see a frog sitting on a fence post, know that it did not get there all by itself, it had some help!” Africa University came into existence and continues to grow and thrive because the people of the United Methodist Church pulled together and helped.
One of the many unintended consequences of disaffiliation and schism is that some of our finest connectional work faces the possibility of losing ground. I challenge ALL OF US, especially those seeking disaffiliation to keep mission and ministry at the center of our plans. There are countless ministries that are depending on our help. Please do not forsake these vital and essential ministries. Our United Methodist denomination faces some tough days ahead. It will be crucial that we are prayerful and strategic about continuing our help and financial assistance for ministries that depend on our generosity. I have noticed that folks are going to great lengths both in the IGRC and around the connection to make sure that their own personal financial needs do not suffer irreparable harm. We should do the same for the mission and ministries that need our help!
IF (and this is a real big IF), disaffiliation is not about our own personal preferences and desires, we will be super cautious to ensure that our actions do not harm or cripple the mission and ministries that need us.
All of us should be proud that we have been a part of the work and ministry of Africa University. Please don’t let this life changing, world changing, Christ-centered ministry falter. I believe the Lord will hold us accountable if we allow this and other vital ministries to decrease, even as we give extra care to make sure that our own pension funds are secure and that they can remain under the same roof.
Africa University is one prime example of the people called “Methodist” doing our best for Jesus Christ and for the transformation of the world.
Thanks be to God!