Friday, May 24, 2013

Walking in Faith

By Nyamah Dunbar*

Global Ministries staff, family, and friends get ready to walk more than six miles for HIV/AIDS awareness and care in the annual AIDS Walk NY in Central Park,
New York City.
Photo: J Savilon
You can tell a lot about a person when you look them squarely in the eye and make an explicit ask of engagement.  No, not the on-bended-knee kind of engagement, the other kind; the one that says there is something out there greater than you and me that requires us uniting in faith to accomplish.  Would you care to join me?  People normally split into three categories:  the fully engaged group (THEY SAID YES!); the willing-in-spirit group (I’ll think about it), and the I-must-tend-to-other duties group.

This past Sunday, which coincidentally was Pentecost, AIDS Walk New York was held in Central Park.  The idea to participate in this year’s walk, thanks to a straphanger on the New York Subway who shared the details, sprang from a personal interest to engage with a larger group for a common cause.  However, it did not take long for me to realize that linking me to a universal cause is good, but bringing others along would be greater.  So in my typical take-charge manner (blame it on my mother!), I decided that it would be great to sign up colleagues and friends!  
The three-week sign-up process ranged from the comical in excuses: “My Sunday school class is having finals, so I can’t come” to shock: “Wow!  You’re actually getting people to sign up?!”  There was also the reprimanding excuse: “It’s Pentecost!  You’re supposed to be in church, not the park!”  To the latter statement, I asked how many times in the Bible was Jesus in a church (structure).  Church, for HIM, was wherever HE was.  And he prioritized HIS time not on being in a place, but on being in a state of mind, in body, spirit, and presence where HE could be of most service to the least among HIS children.
Where would Jesus have attended Pentecost Sunday service?  The answer depends on both the individual and collective perspectives. 
HIV/AIDS, as a disease and a cause, has polarized the faith community.  We have made significant strides to overcome prejudices and stigma surrounding the disease, but we still have the hardest portion of the journey to overcome.  I overheard quite a few walkers commenting that they were walking in hope for an imminent cure.  Some were walking with photos draped around their necks of lost loved ones.  Others simply thought this would be a cool event to partake in; and besides, they try to participate in any sporty activity freely offered in the City. 
So if you had walked, what would you have walked for?   I walked for a cure of the human heart; that we as faith communities and general society may realize that we must walk together in order to make a difference in this world. As Christians, we aim to always stay focused on the goal, which, no matter what the cause, is always rooted in Jesus Christ.  In this vain, our differences do not matter.  It is the achievement of HIS will for our lives that matters.
So one day (doesn’t have to be a Sunday), go out and have “church” in a park, at a lake, or on a mountain (if you can climb it!).  You will see the glory of the LORD shining there just as brightly as it does through the chapel’s stain glass windows.
THANK YOU to all who participated in the Holy Ghost-inspiring walk of 10km/6.3 miles on Sunday!
NOTE:  Participation in the AIDS Walk New York was made possible through donations from ReThink Church, United Methodist Global AIDS Fund (ADVANCE # 982345), and private donations.  

*Nyamah Dunbar is senior program manager of the Malaria Initiative of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR).

Be Alert! United Methodist Disaster Response

By Thomas Kemper*

Photo courtesy Oklahoma Conference
The devastating tornadoes that wiped out much of Moore, Oklahoma, as well as the dozens of tornadoes in several states early this week call Christians to put into practice our best theology of compassion and action.

Concern for those in distress after calamities is rooted in both Old and New Testaments. Rabbi Myrna Matsa reminds us that being a holy people means caring for people and the earth, and leaving the world a better place. Jesus, who was steeped in Jewish wisdom, spells out in Matthew 25 the duty disciples have to those who are in need.  Assisting communities and people affected by disaster is one way we follow Jesus Christ.

As with the bridesmaids who needed to bring extra oil in Matthew’s parable of the wedding guests, we must be ready when God calls us to respond to human need.  The message is: “Be alert.”

The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), along with other public and private agencies, is constantly on alert. We were already in touch with the Oklahoma Conference leadership following Monday’s tornado in Shawnee and continued to connect with them on Tuesday following the tornado in Moore.

In the name of Jesus, when disaster strikes, we provide emergency food, water, shelter, and medical care, and begin the harrowing process of clean up. In Oklahoma we have:
Photo courtesy Oklahoma Conference

     •    Offered the conference all available UMCOR resources, including emergency funds, relief supplies,
and training in early response and spiritual and emotional care.
     •    Worked with the conference’s Office of Mission to begin to determine the resources that will be needed for recovery.
     •    Shipped relief supplies including cleaning buckets and bedding kits from UMCOR Sager Brown in Baldwin, Louisiana. The UMCOR depot stands ready to send additional relief kits as requested.

Additional needs are likely to surface following the emergency phase. We will remain in contact with the conference’s Office of Mission to sort out the resources that will be needed for long-term recovery. These are likely to include training and expertise in long-term disaster case management—UMCOR is a recognized leader in providing this crucial training—as well as encouraging volunteers for rebuilding through UMVIM .

Photo courtesy Oklahoma Conference
As Methodists go about the work of disaster relief and rebuilding, we are guided by strong theological themes from our Wesleyan heritage. Here are a few:
     •    The disaster response of the church and its members is an expression of faith, a confirmation of discipleship, and a witness to love for neighbors worldwide. But we do not distribute cleaning buckets and rebuild homes with the intention of converting others; rather, we do so as the practice of a theology of presence that requires few words.
     •    All people need God’s grace. Helpers in disaster are not superior to those being helped. Responders act with humility and not for the sake of feeling good about helping others.
     •    We work in collaboration with other religious groups and public and private sectors in response, partnerships that recognize the fullness and wholeness of God’s creation; we work with others to restore and preserve.
     •    We allow God to work through us, serving others in both humility and confidence. We realize that everyone needs and has access to God’s grace.

Every annual conference in the United States has trained disaster response teams, and this network is primed for its work in Oklahoma. Equipping these teams is a matter of both practical and theological importance in being alert.

Read more about the theology of disaster relief and rehabilitation, and use this church bulletin insert to support US Disaster Response.

* Thomas Kemper is the General Secretary of the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries. UMCOR is part of Global Ministries. Compelled by Christ to be a voice of conscience on behalf of the people called Methodist, UMCOR works globally to alleviate human suffering and advance hope and healing. Gifts to support US Disaster Response to the devastating tornadoes can be made online.

Top: Students and church members work together to unload UMCOR relief supplies at Moore First United Methodist Church in Moore, Oklahoma, in the days following a devastating tornado.  Courtesy Oklahoma Conference.

Middle: Bedding kits and other supplies will be distributed among families and individuals living in temporary shelters. Courtesy Oklahoma Conference.

Below: Some of the 400 shovels that were shipped from UMCOR Sager Brown Depot. The shipment also included bedding kits, nine generators, hundreds of push-brooms, and other much-needed relief supplies. Courtesy Oklahoma Conference.