Missionaries Serve at General Conference
by Christie R. House
Fort Worth, TX, May 2, 2008--Missionaries made significant contributions to the proceedings of the 2008 General Conference serving as delegates, interpreters, photographers, accompaniers, and witnesses. Their quiet labors, which took place in large part behind the scenes, created bridges of understanding between people, among delegations, and across the boundaries of national borders that separate people from one another.
High up in the rafters of the plenary hall, a row of booths houses the interpreters who listen to the proceedings of the plenaries and then simultaneously translate them into eight different languages for delegates attending from other countries. Among their number are active, former, and retired missionaries.
The General Conference met in Fort Worth, from April 23 to May 2, 2008. It convenes once every four years to conduct the church's business.
Jeff and Ellen Hoover, missionaries serving as professors in Lubumbashi, Zaire, helped with the French translations. "What is the point of going to a meeting if you can't understand what is said?" Ellen Hoover asked. "Just making things clear for people, as much as possible, is my job." Ellen also enjoys finding out what is happening in the US church. "We don't hear much gossip, since we are not pastors," she said. Other missionaries serving as translators included Cherie White (Mexico), David and Sonia Ortigoza (National Plan for Hispanic and Latino Ministries), David Persons (Democratic Republic of Congo), Frido Kinkolenge (Liberia), and many more. Joyce Hill, a retired missionary who started the ministry of translation at the 1976 General Conference, returned for her ninth General Conference.
Other missionaries have worked to bring delegates and visitors to the General Conference so that they could make their unique contributions to the meeting. Sara Flores, a Quechuan missionary who serves in Bolivia for Global Ministries, says she and her husband Dakin Cook arranged to bring Justa Mamani and Carmela Vaizaga de Segovia to Fort Worth from Bolivia. Both women have been involved in their church's national Methodist Women's group, the Federation of Methodist Women in Bolivia (FEFEME), which has been supported by United Methodist Women as well as through Advance giving.
"I came to Fort Worth because I felt I needed to accompany them," said Flores. "They could speak no English and it was the first time either of them had traveled to the United States." Flores said she introduced the women to many people at The Advance display, but she was impressed by the number of Native Americans from the US who came to meet the indigenous women from South America. "It was good to be able to make those connections."
Missionaries as Delegates
Missionaries, active and former, served as delegates to the general church meeting, sent by their local areas all across the world. Red Bird Missionary Conference, Alaska Missionary Conference, the Virginia Conference, and the Ukraine and Moldava Provisional Conference were a few that sent missionaries to represent them.
A number of missionaries from the Democratic Republic of Congo are returning to serve as delegates. Jacques Akasa Umembudi, a missionary pilot with the Wings of Caring aviation ministry, has served as a delegate to General Conference since 1996. He has come to be known as the "go to" person for his delegation. He has helped to provide translation, intervened to mitigate technical problems, and driven delegates back and forth around Fort Worth--to the drugstore or to get whatever they needed.
The Revs. Umba Ilunga Kalangwa and Mutwale Ntambo Wa Mushidi are Global Ministries missionaries serving as representatives from the Tanganyika/Tanzania conference of the Democratic Republic of Congo United Methodist Church. This is the second General Conference for Rev. Wa Mushidi. He has served 16 years as an evangelist planting churches in Tanzania, a country whose population is about 50 percent Muslim. He will be traveling with Bishop Ntambo to South Indiana after the conference to meet with some supporting churches there. Fort Worth is Kalanga's first General Conference. "It has been a wonderful experience," he noted. Kalanga met some people who have supported his mission work through The Advance. They knew he was coming and sent him a message to ask to meet him. That face-to-face opportunity was the best event for him.
Gaston and Jeanne Kabova Ntambo work with Wings of the Morning aviation program in North Katanga. "We were able to stand in the Global Ministries display booth and greet people as they went by," said Gaston. "We were able to tell them about our work in Africa. They've supported us, but now we see them. It was like watching someone on TV for a long time and then, suddenly, there they are."
A Resource for the Church
Other missionaries who traveled to Fort Worth included Paul Jeffrey, Meri Whitaker, Ruth Wiertzema, and Susie Canafax. Paul Jeffrey served as a photographer for United Methodist News Service for the duration of the conference. Jeffrey brought more than 20 years of experience as a pastor, missionary, and photojournalist to the event. Likewise, Ruth Wiertzema helped with a presentation on town and country ministries and has served as a missionary with the Red Bird Missionary Conference for several decades.
Meri Whitaker, a Church and Community Worker from Oklahoma who works with Cookson Hills Center, and Susie Canafax, a missionary who helps to promote other missionaries by coordinating their mission letters, were available to talk with visitors and church members at The Advance display. Canafax said she enjoyed her time at General Conference and appreciated the chance to connect with other missionaries. "We're serving in many different countries," she said, "and we don't often get to see each other."
*Christie R. House is the editor of New World Outlook magazine.
Date posted: May 02, 2008