"Do What It Takes"--New Missionaries Challenged
by Elliott Wright
New York, NY, October 12, 2011--A dynamic Korean-American church in one of earth's most ethnically diverse neighborhoods was the setting where ten new United Methodist missionaries were sent into the world on October 11.
The First United Methodist Church in Flushing hosted a joyful service of commissioning for the ten who will serve in eight countries through the denomination's General Board of Global Ministries. Flushing, located in the Borough of Queens, is home to a wide range of ethnic groups and is often called the most diverse place in the United States. It is a center for Korean-Americans in New York City.
"It is so right that we are here, in this local church, in this community," said Thomas Kemper, chief executive of Global Ministries, in an interview. "We are reminded that our missionaries serve diverse people and are themselves from many backgrounds. We are also reminded that local churches provide the heartbeat for mission, and this congregation is among the United Methodist mission leaders."
The diverse group of new missionaries, including two from the Congo and two of Korean-American background, will serve in a variety of ministries in Africa, Eurasia, and the United States. They were urged, in a sermon by Bishop Hans Växby of Eurasia, to "do what it takes" to be faithful to their calling.
Michael Airgood from Kane, Pennsylvania, who is assigned to new church development in L'viv, Ukraine, had waited half of his 24 years for that night in Flushing. "I have wanted to be a missionary of Global Ministries since I was 12 years old," he said. "But I had to finish college before I could apply."
Fresie and Rukang Chikomb of Lubumbashi in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) had also prepared for years. Rukang is a missionary pilot and Fresie an air-safety administrator for the Southern Congo Wings of the Morning Aviation Ministry. Their qualifications required intense technical training over a period of years.
The Rev. Eumin Kim and Prumeh Kim, who will co-direct the United Methodist Mission Center in Almaty, Kazakhstan, have Methodist lineages reaching back into Korea. They are affiliated with the Flushing church, where they were commissioned during an annual meeting of Global Ministries directors.
All of the new missionaries have specialized training for the work they now undertake.
(A listing of the new missionaries' home conferences and formal assignments follows below.)
Ms. Howard and Ms. Maupin are Church and Community Workers, a company of some 50 missionaries engaged with economically marginal areas of the US. The other eight are missionaries in international service. About half of the denomination's international missionaries are from outside the US.
The Commissioning and its Setting
Bishop Bruce R. Ough of West Ohio, president of the General Board of Global Ministries, conducted the service of commissioning that blended Western and Korean elements of worship. The entire service was broadcast through Global Ministries' website, with more than 750 page views from around the world.
The candidates for commissioning processed into the large sanctuary, accompanied by the song "Lord, I'm Available to You." They came bearing the bread and wine of Holy Communion, wrapped Korean-style in colorful cloths.
Wearing the traditional missionary Anchor Cross, they processed out an hour and a half later to sustained applause and cheering from family, friends, church members, and the directors and staff of Global Ministries. The event took place on the second night of the annual meeting of Global Ministries directors, convened for the first time at the agency's offices in Manhattan. Directors arrived in Flushing on buses. The church provided dinner to the directors and a large throng of other United Methodist guests.
First United Methodist Church in Flushing is a 200-year-old congregation that was originally Anglo in composition but over the past 35 years has become predominantly Korean-American. It has some 1,800 members, with an average Sunday worship attendance of 1,300 in four adult services and three Sunday-school experiences for children and youth. One adult service is in English, according to the Rev. Daniel Cho, an associate pastor for the English-language ministry.
Bishop Jeremiah J. Park of the New York Area said in an interview that the Flushing church is the largest in his annual conference, which covers southern New York state and the western half of Connecticut. "It is our flagship church," he said, "mostly in terms of attendance, giving, and mission to the world." While the population has changed, the congregation has retained a legacy of mission, said the bishop, who presided at a service of Holy Communion during the commissioning. First UMC of Flushing is a strong supporter of missionaries and new mission initiatives related to Global Ministries. It is engaged in Tanzania, the Central Asia Republics, Russia, and Guatemala, to name a few. It also provides scholarships for students in China, said Rev. Cho.
One highlight of the event was the singing of fourth-grader Yae Eun Kim from the Flushing church. In a voice as clear as a fine bell, she sang "Amazing Grace" in English and a song in Korean based on the experience of a Welsh missionary, accompanied by Si Hwan Byun on the danso, the traditional Korean flute.
"Do What It Takes"
Bishop Växby, whose Eurasia Area is headquartered in Moscow, Russia, preached, speaking at times directly to the new missionaries. He said that the commissioning might likely represent one of those times when people have an opportunity to choose where they will go next in life. In their new lives, he urged: "Do not ever hesitate. Do what it takes. Run to win!"
United Methodist missionaries are commissioned--which involves the symbolic "laying on of hands"--to "take the gospel into the world." The ritual comes after the candidates affirm their belief that they "have been led by the Spirit of God to engage in this work and to assume its responsibilities." They also pledge to be diligent in prayer, Bible reading, and studies that will enhance their abilities in mission. The new missionaries collectively recited a covenant prayer written by John Wesley, the Methodist founder, in 18th-century English. In the prayer, the missionaries "freely and heartily yield all things" to God's "pleasure and disposal."
Bishop Växby evoked smiles from the missionary candidates when he wondered if any of them had experienced questions from family or friends similar to those Jesus encountered in Matthew 12:26, when some of his brothers and sisters, on the eve of his ministry, asked, "Are you sure about this?"
Once sure in the Spirit, the bishop said, follow Saint Paul's advice of going all out for the objective, which for missionaries is to take the gospel into the entire world.
Elliott Wright is a journalist and consultant to the General Board of Global Ministries.
Date posted: Oct 12, 2011