Mission Churches Mature in Four Asian Countries
by Elliott Wright
New York, NY, October 13, 2011--United Methodist mission work in three South East countries--Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam--is being divided into separate operational units because of significant growth and maturity. Also, work in Mongolia is being brought into the denomination's formal organizational system.
Directors of the General Board of Global Ministries on October 12 created three "missions" from what had been one in Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam. Mongolia was raised to formal mission status from that of an informal "mission initiative," under provisions of church rules.
These moves are more than administrative. They recognize the success of evangelism, church development, and social outreach across the last decade. "I hope you understand the importance of what you have just done," said Bishop Bruce R. Ough of West Ohio, president of Global Ministries, when the affirmative vote was taken by directors meeting at the mission agency's headquarters in New York City.
The importance was explained by the Rev. John Nuessle, a Global Ministries' executive in an interview. "This means we have been successful in mission," he said. "These areas represent real potential for the church in the future." Rev. Nuessle recently visited the area. He said that people at the grassroots level in South East Asia are positively responding to the Methodist proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Mongolia has been a mission initiative since United Methodists began a hospice ministry there in 2002. Today it has eight congregations and ongoing medical and community development ministries, working primarily among the poor.
United Methodist missionaries first went to both Laos and Vietnam in 2002; today, Laos has 65 congregations with more than 5,000 members, and Vietnam has 202 churches with more than 12,000 members. The mission work in Thailand started in 2006 and now has nine congregations and an active ministry with children at risk. Each also has a range of social ministries.
"Mission" status puts the churches in an area under the jurisdiction of a bishop. It means that the process of moving lay pastors toward full clergy organization can begin. The division of a single South East Asia Mission (set up in 2007) into three national missions means in part that the work is growing too fast to keep under one episcopal administration.
Missions can move toward the point of deciding whether they want to become annual (regional) conferences within the United Methodist system or autonomous national churches. A mission in Cambodia is proceeding toward autonomy. It represents the joint effort of five Methodist mission organizations.
There are no numerical standards for the designation of a formal mission, Rev. Nuessle indicated. The decision rests on multiple factors, including cultural, economic, political, and sociological realities. The Book of Discipline in paragraphs 590 and 591 describes the process by which missions are recognized and related to the General Board of Global Ministries.
The Global Ministries' directors also endorsed a proposal to change the status of the Malawi Missionary Conference in Africa to that of a Provisional Annual Conference linked to the Zimbabwe Episcopal Area. They acted at the request of the Malawi Conference. This would be a step forward for Malawi to become a full annual conference. The recommendation will be considered at the church's legislating General Conference in the spring of 2012.
Date posted: Oct 14, 2011