LAKELAND – For disciples of Christ, the mission is still of God, but missionaries today travel far different paths from those of decades ago, said Dr. Thomas Kemper, general secretary and top executive of the General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM).
|Bishop Ken Carter, left, Dr. Thomas Kemper of GBGM and Rev. Clarke Campbell-Evans discuss the meaning of mission in the 21st century during Day Two of Annual Conference 2014. Photos by Cindy Skop.|
Missionaries today “are really going from everywhere to everywhere,” said Kemper, who was invited to lead a panel discussion Thursday afternoon at Annual Conference 2014. He showed audience members a map tracing paths to and from all parts of the globe.
“So you can see that there’s a Brazilian serving in Switzerland with a Hispanic-Latino community in Geneva, starting a church, building a church.
“Mission now is from the margins. This is true in Vietnam. There are over 150 churches now, only in the last 10 years,” Kemper said.
In the Congo, Kemper said he saw people in tears because they were so happy to be sending missionaries to other places, instead of simply receiving them – and thus becoming a true part in the mission movement.
But mission work is not simply done by other people elsewhere, Kemper reminded the nearly filled assembly hall at the conference, which saw 1,650 voting members checked in by Thursday afternoon.
“We are in this together,” Kemper said, adding that GBGM’s role is to coordinate mission efforts. “Everybody is a missionary. Every Christian has to be a missionary.”
Florida Bishop Ken Carter agreed.
“We are a connectional church, and as a connectional church, the mission that we do here in Florida is connected intimately to the work that you do for the whole denomination,” Carter told the audience.
“We no longer have the luxury of living in our silos of annual conferences and general boards,” he continued. “It’s just imperative that we utilize all of our resources, our people, our callings, our money, our local churches, missionaries who have given their entire lives to this – and we really try to build bridges. And I would say that Thomas (Kemper) has been a breath of fresh air in our denomination.”
He also noted that “Florida really is a mission field in the classic sense of that term. If we start functioning more like missionaries and less like a professional church culture, we will be coming closer to the work of God.”
|Rev. Pam Carter tells conference members they packaged almost 1.7 million meals during a yearlong campaign to feed people in need through Stop Hunger Now.|
Rev. Clarke Campbell-Evans, director of Missional Engagement for the Florida Conference, also participated in the panel discussion and commented on changing demographics in Florida Conference churches.
When he went into ministry 28 years ago in Florida, the Caucasian population in the state was about 77 percent, he said.
“And today that population is about 53 percent. The recent reports from 2015 are saying that within a year or two, there’s going to be no plurality of ethnic groups within Florida. So that sense that it’s all of us in this together, working together, sharing across all of the different lines is a big part of kind of the adventure of how do we become engaged in the mission of God, right here, outside our doors.”
Carter was interested in hearing from Kemper regarding the role that young adults can play in missions.
“Florida is blessed with remarkable youth ministries. Many young adults desire to have some kind of cross-cultural experience and may feel some impulse toward missionary service,” Carter said.
The Florida Conference is launching a pilot program in three sites this year involving 12 missional interns, Campbell-Evans said.
The conference wants to use the new program to complement the work that’s already being done on the national and international stage.
Kemper is enthused about the potential impact that young missionaries can have.
“We (GBGM) have a two-year program; young people serve from everywhere to everywhere,” Kemper said. There are about 100 young missionaries serving two-year stints in that program now, but he said he dreams of a day when that number will exceed 500.
Kemper expects that work to have a long-term effect on the vitality of the church.
“These will be the leaders of our church and will make a dramatic difference because very early they are learning what it means to be a global Christian, a worldwide Christian,” Kemper said.
The church must continue to challenge itself, Kemper said. ”Go to the difficult places. Go to where the people don’t speak your language. Try to connect with them, so we are truly a worldwide mission.”
Following the panel discussion, attendees learned the official results of the Florida Conference mission for Stop Hunger Now, a nonprofit relief organization that provides low-cost, high-nutrition meals to hungry families in the Caribbean. Many in the audience participated in packaging meals at Annual Conference 2013 or at their local church as part of the Florida Conference's "A Million Reasons" campaign.
Rev. Pam Carter, who spearheaded the campaign, reported that almost 1.7 million meals have been packaged in the conference since the effort began last June, far exceeding the goal of a million. About 10,000 volunteers from 270 Florida local churches participated in packaging events over the past year. The effort was fueled by about $400,000 in donations.
This year, Pam Carter has led an effort to collect and re-sell donated jewelry from across the conference to raise money for mission trips for young adults. Bracelets, brooches, necklaces and baubles of all kinds are on sale outside Jenkins Arena. The sale is expected to continue until late afternoon Friday.
-- B.C. Manion is a freelance writer based in Tampa.