A New Song For A New Decade

. . . to be timely and appropriately meeting God's people and creation at the point of deepest need: spiritually, physically, emotionally and/or economically. That is what we say these days is our main reason for existence, and what we claim our Critical Presence mission priority means. But is that "REALLY" true? Are we really living and reflecting in our praxis what our documents and our speech affirm so eloquently today? Are we? Are we? Friends, I have news for you this evening. Good news! YES! We are; we certainly are.

". . . to be timely and appropriately meeting God's people and creation at the point of deepest need:  spiritually, physically, emotionally and/or economically."

That is what we say these days is our main reason for existence, and what we claim our Critical Presence mission priority means.

But is that "REALLY" true?

Are we really living and reflecting in our praxis what our documents and our speech affirm so eloquently today?

Are we?  Are we?

Friends, I have news for you this evening.  Good news!

YES!  We are; we certainly are.

To be honest, in our journey toward a new day with a new song, our discernment process has not been easy.  There is no doubt in our minds that Critical Presence is prophetic and theologically correct, and also it is what we understand God is demanding from each of us for "such a time as this"; but at the same time, I have to confess this evening, my dear board, that its implementation has not always been comfortable  and pleasant.

Our implementation of Critical Presence has been neither easy, nor comfortable, nor pleasant because, very often, Critical Presence decisions are not necessarily friendly for everyone, and/or politically correct.

However, in spite of those challenges which, indeed, we do not expect to soon disappear, there are good tidings to share this evening; and new musical notes for a new melody on the eve of a new decade of Disciples and UCC global mission and ministry TOGETHER!

As clearly revealed in a panoramic view of our global presence and witness, shared by our program and area staff in a meeting just a few weeks ago, I am glad to affirm this evening that this business of Critical Presence is no longer just a beautiful and contagious slogan, but more importantly, it is gradually becoming the "potter's hands" that are shaping minute-by-minute our present and our future in mission.

In our documents and in our speech, Critical Presence is defined as being there . . .

"In pastoral ministries related to fear and hopelessness where people are desperate for meaning."

In our praxis today, that means . . .


  • to appoint Carlos Madrazo to serve with and to accompany the Protestant Church in East Timor in a time of duress, uncertainty and isolation;           
  • it means the assignment of Daniel Gourdet to educational and developmental programs of the National Spiritual Council of Churches of Haiti, by far the poorest nation in this hemisphere;
  • pastoral visits, advocacy work and support for families of victims of human rights violations in the Philippines;
  • responding (with the support of Week of Compassion and One Great Hour of Sharing) to the urgent needs of victims of the Moyan volcano eruption and the Leyte mud slides in the Philippines, and typhoons in China;
  • celebrating, three months ago, the100th Anniversary of the Disciples of Christ Church in Argentina, and to be reminded on that occasion that, during the years of a horrible military repression and death in that country, we were there, walking and accompanying our brothers and sisters in that country in every step on that terrible road;
  • developing a Child Sponsorship site in Indonesia that will support the school-age children of deceased pastors as they finish their education;
  • and it means supporting the Evangelical Congregational Church in Angola's contribution to the reconstruction of their country, following three decades of conflict and war, particularly in rural areas where the heart of the church's ministries lies.

In our documents and in our speech, Critical Presence is defined as being there . . .

"In dangerous or life-threatening situations related to social, economic or political realities."

In our praxis today, that means . . .

  • a Child Sponsorship site, for instance, in Jerusalem, serving Palestinian children who are victims of war, discrimination and other expressions of violence;
  • Ruth Edens' presence and ministry in Beirut when the recent war between Israel and Hezballah erupted, and also the crucial interpretation work and the accompaniment provided to our brothers and sisters in Israel/Palestine by our missionaries, Cathy Nichols and Tracy Hughes;
  • our commitment to appoint a missionary to accompany the Council of Evangelical Churches of Colombia, as they minister to people who are victims of war in that country; as well as our continued pastoral messages and advocacy statements in support of the life and dignity of the people of the Philippines, Israel/Palestine, Sudan and many other areas of the world; and
  • supporting the human rights work of the Association for Legal Aid and Social Action in Peru, specifically their defense of political prisoners and their families.

In our documents and in our speech, Critical Presence is defined as being there . . .

"Accompanying partners living in countries wherein the Christian faith is a minority faith."

In our praxis today, that means . . .

  • Betty and Ken Frank serving in Turkey, and their ministry being respected, not only by other expressions of Christianity, including the Armenian Church ( as we witnessed three months ago during a trip to that country), but also by the Muslim majority in that country; and it also means Michael and Doreen McFarlane and Sam Pearson, serving as teachers with the Union Theological Seminary of Nanjing, China; and Karen Haworth, serving as an English teacher at the Sichuan TV & Radio University in Chengdu, China.

In our documents and in our speech, Critical Presence is defined as being there . . .

            "Accompanying our partners in interfaith relations."

In our praxis today, that means . . .

  • the constant involvement and contribution of our mission personnel, especially in the Middle East, Europe and Africa, in inter-religious dialogues;
  • the ecumenical initiatives of David and Roxie Owen in Nairobi, Kenya;
  • our Middle East/Europe office' efforts to educate our own constituencies in North America about the other Abrahamic faiths, and that office's contribution, on behalf of both the Disciples of Christ and the United Church of Christ at the Interfaith Relations Commission of the National Council of Churches of Christ, and at the interfaith dialogue tables with Jews and Muslims.

In our documents and in our speech, Critical Presence is defined as being there, devoting our energy in . . .

            "Conflict transformation and resolution." 

In our praxis today, that means . . .

  • our East Asia/Pacific executive's participation and contribution in the religious efforts toward the reunification of North and South Korea;
  • it means the appointment of Justino Perez and Zaida Rivera to be the key facilitators for the work of a recently established Round Table for Mission development in Mexico, a forum where, for the first time, the key leaders of the two Disciples' denominations in Mexico are working together on educational and mission projects, after the painful and ugly conflict that divided the Disciples family in Mexico ten years ago; and                    
  • the peace and reconciliation work of our missionary Elena Huegel, as director of the Shalom Center of the Pentecostal Church of Chile;
  • and Margaret Blamberg's work in connection to the United Nations.

In our documents and in our speech, Critical Presence is defined as being there, through the appointment of mission personnel in . . .

"Places where capacity-building and health care are our primary focus."

In our praxis today, that means . . .


  • the passionate work of Anil Henry, a young surgeon, and his wife, Teresa, also a physician, as our missionaries at the Christian Hospital in Mungeli, India;
  • participating with the churches and their affiliated organizations in India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and Laos in programs which help make education accessible for the very poor children, youth, women and girls, including long-term engagement with vocational training programs, women's skills training and empowerment;
  • it means scholarship assistance provided to hundreds of students throughout the world, thanks to the support of Week of Compassion and other special gifts;
  • a Child Sponsorship site for 86 HIV/AIDS orphans in China, together with a small loan program, a project to rebuild a school and 25 houses of HIV/AIDS victims that were destroyed by a storm, and efforts to link that community to appropriate health services in a nearby province;
  • it means working in Indonesia, East Timor, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and India with regional churches and theological institutions in the development of training programs to equip the clergy and lay workers to carry out the ministry of the church in remote areas;
  • Adora Lee's ministry as an AIDS consultant for the Southern Africa region of a United Congregational Church of Southern Africa, and Dawn and Jonathan Barnes' development work as part of that church's Samaritan Care Center; a hospice for those infected with HIV/AIDS in the Kei Region of the Eastern Cape of South Africa;
  • it means our participation in the reconstruction of a burned hospital of the Disciples of Christ in Bolenge, Congo, and our continuing support of the only health-care services in that remote community in the heart of Africa;
  • participating in the efforts of our partner churches in South Africa to continue combating racism, classicism and poverty;
  • and it means the appointment of Carmelo Alvarez, an ordained Disciples of Christ minister, to be a key leader (and probably the most outstanding leader) in the education of Pentecostal pastors and lay workers, not only of the Evangelical Pentecostal Union of Venezuela, but also throughout the Latin America and Caribbean region.

In our documents and in our speech, Critical Presence is defined as being there . . .

"Facilitating the engagement of local congregations and other settings of our two denominations in global mission and ministry."

In our praxis today, that means . . .

  • the design and successful implementation in the past two years of Mission and Ministry Interpreters Training Events where more than 300 Disciples and UCC leaders have already been equipped to serve as educators and interpreters of our global mission work among congregations, regions and conferences of our two denominations;
  • the successful celebration of Missionworks in October 2006, with the participation of around 100 members of our congregations, including for the first time, a significant number of Disciples, in addition to home-based staff and missionaries;
  • securing, just in 2006, special gifts from 370 new individual donors, representing a 6% increase in the number of individual donors; and also a 15% increase in the amount of giving from congregations, regions and conferences;
  • plans by our Mission Interpretation and Education offices to establish direct contact with almost all Disciples and UCC congregations to discuss individually their mission interests, wishes and emphasis, developing aggregate data for meeting their needs;
  • receiving, in 2006, Rebecca Nanjasse, a member of the Evangelical Congregational Church in Angola, as a "missionary in residence" serving in the UCC Pacific Northwest Conference;
  • the itineration of missionaries who covered, in the first 6 months of this year, 11 UCC conferences and 12 Disciples regions, 109 UCC congregations and 106 Disciple congregations, for a total of 395 presentations.

In our documents and in our speech, Critical Presence is defined as being there . . .

"Exploring and implementing economic alternatives which empower the powerless within the human community, giving priority to the poorest communities and those in turmoil."

In our praxis today, that means . . .

  • working with partners in India and Bangladesh to create economic opportunities in rural communities, including programs aimed at helping women gain marketable skills and financial management training, and establishing economic development programs to lift entire communities and encourage cross-caste cooperation;
  • providing support for the reconstruction efforts of the Social Affairs, Studies and Projects Development Department of the Evangelical Congregational Church of Angola;
  • it means supporting the women's loans and economic development program of the National Spiritual Council of Churches of Haiti;
  • proposing a reduction in expenses related to our Global Ministries board life, our administration and even home-based personnel;
  • facilitating the establishment of an economic development project to support the families of former and current political prisoners in Lima, Peru.

As we begin our board meeting this evening, it is true that we cannot deny the many challenges we are currently facing, and that we will probably continue to face.

Also, I want each of you to know that it has not been a heavenly experience to devote so many hours, days, weeks and months in budget preparation meetings, conference calls, face-to-face sessions, tense arguments, moments of impasse, and a very slow process to reach consensus and agreements.

Yes, it is not easy to propose to this board a budget for 2007 with significant cuts in program support, administration and personnel modifications.

And yes, it is not easy to try to lead Global Ministries at a time when we are experiencing huge reductions in revenue from our congregational giving through the Disciples Mission Fund and Our Church's Wider Mission, and at a time of UCC streamlining, a possible reorganization of our General Ministries, and a new Disciples funding system directly affecting our work.

However, in the midst of our hour of uncertainty, today's panoramic view of our mission TOGETHER is a sign of hope;

a sign much more eloquent than our speech and the content of our documents and our resolutions.

Today's panoramic view of our mission TOGETHER is encouraging,  is affirming, and is a joyful reminder of what our business is all about; that is,

"...to be timely and appropriately meeting God's people and creation at the point of deepest need."

Today's panoramic view of our mission TOGETHER speaks about and reminds us, even more eloquently than our written Guiding Principles of our capacity and potential as Disciples and UCC to present everything we are and everything we have as a true, living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God (Roman 12:1); and also,  our capacity and potential to offer God what is good and what God, in the final analysis, is requiring of us;

"To act justly and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with (our) God."  (Micah 6:8)

As I conclude my remarks this evening, I simply want to reiterate what I shared with the DOM board when I began serving in this position almost four years ago, which is the same affirmation I shared yesterday with our DOM Personnel Committee as part of my evaluation process: I continue to look into the future of Global Ministries with joy, hope and optimism, especially because, as I learned in my first Sunday School lessons when I was a child, the mission of the church is not necessarily just the fruit of our planning initiatives, our designs, our administrative skills, our statements and/or our resolutions, but God's precious miracle which occurs even in spite of us.

And, my dear Global Ministries Board, I believe our commitment to that mission (I mean, that mission) remains intact.  Amen.  


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