Global presence, …for what?

Global presence, …for what?

By David A. Vargas
President Division of Overseas Ministries and Co-Executive, Global Ministries

Presentation at General Assembly International Dinner
Charlotte, NC
October 18, 2003

“¡Buenas tardes, amigos y amigas!”

It is a joy to be surrounded this evening by representatives of some of our global partners, current and former missionaries, ecumenical colleagues, our home-based staff and colleagues from other general units of the Church, pastors of new and old congregations, supporters of Global Ministers, my new co-executive partner in the UCC Wider Church Ministries, Dr. Olivia Masih White, …and by so many dear friends.

It is also a joy and honor to know that among us this evening we have courageous brothers and sisters from other countries who dare to be faithful to God, even in places and circumstances where to be faithful is risky, unpopular, and very dangerous.

But especially, it is a tremendous joy to celebrate this evening the Disciples of Christ and the United Church of Christ’s presence and witness throughout the world, even though we all know that a significant part of today´s world, if not all, continues to experience

• war
• hunger
• health crises
• ecological devastation
• political repression
• racial, social, gender discrimination
• extreme poverty
• exploitation, and
• misery.

For Global Ministries, it is a joy and a blessing to be the extended arm of our two churches’ ministry beyond the United States and Canada boundaries; and as that extended arm, to be committed to responding to God’s call to be bearers in words and deeds of God’s good news of salvation to the end of the earth: the good news of peace with justice, the good news of solidarity with the poor and the oppressed, good news of love for all humanity and the Creation, and the good news of Christian unity and interfaith understanding, respect and solidarity.

It is in response to that call from God that Global Ministries …

• has developed and continues to develop partnerships (covenantal bonds) with churches and ecumenical bodies around the world.

It is in response to that call from God that Global Ministries …

• shares persons in mission; that is, we send missionaries, Global Mission Interns, and volunteers, … but we also receive missionaries appointed by our partners to minister in the US/Canada, and to be part of the witnessing of our two Churches; and

• is not a static, finished, and patented product (with copyright) of what mission ought to be, but instead part of the lively and vigorous Church of Jesus Christ; always open and seeking to discover and share new ways to witness to God’s love as revealed and as incarnated in our Lord and Redeemer;

It is in response to that call from God that Global Ministries …

• affirms and respects the sacredness of God’s continuing creation, and is committed to participating and sharing in God’s own healing of that creation; and

• continues to engage in dialogue, witness, and common cause with people of other faiths and movements with whom we share a vision of peace, justice, and the integrity of creation, … not because we are less Christian than the rest of the Church, but because we affirm that the Spirit of God is free to manifest itself in diverse ways, sometimes in spite of us; and because we understand that there are women and men in this world who may be doing the will of God without necessarily being part of this “sheep pen” of Jesus. (John 10:16)

Now, let us also be honest. Global Ministries is just one among many, many other “global” endeavors in today’s world. Also, we have to face the reality that to be “global” these days is to be “a la mode” and, in that respect, we have to admit that we have followed that route; we are an “a la mode Church.” We have incorporated into our understanding of God’s call to ministry a very popular and modern term, but also a term that could be misleading.

It is true that to be “global” (globalization) these days means and implies instant inter-communication, rapid access, or constant connection worldwide, especially enhanced by the achievements of computer science in the past two decades which, indeed, has benefitted the Church (and our ministry) tremendously. But, it is also true that the term “global” (globalization) is associated these days with an increase in the exploitation and control of the natural resources and economy of already impoverished nations by the richest nations on earth. . . . increasing the gap between rich and poor, and increasing the abuse and destruction of the environment without any consideration of the consequences for future generations.

And because just three weeks ago, in Karnataka, South India, farmers committed suicide because for the past five years they have lost their crops due to intense drought caused by global warming; a natural disaster that is devastating agrarian countries such as India.

Why global presence? Why?

Because we still believe in the “foolishness of preaching” and the foolishness of the Gospel, and the prophetic vision of a just and peaceful world order:

• Yes! We still believe in the foolishness of enabling the Church, as affirmed in the 1981 Disciples General Assembly, to be “with” the poor and the oppressed, believing that our response to their cry and commitment to justice is not an option but a constitutive dimension of the Christian faith. (DOM Principles, p. 40)

• We still believe in the possibility of developing human communities and human relationships that may truly “reflect God’s incarnated love in Christ.” (CGMB Strategic Direction # 1)

• We still believe that the world is God’s; that the environment, natural resources, and economy are gifts of God intended not for one or a few nations, but for the whole creation; therefore, we believe in the foolishness of “restoring the environment and economics to the service of God” and only to the service of God (Strategic Direction #2)

As part of this new age of globalization, one of the major challenges that Global Ministries faces today is precisely how to avoid the temptation of becoming just another globalizing enterprise, where priorities are determined and decisions made according to our criteria and needs, simply because we, the Church in the United States and Canada, control the resources or because we understand we are more theologically sophisticated than the rest of the world. More than a possibility, that temptation is a reality knocking at our doors every day.

Today, Global Ministries claims to be present, as a common witness of the Disciples of Christ and the United Church of Christ, in more than 90 countries. Today, we claim to be present in those countries ..

We claim to be present in those countries . . . .

• through our covenantal relationship with more than 160 churches and ecumenical organizations;

• through the appointment of more than 150 persons in mission; men and women who have left their land and families to serve in remote areas far from their homeland;

• through our immediate response to natural disasters and human-made calamities;

• through the financial support of health, education, human rights, and economic development programs and projects;

• through the establishment of special bonds between Disciples and UCC regions or conferences and overseas partners.

Today, Global Ministries claims to be present throughout the world . . .
• through hands-on projects coordinated by a People-to-People Pilgrimage Program; and

• through our support and participation in initiatives of the National Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches.

Oh yes, we claim and we have evidence of our presence throughout the world as Global Ministries these days; …but presence for what? Global presence, …for what?

• Why are we engaged in educational programs in China?

• Why are we supporting the ministry of the council of churches in the Middle East and in Cuba?

• Why are we sending teams of volunteers to build homes in Honduras and El Salvador, and provide advice and counsel for construction projects in Bangladesh?

• Why are we participants in health ministries in Haiti, Turkey, Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Paraguay?

• Why do we care for the people of Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, North Korea, and the Palestinians?

• Why are we so active in theological education efforts in so many schools, commissions, and other forums around the world?

• Why did we always visit our brothers and sisters in Vietnam during those years when to do so was unpopular and suspicious? And why do we continue supporting programs of sustainable development efforts in Vietnam and Laos?

Why?, Why? Global presence, … for what?

• Because the good news of salvation, as summarized in Jesus’ famous invitation to …”Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Mt. 11:28), …is not an invitation addressed exclusively to us, the people of the United States and Canada, but to “ALL who are weary and burdened”… wherever that human being, that child of God may exist.

Why global presence, why? …and for what?

• Because, even though we do experience difficulties and critical situations in our homeland, the truth is that the vast majority of “all those who are weary and burdened” are not in our immediate neighborhoods, but beyond our national borders.
Why global presence, … and for what?

• Because of the 40 million people worldwide who are living with AIDS, 30 million live in the continent of Africa, including 2.7 million children; because of the 25 million people who have died of AIDS worldwide, 18 million (72%) are in Africa, and because every single day 9000 people die of AIDS in Africa.

Global presence, for what?

• Because the Palestinian people are being considered illegal in a land where they have lived for centuries; and Israeli and Palestinians, Jewish and Muslims are killing each other in the name of religion.

• Because the courageous churches of Colombia are asking for our accompaniment as they struggle to defend the rights of entire poor communities (mostly of African descent) who are being violently displaced from their homes and land so that multinational corporations may have access to and exploit the natural resources.

Why Disciples/UCC Global Presence, . . . and for what?

• Because almost 90% of the people of Haiti live in extreme poverty, with an income of $300 per year for an average family of 5 to 8 members, just 700 miles from Miami (and the richest and most powerful nation on earth).

Global Presence, for what?

• Because six Protestant congregations are born every single day in China, thus urgently requiring the theological training of more ordained ministers in a country with 16 million protestant Christians so far, but with only 2000 ordained ministers.

That is why these days the global presence of the Church of Jesus Christ — beginning with the Disciples of Christ and the United Church of Christ — is critical:

• Because on the road down from Jerusalem to Jericho — or from our local congregations to Bolenge, Bogota, Bagdad and Bangladesh — men and women, children of God, are falling again and again into the hands of robbers who are stripping them of their clothes and their natural and personal resources, beating them, and leaving them almost dead. (Lk 10:30)

• And, because other people going down that same road — even including religious people claiming to be acting in the name of God — when they see the tragedy occurring on that road, they still opt to pass by on the other side,…. simply to be politically correct, simply to avoid controversy, or simply for security protection. (Lk 10: 31-32)
That is why our global presence is critical:

• Because, while the march of indifference and selfishness continues on the other side of the road, those who are being robbed of their material possessions and even of their dignity, are still waiting for a merciful hand: a hand of compassion, a daring hand, a sharing hand, a prophetic and courageous hand that may bandage their wounds, pouring on oil and wine, providing food and clean water, a safe shelter, education, technology and alternatives for self-sustainability. (Lk 10:32)

That is why our global presence is critical:

• Because those who are being robbed – the poor, oppressed, abused women and children, indigenous people, homeless, undocumented, the “weary”, “burdened”, and the disenfranchised of this world – are still waiting for us, the Church of Jesus Christ, to walk with them on that dangerous path, to stop where others opt to double speed, to put them on our own “donkey”, and accompany them through the night to a new day of peace, justice, and true rest.

Church, my dear Church, do we have our “donkey” ready for that mission? Do we? Do we?