FROM THE BISHOP
R. LAWSON BRYAN
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
We truly are Alive Together in the World!
I write that as I sit here in Zimbabwe, in southern Africa, having traveled here as a member of the General Commission on Religion and Race (GCORR). In addition to serving the conference to which we are assigned, bishops also have responsibilities for service in the larger church. Because it is a privilege to represent the South Georgia Conference and the Southeastern Jurisdiction, I want to report on what we are doing here in Africa, and I hope that this will provide a glimpse into an area of the world where The United Methodist Church is growing rapidly.
Why did GCORR travel to Africa?
In past years, GCORR has focused primarily on race relations in the United States. Today, The United Methodist Church is a truly worldwide church. For instance, 40 percent of General Conference delegates now come from outside the United States, most from Africa.
There are 55 countries in Africa, and The United Methodist Church is present in many of them. Over the years the South Georgia Conference has sent mission teams to Africa. It is thrilling to see the return on our investment as new disciples of Jesus Christ are being made in record numbers. This growth has made us more aware than ever that these new Christians are wrestling with situations of tribal warfare, violence among differing groups, and persecution for their faith. The question we are asking is, “How can GCORR provide resources that will be truly helpful to these new disciples?”
To answer that question, the members of GCORR traveled to Africa to meet with local United Methodists. Because Africa is such a large continent we divided into three teams. One team went to Uganda, another team went to the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the team on which I serve went to Zimbabwe.
What did we do in Zimbabwe?
We worshiped at the Chisipete UMC in Harare, then spent three days at Africa University in Mutare. The UMC launched Africa University 25 years ago. The goal is to raise up Christian leaders who can return to their countries and shape the future of Africa for the glory of God. I was impressed at how the administrators, the faculty, and the students are all united in their commitment to give Christian leadership throughout that continent.
Since Africa University has students from 31 countries, we were able to learn from the students and the administrators about how they deal with the language barriers, the conflicts between the nations, and the cultural differences that exist. We learned, for instance, that there are three students in each dorm room and each student comes from a different country. So throughout their college career these students are learning how to live together in peace and mutual respect.
There were many other insights that emerged for us during this visit. One day we drove several hours into a wilderness area and visited a refugee camp that houses more than 12,000 refugees from Congo, Mozambique, and Botswana. As you can imagine, this was an emotional experience. At one point I had the opportunity to visit with Elizabeth, a single parent with three young children. She is from Congo but fled that country due to tribal warfare. When Elizabeth and her children arrived in Botswsana they were imprisoned for two years. They then journeyed to Zimbabwe and came to this refugee camp.
Once again, we gained insight into the needs that GCORR needs to be considering in developing resources and training. There are several churches in the refugee camp, and they need training in dealing with the trauma that these refugees bring with them.
What happens next?
All three of the teams are meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa, to share our experiences in Uganda, Congo, and Zimbabwe. The GCORR members will then spend the bulk of our time determining what specific actions we can take to stand with our United Methodist brothers and sisters in Africa. We are in the middle of that discussion as I write this article. I look forward to sharing more about this in the weeks ahead.
What are some takeaways from this experience?
First, the worldwide mission of The United Methodist Church is paying off big time. To all those who have supported missions through United Methodist Women, United Methodist Men, youth mission projects, children’s mission projects, and local church and district mission teams, I want to say, “Thank you!” I want you to know that everything you have done has made a difference that is continuing to this day.
Second, Africa University has grown from 42 students to more than 3,000 students and now has 8,000 graduates giving Christian leadership throughout Africa.
Third, GCORR has particular expertise in building bridges between differing groups of people and facilitating vital conversations that help people learn how to be Alive Together in Christ.
Finally, if you are interested in visiting Africa University please let me know and I will gladly arrange that trip. There is a school of agriculture at Africa University and that is important since malnutrition is a huge problem in many southern African countries. Agriculture is one of our specialties in South Georgia. I wonder if that might be one major area in which there is an opportunity to continue our mission work in Africa.
Alive Together in the World (including Africa),
R. Lawson Bryan