Monday, November 19, 2018

Recommended Readings: Updates on the UMC and injustices in the Philippines

As previously shared on this blog ([1] and [2]), The United Methodist Church in the Philippines is struggling to confront and name injustices in a country with a significant amount of state-sanctioned violence, especially against the poor and indigenous people. The following are three recent stories that continue the tale of the UMC's social engagement in the Philippines.

UMC's Church and Society agency shared a story about a Solidarity Team from the Cal-Pac Annual Conference that traveled to the Philippines over the summer. It includes what the Solidarity Team learning about violence and injustices in the Philippines.

UMNS covered a story about an All Saints' Day service at St. Paul UMC in Manila that lifted up prayers for and shared the experiences of victims of extrajudicial killings and their family members.

UMC Deaconess Norma Dollaga wrote a blog post about what she has learned about the plight of sugarcane workers in the Philippines, especially during the "Time of Death," when lack of income raises the risk of starvation.

Friday, November 16, 2018

New Mission Area: Access to Electronic Information Technology

Today's post is by UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott, Director of Mission Theology at the General Board of Global Ministries. The opinions and analysis expressed here are Dr. Scott's own and do not reflect in any way the official position of Global Ministries.

Four weeks ago, I raised the question of what features of the world and its various contexts in the 21st century might constitute new areas of mission, in the same way that features of the world 50, 100, or 150 years ago led to areas of mission work that we now consider central: education, poverty relief, healthcare, etc.

This week, I suggest a fourth possible new area of mission work: access to electronic information technology. This area is in part a rethinking of a former area of mission work: paper-based information technology.

Missionaries were a key player in a previous wave of access to printed information. This type of print information technology mission was carried out through translation work, education, and printing. Missionaries were leading figures in promoting the development of written languages for previously oral-only languages. They were leading figures in promoting literacy in many languages, regardless of whether or not they were previously written. Missionaries (especially Methodist missionaries) started printing presses, newspapers, and magazines in many countries around the world, helping to democratize access to print materials.

The incentive for missionaries in promoting literacy was so that converts (and potential converts) could access religious writings--primarily the Bible, but also hymns, devotional texts, and other religious and theological works--and so that native Christians could communicate with missionaries and each other.

For those used to reading, it is easy to overlook the basic fact that literacy is not just a skill, but a skill at using a set of technology--pens, paper, and printing presses are all items of technology. Reading and writing is thus an information technology.

Yet when the phrase "information technology" is used today, it denotes not print material, but electronic communications equipment - cell phones, email, the internet, etc. All of these forms of technology depend upon skills of reading and writing built upon earlier, physical forms of reading and writing technology, but transposed into the medium of electronics.

Missionaries are not the pioneers of contemporary electronic information technology in the same way that they were of paper-based information technology. Businesses, along with education, government, and secular nonprofits lead the way here.

Yet it is worth asking why missionaries are closer to the forefront here. Is access to the Bible and other devotional and theological materials really only best done through paper? Are there no religious (or other missional) benefits to having access to the world of electronic information technology? Certainly many in the West use information technology to access the Bible, to receive daily devotions, to access online resources in theological, ethical, and other church-related materials. Why do we assume these materials are only appropriate or relevant for Western Christians? Is there no benefit to Christians around the world being better able to communicate with each other?

Access to the Internet varies significantly by country. While the average percentage of the population online in the 50 most well-connected countries is 84.4%, in the rest of the world, it's only 31.6%. Cell phones are much more widely available, and SMS messages along with apps like WhatsApp represent a significant, albeit more limited, form of information technology access for many in developing countries. Certainly, though, there is more to be done in providing access to electronic information technology

Moreover, The United Methodist Church is already doing work in this area. It is both distributing new forms of electronic information technology, such as the e-reader program for theological education in the central conferences, and using existing electronic information technology to new missional purposes, such as the use of text messages to combat the spread of Ebola.

These efforts are good starts, but certainly the types of work in this area of mission could be expanded. Thinking of providing access to electronic information technology as a basic form of mission work (and not just a nifty means to an end) would help to further such work. Moreover, seeing this type of mission work as a continuation of a long-standing mission focus gives historic emphasis to the work, even as it brings it into a new era.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

General Conference 2019 and the Null Hypothesis

Today's post is by UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott, Director of Mission Theology at the General Board of Global Ministries. The opinions and analysis expressed here are Dr. Scott's own and do not reflect in any way the official position of Global Ministries.

When I taught at Ripon College, I had a colleague in the biology department who would frequently challenge the faculty during our discussions with the following question: "What's the null hypothesis here?"

In statistics, the null hypothesis is an assumed hypothesis set up so that researchers can try to prove it false as part of proving that some other hypothesis is much more likely to be true. Usually, the null hypothesis assumes no correlation between phenomena under study, no impact from experimental interventions, no change under test conditions, or the like.

General Conference 2019 has been presented as an opportunity for delegates to select between three plans: the One Church Plan, the Traditionalist Plan, and the Connectional Conference Plan.

If we were being scientific in our analysis of GC2019, we might call the assumption that the One Church Plan will pass Hypothesis 1, the assumption that the Traditional Plan will pass Hypothesis 2, and the assumption that the Connectional Conference Plan will pass Hypothesis 3. Much has been written about the relatively likelihoods of Hypothesis 1 and Hypothesis 2 being true.

Yet any analysis that is focused solely on these three plans as possible outcomes overlooks the Null Hypothesis in this situation. The Null Hypothesis, at least as I see it, is that no plan will pass GC 2019. No action by GC2019 is the baseline scenario against which the likelihood of other scenarios must be measured.

To prove that any of Hypotheses 1-3 are true, the Null Hypothesis must first be proven false. In other words, to show that GC2019 will adopt a plan, it must first be shown that it will not adopt no plan.

The difference is perhaps subtle, but it changes the analysis if the question is not, "Which plan is more likely to be passed: the One Church Plan or the Traditional Plan?" but instead, "Is it likely that GC 2019 will pass a plan? If so, which plan is most likely to be passed?"

Of course, others have acknowledged that it is a possibility GC2019 could do nothing. Yet most of the conversations I see (on both ends of the spectrum and in the middle) are, "What will you/I/we do if X plan passes?" I have seen a lot less sustained conversation about, "What will you/I/we do if no plan passes?"

Yet it may be worth having those conversations. The Null Hypothesis may well prove to be false, but it may also prove to hold true.

Moreover, the Null Hypothesis does not mean no change in the church. It means no plan, but change will come, with a plan or without one. What could that change look like and how might various actors respond?

Unless one is willing to contemplate the possibility of the Null Hypothesis, one will be unprepared for and surprised by the changes that will come if it is true.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Recommended Reading: Methodist bishops' statements on migration

In light of recent debate about caravans of migrants from Central America traveling through Mexico to the United States, episcopal leaders from several Methodist denominations have issued statements affirming the importance of treating migrants with empathy and dignity and recognizing their full legal rights.

The Methodist Church of Mexico issued a statement on October 20 signed by all six of their bishops. You can find that statement in English and Spanish versions.

The United Methodist Council of Bishops issued a statement on November 7, which was co-signed by the Mexican bishops, the President of the Methodist Church of El Salvador, and the supervising bishop for the United Methodist mission in Honduras.

Friday, November 9, 2018

New Mission Area: Mental Health

Today's post is by UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott, Director of Mission Theology at the General Board of Global Ministries. The opinions and analysis expressed here are Dr. Scott's own and do not reflect in any way the official position of Global Ministries.

Three weeks ago, I raised the question of what features of the world and its various contexts in the 21st century might constitute new areas of mission, in the same way that features of the world 50, 100, or 150 years ago led to areas of mission work that we now consider central: education, poverty relief, healthcare, etc.

This week, I suggest a third new area of mission work: mental health.

The church has long been involved in health and healing work as a form of mission. In various times and places, this sort of mission work has ranged from faith healing to patient nursing of the sick to the spread of Western medicine. But it has usually focused on physical aliments: sickness, disability, injury.

Mental health has only relatively recently (within the past century or so) been understood as a category of human ailment. And there has often been a good deal of disbelief or shame involved in using the framework of mental health to describe human ailing.

Yet mental health problems are quite common, more so than many diseases. Estimates of the overall incidence of mental health disorders is about 15% globally, and 4% each for depression and anxiety. Overall incidence of cancer, by comparison, is about .2%. Women and people living in Western countries are more likely to experience mental health disorders. In the US, overall prevalence is just over 18%.

Despite the prevalence of mental health disorders, churches have often struggled to know how to respond to mental health, perhaps because of discomfort or difficulty in discerning the line between the cognitive/emotional and the spiritual.

Yet the church has a great potential to treat mental health in holistic ways that include cognitive, emotional, and spiritual components without reducing any of these elements to the others. Indeed, we don't see prayer and medication as mutually exclusive approaches to treating physical disease. Why should we see prayer and counseling (and perhaps medication) as mutually exclusive approaches to mental health?

Since the church proclaims freedom from our burdens, it would seem that mental health care could be a promising new form of mission work. Indeed, since Christianity proclaims joy and peace as among the fruits of the Spirit, it would seem a failure if the church did not address mental health issues that can rob people of these elements of a healthy, holy life.

Moreover, mental health is an area that the church is already engaged in, at least in places. Drawing on his experience of church work with mental health, Peter Bellini wrote a fine three-part series for UM & Global a few years ago on "Global Mental Health and the Church." For those looking to explore this topic further, I commend it to you:

Global Mental Health and the Church, Part I
Global Mental Health and the Church, Part II
Global Mental Health and the Church, Part III

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Recommended Reading: Global Ministries' statement on Sri Lanka

This recommended reading comes courtesy of Rev. Dr. Jerome Sahabandhu, Mission Theologian in Residence at Global Ministries, regular contributor to UM & Global, and Sri Lankan native. The statement is republished in full below. The original can be found here.

A statement on the current situation in Sri Lanka
By Thomas Kemper

The General Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church is deeply and prayerfully concerned about the current political crisis in Sri Lanka. We extend our pastoral solidarity to all peace-loving communities of all faiths and ethnicities and to our mission partners in the country, an Asian democracy still emerging from civil conflict officially ended in 2009.

The new troubles arise over the office of prime minister. On Oct. 26, 2018, President Maithripala Sirisena named a replacement for Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in violation, many feel, of the Sri Lankan constitution. The effort to seat Mahinda Rajapaksa as prime minister caused chaos in the country. The resulting political impasse can likely be resolved only by convening Parliament to deal with the matter, an action the president has resisted.

Global Ministries has strong bonds with a range of Christian (Methodist and ecumenical) and other religious communities in Sri Lanka as a result of humanitarian and mission partnerships over the years.

Sri Lanka as a nation suffered 26 years of war due to the ethnic conflict and war that ended about a decade ago. Since then, various peace-loving and democratic movements, including the Christian churches, continue to engage with the people of Sri Lanka in the work of reconciliation, healing and national unity, along with socioeconomic development. The country is working toward a new constitution in which rights of all communities will be safeguarded. The people of Sri Lanka elected a new government in 2015 with the hope of establishing lasting peace, development and protection of the human rights of all.

As steps toward peace in the current crisis, Global Ministries:

• Urges the president and legislative leaders to convene the Parliament and resolve the matter of the prime minister by peaceful means
• Urges the government to respect the mandates of the democratic change enacted in 2015;
• Urges all people of Sri Lanka to affirm their commitment to democracy and justice by peaceful, nonviolent means; and
• Urges responsible authorities to protect the freedom of expression and the media.

We join with colleagues and partners in Sri Lanka as they share the message of Jesus in Matthew 5:9, NRSV, which reads, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

*Thomas G. Kemper is the General Secretary of Global Ministries.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Recommended Reading: Lisa Beth White on planning a short-term mission trip

Lisa Beth White of Sister of Hope Ministries has put together a helpful step-by-step guide for churches planning short-term mission trips. Lisa Beth's guide is essential reading for any congregation that is interested in going on such a trip while taking into consideration the best of current missiological thinking. Lisa Beth emphasizes the importance of relationship-building and faith-building as goals of the trip that need to be built into the planning.

Planning a Short-Term Mission Trip - Part One: The Destination

Planning a Short-Term Mission Trip - Part Two: The Work Project

Planning a Short-Term Mission Trip - Part Three: Do No Harm

Planning a Short-Term Mission Trip - Part Four: Putting a Team Together

Planning a Short-Term Mission Trip - Post-Mission Trip Retreat