I get together occasionally with a group to play sheepshead, a traditional Wisconsin card game that is little known outside the state. Last week, though, my sheepshead game proved that, through Methodism's connectional system, even such a piece of Wisconsin provincialism can become a gateway into experiencing the global nature of the UMC.
One of my fellow sheepshead players is Rev. Tony Fuller, pastor of congregational care at First UMC Neenah-Menasha. Tony is also Conference Mission Secretary for the Wisconsin Conference and In Mission Together coordinator for the UMC's Senegal mission. In that capacity, he was hosting David Makobo N'Shikala last week. David is one of the recently commissioned missionaries of the GBGM, who were referenced in a recent post on this blog. David, originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, will be serving in Senegal. David has been in Wisconsin raising support for the Senegal mission. Because Tony was hosting David, David stopped by our card game, and I fell to talking with him.
David will be doing agricultural work in Senegal and holds degrees in agriculture from Africa University. I mentioned to him that Horicon UMC where my wife is a local pastor supports missionaries working in the agricultural program at Africa University, though I initially forgot their names. Another Methodist member of the card group asked if they were Larry and Jane Kies, whom his former church in Iowa supported. They were, and David had taken agricultural instruction from Larry and English instruction from Jane.
Then I was asking David about the Senegal Mission. David made reference to Bill Gibson, the current mission director of the Senegal mission. Bill and his wife Gwen were among my favorite fellow congregants when I attended Emmanuel UMC in Appleton, WI (the former appointment for another member of the sheepshead group), and I told David he would be in good hands with them.
It's probably not often that a Congolese man on his way to Senegal ends up at a sheepshead game in Wisconsin. Even were that to happen elsewhere, chances are he and the sheepshead players would have little in common. Yet the beauty of the connectional system of Methodism is that David and I not only had mutual interests but overlapping personal connections. There are many things that make the UMC a global church, some more effectively than others. I think that ultimately this is one of the most important: that a Congolese missionary and a Wisconsin sheepshead player can meet for the first time and already be bound together by multiple personal connections. The connectional system means that sort of remarkable experience of global church fellowship may not be so remarkable in the UMC after all.