Feb. 18, 2010 | NEW YORK (UMNS)
Janet Jenkins and Jerolyn Morrison from Christ Church in Manhattan dig
the foundation of what will become the first Methodist church structure
in Colombia. A UMNS photo courtesy of Naila Meyers.
in Photo Gallery
A 600-member United Methodist congregation in Manhattan—no strangers to
outreach at home and beyond—is discovering anew what the church is all
And they are discovering it in Colombia, South America, where civil war
and violence related to drug trafficking have slashed deep fissures in
the social fabric. Three million people are displaced; another 2 million
fled to other countries. Poverty is a way of life for many people.
But in Colombia, notes the Rev. Javier Viera, “the whole concept of
church is all the ways the church is reaching people.”
Minister for outreach at Christ United Methodist Church, New York
City, since 1996, Viera says his congregation “had a long-term goal to
establish a presence in Latin America.”
Invited to accompany United Methodist Board of Global Ministries staff
on a mission trip to Ecuador, Peru and Colombia a few years ago, he “was
drawn to Colombia.”
Viera took a small team back to Colombia, and the Christ Church
First, he recalls, “We purchased an industrial-sized kitchen and started
a feeding program for about 400 kids.” Since 2007, Christ Church has
strived to “be in authentic partnership” with the people of Cartagena,
Colombia. Last summer, the church sent 26 volunteers, and a handful of
people traveled there in the fall.
‘It’s about social justice’
This month 23 volunteers, from Christ Church are in Cartagena. Global
Faith Initiative participants will continue to construct a multipurpose
building. The facility, Viera explains, will be for much more than
Sunday worship, serving also as a community center, a vocational
training/basic education school and a health clinic. With a completion
target of June, this will be the first actual Methodist church structure
in Colombia. Until the 1990s, churches could not own property in
Colombia, so for years Methodists have gathered in homes and rented
Gary Dunning and friends help to secure rebar columns. A UMNS photo
courtesy of Jerolyn Morrison.
in Photo Gallery
“We heard about the need for pastoral support,” Viera says, and that led
to clergy compensation and ministerial education. This year, several
Colombian Methodist pastors participated in the summer course-of-study
program at Perkins School of Theology, Dallas. Christ Church also has
funded retreats to bring renowned Latin American theologians to
Colombia, primarily for pastoral continuing-education purposes.
Janet Jenkins, a member of Christ Church since 1997, works as an urban
transportation planner in “real life,” but her trip to Colombia inspired
her to return, perhaps later this year. “What I found most
interesting,” she notes, “is that the Methodist Church in Colombia is
about reaching out to the community and helping them. It’s not just
about worship. It’s about social justice.
“It’s not a church [in the traditional sense]. It’s so much bigger.”
She emphasizes that Christ Church doesn’t stop with supporting a project
financially or participating in short-term mission trips. “We look to
‘The church being the church’
Colombian Methodist Bishop Juan Alberto Cardona says, “We have always
believed in our Colombian Methodist Church. We are walking and sharing
with our communities, with the people.” That means going to the margins
Partnerships with the British Methodist Church and the United Church of
Canada nurture the fledgling Methodist Church of Colombia. The Council
of Evangelical Methodist Churches in Latin America and the Caribbean
(CIEMAL) represents national Methodist churches of the region, including
Central America, the Caribbean and South America.
“When we encountered Methodism,” Cardona adds, “we understood it wasn’t
just a question of faith in God or prayer or just about [ourselves], but
that God should be reflected in others, in those in greatest need—the
widow, the orphan and, in the case of our country, among the displaced
people and the less fortunate in our communities.
“All of our efforts today are dedicated to that effort.”
John O’Neil and Joseph Priest cut boards for concrete forms. A UMNS
photo courtesy of Jerolyn Morrison.
in Photo Gallery
In this traditionally Roman Catholic country, Methodists try not to
convert people, but to show the church in action. One new Methodist
comments, “To be Methodist is also to help others. I feel good because
the church has taught us to share and to live with others.” From
planting a seed with about six people, the Methodist Church has grown to
more than 15 worshipping congregations.
“I can’t say enough about Bishop Cardona,” Viera says of the engaging,
committed episcopal leader who began leading as president of the
Methodist Church of Colombia in 2000.
“What is most compelling to me personally is how intentionally and
faithfully the Colombian Methodist Church is trying to develop this
concept of the church being the church.”
*Dunlap-Berg is internal content editor for United Methodist
News media contact: Barbara Dunlap-Berg, Nashville, Tenn., (615)
742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.