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Manhattan UMs find niche in Colombia

 
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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.
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. View 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 about.

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 partnership began.

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 buildings.

Gary Dunning and 
friends help to secure rebar columns. A UMNS photo courtesy of Jerolyn 
Morrison.
Gary Dunning and friends help to secure rebar columns. A UMNS photo courtesy of Jerolyn Morrison. View 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 develop relationships.”

‘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 of society.

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.
John O’Neil and Joseph Priest cut boards for concrete forms. A UMNS photo courtesy of Jerolyn Morrison. View 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 Communications.

News media contact: Barbara Dunlap-Berg, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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