Advancing the Kingdom

By Ruth Burgner –

I still have my copy of the November/December 1985 Good News magazine featuring the newly-launched Mission Society for United Methodists. Its founding president and vice president, Dr. H.T. Maclin and the Rev. Virgil Maybray, graced the front cover, with the title: “UM Missions: Which way to the future?”

The forming of what is now The Mission Society required so much from faithful individuals and churches. Some United Methodists restructured their very lives to give it leadership. Some of the congregations and individuals who pledged money and prayer for it as a fledgling ministry more than 30 years ago still support The Mission Society today.

H.T. Maclin was 55 years old when he agreed to leave The United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM) to lead The Mission Society. He and Alice, his wife, had been serving with GBGM for nearly 30 years. Imagine such a daring career leap at that age!

The Maclins’ basement would become The Mission Society’s first office. A hollow core door laid flat would become H.T.’s first desk. This accomplished and celebrated former missionary and executive was essentially starting over.

Henri Nouwen writes, “Every time we make the decision to love someone, we open ourselves to great suffering.” The Mission Society founders were making the decision to love the world’s unreached. I think they had joyfully reckoned with the costs.

Much has happened since then. Here are three things are you might want to know about The Mission Society today.

1. Our initial calling still leads us today. During his nine years as a GBGM mission executive, Maclin was regularly asked, “What about the nearly two billion people in the world we keep hearing about who have yet to have the opportunity to respond to the gospel? Don’t we have a continuing obligation to reach out to them?” That question would help form our vision. Today, 33 percent of our missionaries serve (and 50 percent of the newly-appointed personnel will serve) among those who have little, if any, exposure to the gospel. In fact, one of our largest teams serves in India, where 88 percent of its more than 2,600 distinct people groups are unreached.

Among The Mission Society’s newest areas of ministry is a nation which is 87 percent Muslim. Here, missionaries are being deployed to serve with a Jesus follower who, years ago, was himself a student of Islam and passionately opposed to Christianity. When he read in a Bible (given him by an American missionary) the self-giving acts of Jesus, he was so overcome, he surrendered his life to Christ. Through the ministry of this young man and his wife, other Muslim young people are now professing Jesus as Lord and are being discipled in the faith.

The Mission Society is also offering Christ among communities of nonbelievers and skeptics in Western Europe, a region of the world identified to be among Christianity’s biggest challenges.

Today, nearly 200 Mission Society missionaries serve in 30 nations — including new areas such as Malawi and locations in the Middle East. The 2008 General Conference of The United Methodist Church passed a resolution affirming the work of The Mission Society and encouraging cooperative efforts between it and GBGM. Currently in South Sudan, both The Mission Society and GBGM serve together cooperatively.

Screen Shot 2015-04-29 at 9.57.40 AM2. We help churches engage the world. One of our most far-reaching (but lesser known) ministries is our ministry among U.S. congregations. Within churches, doing missions can often be viewed as the work of an isolated committee, rather than the calling of the entire congregation. The Mission Society equips local churches to become more strategically engaged in reaching out to their communities, regions, country, and the world.

In 2013, the Rev. Carolyn Moore wrote about the impact of this ministry on the church she planted and pastors in Evans, Georgia. Mosaic is a church of about 200 with many new believers who are eager to serve. “We realized our problem was not that we didn’t do missions,” wrote Moore. “Our problem was that we did too much of it, and we did it poorly. …Our outreach was a mile wide and an inch deep.” The Mission Society helped Mosaic to become more strategic in local outreach — sometimes restructuring ministries — and to begin to also concentrate on a global vision. At the time of Moore’s writing, the number of Mosaic church people signed up for international missions trips had gone from 7 to 30, and the missions giving had gone up from $6,000 three years earlier to $60,000. Around our office, we regularly hear stories like Mosaic’s.

3. Our vision is the kingdom of God advancing. Our mission is “to mobilize and deploy the body of Christ globally to join Jesus in His mission, especially among the least-reached peoples.” Our vision is expansive: “The kingdom of God advancing among all peoples bringing about redemption and reconciliation through Jesus Christ.” And this vision is unfolding.

Almost daily, I read stories from our missionaries of the advancing kingdom of God. For example, a 13-year-old AIDS orphan was reunited with his family because of the ministry of one of our missionaries who is himself an AIDS orphan. Another story is of an artist in France who had vowed to take his own life in 2014, but had decided to opt for hope — because he had begun frequenting a church in Paris, planted by a Brazilian missionary trained by our organization and working with an arts ministry founded by one of our missionaries. Yet another story is of a young girl in India who grew up in a brothel run by her mother, and who now knows Jesus and is seeking to walk in his ways, because of the witness of one of our missionaries — the daughter of a United Methodist pastor.

Burgner

Burgner

New Testament scholar N.T. Wright reminds us that the kingdom is all around us. “The resurrection completes the inauguration of God’s kingdom,” he notes. “It is the decisive event demonstrating that God’s kingdom really has been launched on earth as it is in heaven.” May we have eyes to see it!

Ruth A. Burgner is The Mission Society’s senior director of communications. To receive its free magazine, Unfinished, visit www.themissionsociety.org.

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