“Beyond These Walls” Propels Missions —
By Lindsey Corley and Steve Beard —
“I believe God is doing a new thing, and I want to be a part of that new thing,” proclaimed the Rev. Dr. Jerry Kulah of Liberia during his opening plenary address at the “Beyond These Walls” missions conference in late April. “And I trust that you, too, can be a part of it, in Jesus’ name…”
Kulah serves as Dean of the Bishop Innis Graduate School of Theology, and Vice President for Graduate and Professional Studies at the United Methodist University in Monrovia, Liberia.
With more than 600 participants from the United States, Africa, Asia, Europe, and South America, the event was held at The Woodlands Methodist Church outside of Houston. The primary sponsor of the event was The Global Methodist Church – with more than a dozen mission agencies also supporting the event.
In his address, Kulah recalled the final words of John Wesley before his death on March, 2, 1791. Surrounded by friends and family and having completed his mission here on Earth, Wesley stated, “the best of all, God is with us.”
“As I reflected upon John Wesley’s parting words, I became deeply motivated,” said Kulah. “One of my motivations for speaking here tonight is the fact that despite all that the church of Jesus Christ has gone through, is going through, and may go through, God is with us.”
Kulah challenged the assembly: “Our task is to take the liberating gospel of Jesus Christ beyond the walls of the local church to our Jerusalem, our Judea, our Samaria, and to the ends of the earth… We do this so that every tribe, every language, every people group, every race, every color, every creed, every social or cultural background, every gender might hear the word of God and have an opportunity to say yes to Jesus.”
With worship led by Mark Swayze – known for his leadership at New Room events – and other musicians from The Woodlands congregation, the globally-focused conference included a series of talks and workshops that dealt with subjects as diverse as evangelism, church planting, discipleship, and community development from international practitioners.
In his keynote sermon, the Rev. Dr. David Platt taught on the scene in the gospel of Mark when Jesus overturns the tables of the money changers and those selling offerings and accuses them of being a den of robbers. Despite the activity surrounding the temple, Platt pointed out, the people were missing the fear, reverence, and awe of God.
A nationally-known pastor in metro Washington, D.C., Platt earned his Ph.D. at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of Radical, Something Needs to Change, and Don’t Hold Back.
Platt pointed out that there are many similarities to what Christian believers face today and the scene with the money changers. “They had people, the Word, worship, and religious activity… Is it possible for us to have all of these things, and miss the point? Is it possible for us, like them, to have all these things and miss God?” Answering his own question, he said, “Absolutely, it is.”
Platt challenged the assembly to keep an eye on God. “For people who gather every week before the holy, holy, holy God of the universe, could it be that we’re missing fear and reverence and awe before God?” He declared that “the call today is not to get all the nations to come to a temple. We are the temple. We have the Holy Spirit. It’s not nations come to the temple; it’s temples go to the nations.”
Seminars dealt with numerous topics: “The Relationship Between Wesleyan Theology and Mission,” “Moving Into the City and Serving the Urban Poor,” “Holistic Economic And Community Development,” “Wesleyan Discipleship,” “How You Can Make a Mission Trip More than A Bucket List Experience,” “A Wesleyan Understanding of Evangelism,” “How to Raise Up Great Mission Leaders in Your Congregation,” and “Medical Mission and Christian Ministry Integration.”
In her closing address, Danielle Strickland focused on the way that God utilized women in unexpected ways in the ministry of Paul in the Book of Acts and to expose injustice and oppression. Paul’s casting a demon out of the slave girl disrupted the status quo of the culture – “These men are Jews and are throwing our city into an uproar” (16:20) – and resulted in Paul’s imprisonment.
“When Paul sacrifices himself, when Paul sacrifices the success even of the gospel,” Strickland said, “when Paul sacrifices his life and his freedom, when Paul willingly gives up his life for an enemy – for a slave girl – you are witnessing the power of God.”
Based in Toronto, Strickland has truly made the world her parish. In addition to her preaching ministry, she has endeavored to combat global human-trafficking. Her podcast has a global audience and her latest book is entitled Better Together: How Women and Men Can Heal the Divide and Work Together to Transform the Future.
Strickland spoke about the need for disruption. She said that we need to be willing to go into a situation with nothing but the gospel to offer and be open to the unexpected. That same power that Paul utilized to cast out the demon, she said, is “a power that is fueled by love. And love is demonstrated by giving our lives, using our power and privilege in solidarity … placing people over every other aim.”
Strickland concluded her time by leading the assembly in a time of confession and honesty before God. She encouraged the participants to pray aloud for God to open their hands and lives in a “posture of surrender and generosity.”
“That’s what the world’s longing for,” she said. “Would we be open? Would we be open? Would we be open?”
Hearing and responding to the call to world missions was one of the motivating factors behind the “Beyond These Walls” event.
“The conference was just a taste of what the Global Methodist Church aspires to be,” said Cara Nicklas, Chairwoman of the GM Church’s Transitional Leadership Council. “The blend of different languages, cultures, and the challenging speakers made this one of those conferences that will continue to pierce our hearts and fire our imaginations for years to come.”
Lindsey Corley is the editorial assistant at Good News. Steve Beard is the editor of Good News. Photo: The Rev. Dr. Jerry Kulah preaches the opening plenary sermon at the “Beyond These Walls” missions event held at The Woodlands Methodist Church in The Woodlands, Texas. Photo by Justin Owens, Media Manager, International Leadership Institute.