Friday, January 9, 2015

“We should be rigorous in judging ourselves and gracious in judging others.” ― John Wesley

Leaving the blog up for Saturday as a result of many requests.

I was baptized and confirmed as a Methodist—not a United Methodist for that name would not exist until 1968 when the Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren merged and adopted the name “United Methodist Church.”  My great-grandfather was a Methodist circuit rider in the Ozarks around 1900.  My mother was a deaconess.  We were named the "Methodist Family of the Year" in 1963.  I was president of our local, district, and conference Methodist youth groups when I was in high school (still not yet “United” Methodists) in the early sixties.  My wife and I were married at St. Paul Methodist Church in Abilene, Texas, in 1965.  When I rejoined the church after living the life of the prodigal son for too many years in Los Angeles, it was the United Methodist Church to which I returned.  I became a Sunday School teacher and the leader of the University Fellowship of the church.  Some years later, I became a part-time local pastor of the United Methodist Church, serving two, small rural churches in Arkansas.  I attended St. Paul School of Theology, a United Methodist seminary in Kansas City for two summers to improve my part-time ministry.  I then attended the Boston University School of Theology on full scholarship for four years while I also served as the full-time pastor of a small church north of Boston.  Upon graduation, I returned to Arkansas where I was ordained as a a full elder in the United Methodist Church and served as a pastor to three churches before becoming an associate pastor at a fourth church where I went on my first mission trip and was hooked.  After going bankrupt in 2001 I was let go from the church I was serving (little did I know that dozens of pastors would later suffer the same as the economy collapsed—I was just a little ahead of the trend).  With no church to take me as a United Methodist pastor, I was appointed by the bishop as a general evangelist which meant I had the blessing of the church to serve but no income, no pension payments, and no insurance.  For a few years, I traveled by motorcycle to do revivals putting whatever money came my way into the One Book Foundation (Wesley said he was a man of one book) to finance my international mission trips to Africa (four of them) prior to 2005 when we moved here permanently.  No new missionaries were put in the field for seven years, so when the United Methodist missionaries here retired in 2003, Karen and I took their places as unpaid, but trained and certified Individual Volunteer Missionaries (posts we still hold).  The first three years I was here, I was still under appointment by the bishop as a general evangelist and wrote annual reports of our progress.  In 2008, I formerly retired as a United Methodist pastor and began receiving around $500 a month in pension funds.  In 2009, I was made an honorary Associate Bishop of the Methodist Church of Tanzania.  I held no official post, but was allowed to be called “Askofu” or bishop in Swahili.  Last month, I received a letter from the Bishop of Arkansas to inform me that because I was an Associate Bishop of the Methodist Church of Tanzania, I was being stripped of my status as a retired clergy member of the United Methodist Church as I had obviously joined another denomination.  Seven generations of Methodists going back to the middle 1850’s, twenty years of service as a pastor, and an entire history of connection with the United Methodist Church wiped out because of some information (never stated from where the information came) that I was an official bishop of the Methodist Church of Tanzania where my wife, son, and I have labored as missionaries for the past ten years.  Those of you who read these blogs know what we have done, what we have suffered, and what we have overcome to answer God’s call here.  The Presiding Bishop of the Methodist Church in Tanzania has written the Bishop of Arkansas to explain that I am not a member of the the church here and therefore could never be elected as an official bishop.  He also wrote that my title was purely honorary as a way of thanking me for my service to the church.  I don’t know what will happen in regards to my standing within the United Methodist Church, but, in truth, it matters little.  We have never received any financial support from the denomination, any conference, or any district therein living and serving as we always have on what we receive from Social Security and our retirement funds.  I don’t know if my retirement funds will be rescinded or not, but even if that happens, we will carry on.  We were not sent here by the United Methodist Church, we were called here by God to carry on His work in the midst of the poverty, death, disease, and hopelessness here, and we will carry on, no matter what.  I have always hated church politics and there has been little to make me change that opinion.  As it says in Wesley’s quote above, we here are gracious in judging as we know not what machinations were in play back in the U.S.  We will continue to pray for the Bishop of Arkansas and for the United Methodist Church as it struggles to deal with a world that does not seem to be changing for the better.  Bishops and pastors in the U.S. have difficult jobs because of the culture in which they live.  Membership is not declining here in Tanzania, it is exploding from about 25% Christian in 2003 to almost 65% Christian in 2014, and the Methodist Church here now has gone from 200 members in 2003 to almost 5,000 now.  You can read the letter from the Bishop of Arkansas, my response to him, the letter from the Presiding Bishop of the Methodist Church in Tanzania, and one from the director of the World Center for Christianity and Mission about the situation by clicking on the following link: letters    All I ask of you is that you continue to pray for our mission and the Bishop of Arkansas as we both serve the call of God.  We knew we would come under attack for our work here, just never thought it would be from the United Methodist Church.
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