Justice was a common theme at Mission u 2017, which wrapped up Sunday at California University of Pennsylvania. The effects of action – or lack of action -- by one person or group on another could be seen in the classes and study material on God’s covenants, climate justice, and the native people in the Missionary Conferences of the United Methodist Church.
Before the official opening worship, Missionary Tina Whitehead talked about the current situation in Palestine today and drew comparisons with injustice faced by native people in North America and young black men in Western PA.
Whitehead said she recently spent time looking at photos with some young men from Uniontown who as children often visited the parsonage where she lived and attended Hope Camp, which she helped to launch at nearby camp Jumonville. The two young men she visited were doing fairly well; one is a U.S. Marine, she said. But they told her about several others in her old photos who were either in jail or had been killed. The smiling face of one, who was shot while running from a state trooper, had been pictured on the “camping Bible” the previous year. Whitehead said she had no answers for how to change things for the better, but encouraged prayer and support for groups advocating for peace.
Bishop Cynthia Moore-Koikoi, in teaching on biblical covenants during opening worship, said covenants God has made with us help us to be a blessing to others and sometimes lead us to places where we don’t want to go or we don’t know what is going to happen. “We just go and trust in God. When we do that, when people see us trusting in God, they are blessed,” she said.
But sometimes God’s people forget the covenants, she noted. She described her experience at a prayer walk in Baltimore during unrest following the death of Freddie Gray in police custody. Then a district superintendent, she and other clergy walked through the streets and young men who appeared to be gang members surrounded them. They served as a sort of protective buffer and quieted crowds as they prayed. The walk ended at a church where one gang member told them he had attended Sunday School. He nodded to one of them who had been his pastor and said he had been in the church.
“We had them,” Bishop Moore-Koikoi said. “But somewhere along the line, the church that made a covenant to care for that child at his baptism had forgotten the convenant.
“Young black boys who had been at Jumonville are dead or are in jail,” she added. “We had them and somehow we let them go! We can’t do that anymore! The consequences are too high – not only for them, but for us.
“When we cut ourselves off and decide who is worthy of love … who is worthy of a second chance or a third chance…when we cut ourselves off, we kill ourselves too… and lock ourselves up in prison so that others can’t get in.
“We might be safe in our prisons,” the Bishop said. “We might even by comfortable in our prisons, But as believers in Jesus Christ, we are not prisoners! Jesus Christ has set us free to love all and risk our very lives so that others might be blessed!”
Mission u provided several opportunities for God’s people to be a blessing. From sewing school bags for UMCOR to finishing a ramp for someone confined to a wheelchair to working at a food pantry to moving UMCOR cleaning buckets from Connellsville to the Uniontown area where flooding occurred Friday night, people of all ages were shining the light of God. Children provided an example of blessing too, raising funds for Red Bird Mission by cooking a typical native Appalachian meal and serving it to adults and youth for a $5 donation.
Here are some comments about the Mission u experience collected by Laramie Cowan, communications coordinator for the Conference United Methodist Women and a student at Seton Hill University. Some are direct quotes, while others are paraphrased.
What was most meaningful to you about Mission U?
The most meaningful to me about Mission U was Worship Time in the evenings. I felt closer to God and heard Him speak to my heart. I also liked the teachings on Friday and Saturday night about our covenant with God. It is important to keep our covenant with God holy as He is Holy. -- Titilia Tuilawalawa, Point Marion UMC-Fijian Language Ministry (first time at Mission U)
The most meaningful part of Mission U for me was being able to help others at all the Youth Mission u work sites. – Sarah Burke, first-year Youth Mission u participant and alumna of Children’s Mission u, Trinity UMC, McMurray
I come for the fellowship and the challenge. I appreciated the challenge,
particularly in the Missionary Conferences class, to study and discover new things and to think deeper about them. I became aware of the good and evil things that have happened in the past. … The United Methodist Women are inspiring – and I’m particularly inspired by the people who are over 80 years old who still come and actively participate. – Rev. Terry Shaffer, pastor, Sharon First UMC
Overall it was wonderful. I was inspired to pay closer attention to God’s covenants with us and how we can lead a more Godly life. I also was excited to renew old friendships and renew my spiritual battery. Mission u also made me more aware of certain issues happening today. – Patti Thomas, Oakland UMC, Franklin District
What did you learn that you will take back to your local church?
One thing I learned that I will take back to my friends and also the local church is that it is important to live out your faith and share the love of Christ to the least of those in our community. I went with Pastor Stephanie Gottschalk on Friday to build a ramp and on Saturday to put in door frames in Connellsville. The look of appreciation from the people we helped was more than enough for me. -- Tinai Ulai, Point Marion UMC-Fijian Language Ministry (first-time participant at Mission U)
I have attended approximately 20 Cooperative School of Christian Mission/Mission u events over the last 40 years. It is truly a blessing to see my sisters in Christ each year. I appreciate the opportunity to learn something new each year through knowledgeable and loving teachers/facilitators. This year I attended the class about the Missionary Conferences of the United Methodist Church. We learned of the perseverance of the members of those conferences as well as the injustices we (United Methodists and our predecessors) and the government inflicted on those we are commanded to love. We must now educate those members of our own congregation and small groups about reconciliation and restitution to those people. -- Mary Agnew, Trinity UMC, McMurray
This Mission u very interesting, informative and educational. It was well organized, the instructors were very knowledgeable and social interaction with women from across the country is fun. I was inspired by the studies on Missionary Conferences and will be excited to take the information back home and share with everyone. – Cindy Carasia, Greensburg District UMW President
What was your favorite thing about Mission U?
I was blessed this year to assist Ms. Peggy Ward in taking care of the children. I learned a lot from the children about their faith in God and also about climate justice, missionary conferences and God’s covenant. The activity I loved the most was when the children and I got to sing and play our instruments (that we made in class) during the Worship on Friday night.
-- Sokoveti Mataitoga, Youth, Point Marion UMC-Fijian Language Ministry.
I really enjoyed opening worship, as well as hearing about Cyndi (Bloise) and Pam Gardner’s travelling experiences visiting the U.S. Missionary Conferences. I was excited to learn about the Missionary Conferences and to get away from everything at home for a bit. I was also inspired by the Bishop during her speech when she talked about the gang members (who walked alongside clergy praying in the streets of Baltimore after unrest there and returned to a church with them). She was also able to see her son at Mission u. – Debbie Airgood, Kane First UMC.
The music and worship were amazing and it was great to hear the Bishop speak to everyone. There were so many people that were warm and welcoming. I was excited to learn about the Missionary Conferences as well as the covenant relationships. – Jodi Barnhart, Mission Ambassador coordinator, Faith Community UMC, Bruin
I am excited to take what I learned in the two classes and use the programs locally. I liked learning about God’s covenants and missions. – Linda Murdock, first-time participant, Faith UMC Geneva
The Bishop was inspiring to me. I enjoyed all of my teachers this year and I was excited for the unexpected this year at Mission u. I always enjoy coming and count on a good experience at Mission u. There’s always something new to learn and I enjoy seeing friends when I come each year. – Dottie Super, Fairview UMC, Erie-Meadville UMW
What did you learn that might change something you do?
While I have always considered myself to be "earth friendly" I realized (in the Climate Justice class) there is more that I can do outside of my personal footprint, such as emailing and calling representatives that are making decisions about the environment. –Beth Burke, first-time participant, Trinity UMC, McMurray
I learned about sewing of UMCOR school bags. Now that I have the measurements, I will make more bags in my spare time. I also liked the teachings on our covenant with God and how important it is to keep it holy as God is holy. --Maraia Gonelevu, Point Marion UMC-Fijian Language Ministry.
This Mission u helped me broaden my horizons. I was excited to learn more about the missions around us in our area and find out about Alaska. I have cousins living in Alaska and this study makes me want to make contact with my family there. This Mission u has helped me branch out. – Joanne Kalacinski
,New Castle Epworth UMC
I consider Mission u as my spiritual retreat and I look forward to the spiritual renewal. This year was great as always! But what really inspired me this year were the Bishop’s words about being trapped in our prisons. Am I too safe and comfortable in my prison? -- Kathy Gordon, Ellwood City First UMC.