The Methodist movement is at its best when it keeps the mission of God at the forefront of its collective heart, mind, and action. The older I get (I turn 50 this year, so I can start saying that now) the more convinced I am that this is true. I am delighted to be participating in a series of three, one-day conferences sponsored by the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference Global Ministry Team to celebrate the bicentennial of the Methodist missionary society’s founding in 1819. Our Conference theme for these three events is “Crossing Boundaries: Partnership in Mission.” We will be at Roseburg UMC on October 5th, Tigard UMC on October 12th, and Boise UMC on October 26th.
I will be giving the “keynote” address at each of these congregations during the month of October. For my address, I have decided to follow the lead of my United Methodist mission professor colleague, Dr. Arun Jones, who teaches at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University. He gave the keynote address at the global UMC gathering in Atlanta this past April. In his address he reflected upon a number of missionary virtues exhibited by the first Methodist Episcopal missionary, John Stewart, who worked among the Wyandot Native Americans in Ohio. Stewart’s mission virtues were ones he held in tension. For example, Stewart had tremendous zeal in preaching and teaching the Good News of Jesus Christ among the Wyandot. This zeal, however, was accompanied by the virtue of compassion such that Stewart recognized the need to be as attentive to the people with whom he worked as he was to the Gospel he sought to proclaim. Zeal in tension with compassion. That Stewart himself was African American doubtless helped him to connect to Native Americans who were, like African Americans, so often mistreated. Dr. Jones used the stories of Stewart to connect to our own context and encouraged all of us to reflect on these and other virtues and how we see them present or absent in our own lives and contexts.
In my talks at Roseburg, Tigard, and Boise I will similarly be reflecting on the lives of early missionaries, but they will be a pair who worked in Oregon rather than Ohio. I believe Elvira and Henry Perkins (Elvira came to Oregon first so she should be listed first!) were the best missionaries in Oregon in the beginning decade of Methodist mission presence in the Pacific Northwest (1834-44). Anthropologists today still praise the cultural sensitivity and linguistic insights of the Perkins’s work among Sahaptin and Chinook-speaking peoples in The Dalles. The Perkins’s are almost entirely unknown among United Methodists today! What can we learn about “crossing boundaries” and “building partnerships” from their lives for mission today? Come out to Roseburg, Tigard, or Boise to find out!
My talk about the Perkins family and what we can learn from them will just involve the very beginning of our one-day conferences in October. The rest of our time together will involve a half dozen workshops on different dimensions of Christian mission. Here’s the list! Disaster Preparation and Early Response Teams; United Methodist Volunteers in Mission; Understanding Current Missionary Service; Connecting Neighbors Program; Abundant Health Initiative; The Advance / UMCOR. But perhaps more important than all of these workshops is the relationships we all will build as we think, pray, and talk with one another! You can register for this event by going here on the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference website. Cost is $20 which includes lunch. I am looking forward to seeing you there!