Love Offering tops $70K, Rev. Phillips on reaching out to strangers

May 28, 2015

By: Christa Meland

During Thursday morning worship, members of annual conference were reminded that we are called to reach out to the strangers among us and that we are united in Christ with brothers and sisters of all ancestries and geographies. They also donated $70,450 (so far) to the Love Offering, 60 percent of which will go to Vietnam.

Rev. Anita Phillips, executive director of the United Methodist Church’s Native American Comprehensive Plan, said during a morning Bible study on Deuteronomy 10:17-19 that alienation is something that happens to each of us. “There are times when all of us have experienced a feeling of alienation, of separation, of not being connected to any human thing and alone and adrift.”

She recalled a story about going to Chicago years ago and feeling like a foreigner in a strange land—and talked about a man who reached out to her and enabled her to experience “the most significant healing I’ve ever experienced in my life’s journey.” 

The strangers and the aliens are mentioned time and again in the Bible—and “they are named not as enemies…but as individuals that are worthy of respect, considered to be mutual human beings, those to whom we offer hospitality,” she said.

The 2012 General Conference included an act of repentance toward healing relationships with indigenous peoples. It was not meant to be a singular act but a process.

“There are many, many Native American brothers and sisters who have become alienated from what God created us to be, strangers in our own land,” Phillips said. She encouraged attendees to open the deepest part of themselves and think about a time when they’ve felt like the alien or been dehumanized.

“Your native brothers and sisters need you; we need you to understand, listen, acknowledge our history, confess that even if you and your family did not directly have a hand in the oppression of native peoples, you now stand on ground and you live lives that are made available to you through genocidal actions toward Native Americans in our past,” she said. “I choose to welcome you, just as centuries ago we welcomed you and showed you how to live so that you might survive. I hope your spirit trembles as mine does in moments like this…We each hold the key to each other’s humanity and healing.”

Phillips’ message about reaching out to strangers was reinforced during other parts of the worship service. Toward the beginning, members of annual conference worshiped with two congregations in Vietnam through an online connection. The three groups sang together and celebrated that we are brothers and sisters serving one Lord.

“We are overwhelmed today because we sense how vast your love is, how extensive your mercy is that it can travel to all corners of this wonderful globe,” Bishop Bruce R. Ough said in a prayer during the joint worship. “We are so touched today that we can be part of a connection that brings the gospel to every person everywhere...We pray that you would bless…our united ministries for we are one in Christ.”

The Minnesota Conference recently formed a partnership with United Methodist missionaries in Vietnam to help expand Grace Children’s Center in Ho Chi Minh City, which is currently providing education and daycare for about 20 orphaned children. Sixty percent of this year’s Love Offering for missions will be put toward this effort. Another 30 percent will be used for grants for local churches that develop a long-term partnership with a school. And the remaining 10 percent will go toward Volunteers in Mission scholarships for first-time participants. Through the Volunteers in Mission program, teams spend up to two weeks working on mission projects either domestically or abroad. (Read more about the Love Offering recipients here.)

Toward the end of the service, members submitted their contributions toward the Love Offering. They also prayed for the recipients as they folded brightly colored paper airplanes. After the planes were folded, attendees wrote on their planes the name of a person or ministry they treasure and wanted to hold in prayer. Then, 800 paper airplanes were simultaneously released into the air in a sea of colors.

“Bless this, our offering of love and prayer, as it wings its way to those in need and those who serve,” attendees prayed in unison before sending their planes flying. “May we be a blessing to one another and the world...”

Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.

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