Church initiatives address growing needs of ethnic groups

In diverse ways, five United Methodist initiatives are leading the church's response to the growth of ethnic populations around the world.

Responding to the growing needs of such cultural groups was a focus of "The Ethnic Initiatives: Looking Ahead," a Jan. 31 panel discussion at the Pre-General Conference News Briefing in Pittsburgh. The briefing, sponsored by United Methodist Communications, brought together 280 church journalists, first-elected delegates and others to focus on issues that will come before the 2004 General Conference.

The Rev. Mark Nakagawa, panel moderator, pointed out that the 2000 U.S. Census found three out of every four people in the United States is a person of color.

"The growth edges for this millennium, for this century, will come from racial-ethnic communities," he said. "Therefore, the growth edges of our church will come from these communities as well. These initiatives are a gift to the church."

The five ethnic initiatives will seek continued funding for the next four years when the General Conference meets in Pittsburgh, April 27-May 7. The programs, and the amounts they are seeking, are:

  • Native American Comprehensive Plan, $1.3 million.
  • Asian American Language Ministry, $1.8 million.
  • Strengthening the Black Church for the 21st Century, $2.27 million.
  • Korean American National Plan, $3.3 million.
  • National Plan for Hispanic Ministry, $3.8 million.

Instead of making individual presentations on each of their initiatives, representatives of the five ethnic programs spoke about what their ministries are accomplishing as a group.

"Together the ethnic initiatives of the United Methodist Church are putting on the armor of light," said Cheryl Stevenson, coordinator of Strengthening the Black Church for the 21st Century.

"Healing and rebirth in congregations and communities are the images of the ethnic initiatives," she said. Each initiative is working to start new congregations, revitalize existing ministries and serve as resources to churches, she said.

Leadership formation for lay people and clergy has been a priority of the ethnic initiatives, said the Rev. Elí Rivera, director of the National Plan for Hispanic Ministry.

Each initiative is responding to its constituents using the language and culture understood by their communities, he said.

"One of the components of outreach in ethnic communities is producing resources in different languages. Each ethnic plan is actively involved in producing language resources," said the Rev. Jong Sung Kim, director of Asian American Language Ministry.

Another important component of the plans is reaching out to young people, said the Rev. Brandon Cho, executive director of Advancing United Methodist Ministry Among Korean Americans.

"It has been said that if your vision is for a year, plant wheat, if for a decade, plant trees, if for a lifetime, plant people. These five initiatives are about planting people."

All the plans work closely with the United Methodist-related seminaries, general church agencies and annual conferences to "plant our next generation for Christ," he said.

"We are celebrating what has happened through these plans; the entire church has embraced these plans as a creative phenomenon," said the Rev. Thom White Wolf Fassett, representative of the Native American Comprehensive Plan.

The initiatives are creating new models of ministry, he said.

"We are the laboratories of the ministries of tomorrow, and we hope and pray that these models can be picked up and used in the renewal and rebirth of the United Methodist Church."

*Gilbert and Green are United Methodist News Service news writers based in Nashville, Tenn. UMNS is a unit of United Methodist Communications.  News media contact can Gilbert at (615) 742-5470  or newdesk@umcom.org.

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