PORTLAND, ORE. (UMNS)--“Engagement.” It’s a word the laity need to claim as their own, said Delores Martin, the Baltimore-Washington Conference lay leader and chair of its General Conference delegation.
“Our faith is strong, but we need to move beyond our comfort zones and engage one another and the community,” said Martin, who admired and was inspired by her six fellow lay leaders who delivered the Laity Address May 13.
In the address, Scott Johnson of the Upper New York Conference told the delegates, who are divided evenly between clergy and laity, “It would be wonderful if discipleship was only about joy, peace and wonder. But, we know that following Jesus isn’t all mountaintop moments, praise songs and church dinners. Jesus strips away all of our pretense, pushes us past our limits and reveals our sinful, willful selves.”
“The challenges facing the church are, in part, the result of our failure to live the discipleship we claim,” Johnson said, “Paragraph 127 of The Book of Discipline states that ‘the witness of the laity, their Christ-like examples of everyday living, as well as the sharing of their own faith experiences of the Gospel, is the primary evangelistic ministry through which all people will come to know Christ and The United Methodist Church will fulfill its mission.’”
Hear that? The lives of the laity are one of the primary ways people come to know Christ. For Martin, this everyday living out of faith experiences can be best seen in stories like that of Hannah Foust of Indiana, who shared her witness at the plenary session on Friday morning. While the story of this 14-year old astounds, Martin is certain it could potentially be lived out in unique ways by United Methodists of every age.
Hannah, who is now in the eighth grade, said:
“A few years ago, I learned of a place called Burkina Faso from a video that was posted on Facebook. Burkina Faso is rated as the third most miserable place on earth, where water is scarce, and death and illness are a part of everyday life. In fact, one in three children in Burkina Faso will die before their fifth birthday.
“Most of these deaths are caused by water-born illnesses from water that is diseased and dirty. Every day, girls my age must spend many hours – some walk as far as seven miles each way – to get water that may kill them.” Imagine, she said, drinking water that looked like chocolate milk.
When she heard about Burkina Faso, Faust said, she went to bed praying, “Please, God, tell me there isn’t really a place like this.”
When she awoke the next day, she knew God was calling her to build a well. She responded. Faust did yardwork, housework, babysitting and shared her story – all to raise money.
She has funded three wells and inspired the building of 13 others, each of which will provide clean drinking water for to up to 13,000 people.
“I will keep working until God tells me to do something else,” she said.
Such a simple yet faithful response to engage our faith with the thing that touches our hearts is something Martin wishes for every United Methodist.
It’s not about us, Foust and Martin both say. “It’s about how God works through us to help God’s people.”
“If I could give the people in our pews any message,” Martin said, “it would be go out and connect with people. Offer them some hope. Engage the world. We know where our hearts lie. We need to begin really living out the making of disciples.”
*Melissa Lauber is director of communications for the Baltimore-Washington Conference and the first reserve lay delegate to General Conference.