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Bible Study

Mission Theology in Asia

Given at United Methodist Women Leadership Training Event, November 20, 2011

By Emma Cantor

Regional Missionary Emma Cantor shared stark realities confronting Asian women, children and youth and stories of courageous women who make a difference.

And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” —Luke 1:46-55

I am thankful for the warm welcome I have experienced with you and for the opportunity of joyful learning and fellowship at this national United Methodist Women event. I am especially thankful for this sacred space and for the opportunity of sharing with you the experiences of my mission journey that are thrilling and wonderful yet not without anxiety, lonesomeness and doubt.

What finds me always in delight is the faithfulness and the compassionate welcoming of women and young people, meeting them for the first time, as participants to events of kingdom building ready to be touched, to be welcomed, to be cared for and nurtured. God’s grace is always waiting ahead of me in the journey, and God’s faithfulness lingers.

Let me share with you some stark realities, context and issues confronting the Asian people, specifically women, youth and children and also some stories of courageous women who make a difference. These realities could be a reference to make mission central to our theological construct and to specifically affirm the contributions made by Methodist women of history and United Methodist Women at the present and to understand the relevancy of the present missio Dei and other mission initiatives by The United Methodist Church in some countries of Asia.

According to statistics more than three billion of the world’s seven billion population live on less than $1 per day. Specifically, the richest 50 percent persons in developed countries have the combined income of three billion poor in the developing countries world.

One billion people are chronically malnourished resulting in an annual death of more than 40 million people, the majority of whom are children who die of starvation and related preventable diseases. Of the 80 percent world’s poor, 60 percent are found in Asia. HIV aids is growing in a staggering number—almost every country around the world is infected.

On women, youth and children

  • More than 100 million women and children across Asia have “disappeared” due to poverty, war, nonstop militarization, exploitation, ecological degradation and the deep widening gender gap.
  • An estimated 1.2 million children are trafficked each year. Many are found in Asian countries. It is estimated that there are 100,000 children in the sex trade in the United States. An estimated $32 billion is made each year in human trafficking worldwide.
  • The majority (almost 85 percent) of the world’s youth live in developing countries, with approximately 60 percent in Asia alone. A remaining 23 percent live in the developing regions of Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean.
  • The majority of trafficking victims are between 18 and 24 years of age.
  • High gender inequality exists due to deeply entrenched traditions and practices favoring men and poor government efforts to counteract them in Asia Pacific.

Where could we glean hope in the midst of these stark realities that cause the destruction and degradation of the human race and ecological world?

The song of Mary remembered the poor and the afflicted 

And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

The poor like Mary are crucial in God’s womb. The poor are real guests at God’s table (Mattehw 22:2-10). Looking closely through the eyes of the poor, we become the subject of the song, and being the subject of the song gives us, as Walter Wink, author of The Bible in Human Transformation, says, transformative powers, and it helps us gain new understanding of who we are, the one who is radically welcomed in the story. We women and the song become one. We are then remembered, and we become the recipients of God’s compassionate grace.

We are called to be on the side of poor. We are called to immerse into their lives and become aware of their realities. We lift up the word of God on their behalf, which in turn calls us to a costly and obedient mission. We and the poor become one in our yearning of God. We are part of the central message of the song of Mary, we are recipient of the grace of God, and as recipients of God we are called into mission. The poor radically welcomed the church into, as Alfred Hennelly describes in his book Liberation Theology, “solidarity, service, simplicity and openness” to accepting the gift of God, calling and welcoming us as Church to serve the poor, an active conversion to be in love with our neighbor.

Reflection Questions

  1. What is the reason for us to be invited to look closely through the eyes of the poor? Why is it important for the nonpoor to be aware of the realities and lives of the poor?
  2. Looking Mary’s Song in Luke 1:46-55, how does the faith voice of Mary challenge and strengthen you in your journey to God?
  3. The poor welcome the church into “solidarity, service, simplicity and openness.” Name one way in which you can be in solidarity with the least of these, engage yourself in service, demonstrate simplicity, and show openness. 

Anna in Burma

Anna is a member of the Methodist Women’s Committee of the Lower Myanmar. She is married to a Buddhist and has one son. Anna coordinates a project of livelihood skills in hair cutting among Burmese young women in the poor city of Yanggon.

Anna knows many beautiful young women seriously in need of jobs to live decently. Anna also knows about thousands of indigenous young women and girls who are trafficked into the mountainous boarders of Burma and China and are sold to old Chinese men wanting to sire male boys and are sold to prostitution.

These young women have zero knowledge of the Chinese language or the Burmese language and zero knowledge of why they are brought to unfamiliar places, not aware that they are being sold. Many of their pimps come from the same places where they live. When these young bear a child, especially boy child, they are thrown away and are separated from their sons.

I asked Anna why she started her project, and she said it was to keep young women away from the pangs of violence and death. She added, “It’s difficult to be a Christian in my Buddhist neighborhood. I need to consistently to talk to God to help me in my ministry, helping and supporting my neighbors in some ways I can and for them to know a God whom I believe, a living God who embraces the needy and the poor.” Anna runs a women’s newsletter and is studying the English language. Burma is 1 percent Christian.

Erlincy in Mindanao, Philippines

In doing mission, we are called “closer to the biblical story to make God’s love for the poor a more central missional motif,” especially in our advocacy of social justice and peace.

Erlincy is a deaconess who works in the mountains among indigenous tribes. She built a school with the help of the Korean Women’s Society of Christian Service and the Women’s Division. She teaches the poorest children in the village who are malnourished, who walked five kilometers up and down the forest with no sleepers and no food. With her mission of education and compassion to children she was able to bring safety and protection of children in her village.

She finished her master’s degree in education through the support of Women’s Division, and at present she is the coordinator of Alternative Learning System of her district Department of Education. Erlincy walks through the mountain trails and finds village leaders and out-of-school youth to enroll them in the Alternative Learning System. Today most of the village leaders learned the alphabet and can now write to petition to the local government to stop the abuses they are experiencing in the community. 

Marie in Palawan, Philippines

Marie Sol Villalon, a deaconess who accepted the challenge to become a pastor in order to respond to the needs of officiating the sacraments in her village, is appointed as District Superintendent in the farthest islands of Palawan. She is also the Episcopacy Committee chair and fights for the dignity of church people, especially women.

Marie Sol is committed to the mission with migrants. According to her, almost every day about 10 migrants come home dead in a coffin. She contacts families of the dead and connects them to the Filipino Overseas Workers Office for legal support. She ministers to the poor and alleviate their suffering. 

Reflection Questions

  1. What are the key challenges faced by Anna in Mynmar, Erlincy in the Philippines, and Marie Sol Villalon in the Philippine island of Palawan?
  2. In what ways do each of these women make a difference in their contexts in the midst of surmounting difficulties?
  3. Visit UMWmission.org in order to find out how you too can make a difference by taking part in addressing issues such as (a) human trafficking, (b) migrants and immigrants, (c) domestic violence and (d) climate change. Make it a Christmas resolve to make a difference. 

My Missionary Journey

My missionary journey brings me back to when I was a school child. I come from the Ibanag tribe of the northern most part of my country, the Philippines. We were displaced by the Ilocanos the dominant tribe who came from another valley and forcibly grabbed my ancestors’ lands in exchange of gantas of rice and salt. By losing the ancestral lands, our family of 11 became destitute. My father became a tenant until he died.

An Ibanag deaconess named Lydia Miguel was assigned in our local church. She was like an angel to me. She constantly visited my family. I learned in Sunday school about a God who protects and a God who was a friend of the poor. I was consistently mentored by other deaconesses until I was invited to study at Harris Memorial College to become a deaconess myself. I embraced this God of the poor who welcomed me to the calling to serve.

Today, I have another realization: I deeply realize that I am an heir, a receiver of the graciousness of the Women’s Missionary Society by the missionaries who founded the Harris Memorial School in 1903, welcoming young women to a “radical” full-time service.

The United Methodist Women today is a partner of Harris Memorial College, the only Methodist institution for deaconesses in Asia and the world. The radical faith of the deaconesses from the United States and from the Philippines gave birth to the radical fight for the inclusion of deaconess’s voice and vote in the annual conferences, now stipulated in The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church.

Because of the voice and vote powers, the deaconesses continue to be a radical conscience in the church in its mission of love, justice and service to humanity and creation. Deaconess leadership is fundamental to church affairs and governance in order for justice to prevail and to ensure the continuity of mission in shepherding little children to the knowledge of God and to make life better especially among the poor women and youth.

The mission of the deaconess movement stared more than 100 years ago continues today. The deaconesses continue to uphold the four-fold mission: alleviating suffering, eradicate causes of injustice, facilitate the development of full human potential and building the global community of faith through the church.

I am your regional missionary to Asia especially doing international ministries with women, youth and children. You welcome me into the mission of creating radical faith communities of Asia. Asia is a multireligious continent where Christianity is a minority. Through your support to mission and through the leadership of the Women’s Division, the minority poor Asian Christians become leaven, salt and light. You have raised up young women as educators, doctors, psychologists, counselors, administrators, deaconesses and powerful leaders through the Women’s Division Scholarship program.

Through your constant support, you made life bearable to many. Through your powerful energy, faith-based groups of Asian young women and men are beginning to bloom and envisioning a world where many of the Asian young women and men becomes global leaders. 

Reflection Questions

  1. “Asia is a multireligious continent.” How valuable is it for the regional missionary to be rooted in the same cultural experiences as the women and children they serve?
  2. Visit the website to see the names of the regional missionaries and where they serve.
  3. Spend some time with the story of Elizabeth and Mary in Luke 1:39-56 and reflect on how you can be an Elizabeth in your faith journey.
  4. What was the role of Deaconess Lydia Miguel in the life of Emma Cantor?
  5. What is the connection between the United Methodist Women and Harris Memorial College in the Philippines?
  6. What is the four-fold mission of the deaconess movement?
  7. If you want to know more about the work of the deaconesses within the United States, please visit the United Methodist Women website. Contact the deaconess office at deaconess@gbgm-umc.org for more information. 

Together in Mission

In Asian Church and God’s Mission (edited by Wonsuk Ma and Julie C. Ma), Miguel Alvarez states, “God yearns for all persons to have the opportunity to become true disciples of Jesus within the social, cultural and linguistic context.” The love and care that is expressed in the creation of Christian communities of brothers and sisters young and old extends through the work of holistic freedom from the pangs of all that imprisoned lives should move toward the little ones, the poor and the afflicted.

The basic foundation of communal compassion for the poor is shaped by the mission of Jesus as proclaimed in the Magna Carta of Mission, Luke 4:18-19. It is not accidental that the Song of Mary the Magnificat expresses the basic centrality for the poor (see Luke 1:53) and is the same as Jesus’ crucial and fundamental mission, proclaimed and declared by in the book of Luke 4:18-19. We are all in mission together.

The poor consistently are calling us to an ongoing conversion of faith and service. Our capacity, power and wisdom as churchwomen lead us to the accountability in bringing decent lives among the poor and the afflicted. Segundo Galilea notes the fact that “Mary as a poor girl is drawn into God’s redemptive purposes whose salvation reverses the social order”—the hungry are filled with good things, the rich are empty handed (Luke 1:53).

In Concepts of Mission, Glory Dharmaraj said, “Since mission is God-initiated, God’s kingdom-oriented, it is transformational. Mission transforms people and conditions because mission is witnessing to the rule of God through words and deeds. The goal of mission, consequently, is to seek the kingdom of God and the work toward the reign of God under which everyone may have life and have it more abundantly.”

Mission with the poor is at the very heart Mary’s call to participate in God’s mission in the world. The poor is central in God’s table and God’s grace. “Mission to the poor belongs to the doctrine of God before it belongs to the Mission of the Church and only in this way will service to the poor remain central.”

In closing, let me express my amazement at the United Methodist Women’s heart, faithfulness, loyalty, obedience, friendship with God, worship, wrestling with God and love God in all the years of faithfulness in doing United Methodist Women service and mission. The five cents, the cards, the cookies, the wisdom, the legacy, the heritage, the bequest, the perseverance, the determination, the hosting, the welcoming, the Marys, the Elizabeths in all of you is bubbling in the hearts of Asian peoples. May you all be blessed. 

Reflection Questions

  1. What are the connections that Emma Cantor makes between Mary’s Song in Luke 1:46-55 and Jesus’ opening address in Luke 4:18-19?
  2. Why is Luke 4:18-19 called Magna Carta of Mission?
  3. How do you make time and space to sense the power of God’s love during this Christmas season in order to strengthen yourself individually and collectively for God’s mission?

Emma Cantor is a United Methodist Women regional missionary for Asia.

Last Updated: 03/17/2014

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