Archives For International Relations

by Rev. N. Neelley Hicks

The book of Genesis tells the story of The Tower of Babel, describing how many languages came to be. Paraphrased, it goes like this:

“There once was only one language, but people began building a tower to reach the heavens—serving their own egos rather than God. God confused their languages—creating many out of one. Without the ability to communicate with one another, they could not finish what they had begun.” (Genesis 11:1-9)

Today, we speak in one language again—the global language of “digital communications;” however, confusion and chaos are found everywhere. From Twitter, Facebook, and all forms of social media—separating gossip from fact, propaganda from news—knowing what is real and true can be difficult.

Yet the greatest opportunity awaits: using this one language of “digital” to improve societies throughout the world—with peace-building, education, healthcare, job skills development, gender equality, and so much more. What will you share with the world? The gifts that God has given you, however small they seem, may be the greatest gift to another. You live in a day and age where it’s possible to impact lives everywhere, without even leaving your home. What will you share with the world?”

Excerpt from “Share: Communicating for a Better World,” © Rev. N. Neelley Hicks

Just so you know, I’m 53. My work life began when I became a part-time cashier at the Sears department store in Jackson, Mississippi, at the age of 15. Not really knowing or understanding my gifts, I went to college, then began working in offices, which at the time were transitioning from mainframes to “personal computers.”

I didn’t have a passion for technology, but I had the aptitude needed to solve computer problems and I delighted in implementing innovative solutions. When one of my sisters invited me to work as a trainer with her company, I found joy in helping other women learn things that could improve their chances at career advancement. I also realized that I could hold people’s attention as a public speaker.

Sitting at Galloway United Methodist Church in Jackson one Sunday morning, I felt a call to ministry. It didn’t make sense: I had a good job as vice president, director of interactive media at GodwinGroup Advertising. Certain that others would try to talk me out of going into ministry, I was startled that others weren’t surprised at all!

The education needed for ordination took several years, and in the final year I made my decision. I would become an ordained deacon, as opposed to elder. Push-back on that decision was greater than my decision for ministry, but “connecting the church with the world” described perfectly who I am. I am a connector—a joint in the Body of Christ—and one who wants to convey the very best of church to others who may not even know they are loved by God.

Traveling to Africa in the late 2000s, I met a young girl whose mother died after the United Methodist clinic ran out of the medicine she needed to treat her HIV/AIDS. I remember looking out at the roadway and thinking that surely other clinics along that road would have had the dose she needed for survival. If only they had a communications system with proper points of connection among providers who used it to monitor their stock, a request could have been made before their pharmacy ran dry. Someone could have transported it along the roadway. Communication itself could have served as aid among the faithful—people who care about helping others.

Communicating for a better world became my passion. The digital age offers the means for doing so through mass communications, technology, and faith communities who want to improve lives.

It’s more than telling the story of what happened. It’s sharing information to affect the outcome of the story.

In 2016, I heard about the East Congo Episcopal Area’s response to the rape crisis there. They wanted to build a women’s center for survivors of sexual violence. I volunteered to help lead the effort, thinking that my experience in communications could help raise the funding. Along the way, it became so much more.

The director of communications for East Congo Episcopal Area, Judith Osongo Yanga, and I began developing communications that could be used by the church to help women arise from stigma due to rape. We worked with Firdaus Kharas to produce the animation “A Plea to My Father” and broadcast it on television in East Congo, reaching at least half a million people. This became a catalyst for the church to discuss stigma through local media. It’s now available in nine languages.

Thanks to a grant from United Methodist Women, our team expanded so we could produce more materials: no-stigma text-messages for clergy, a drumming and drama guide, radio program, workshop guide, and a symbol that would be understood by those who can or cannot read. Named “Esther” by Rev. Dr. Betty Kazadi Musau because “she changed the minds of men and saved lives,” she will be printed first on T- shirts, then on fabric to spread messages of hope and courage.

Harper Hill Global has been forming inside me for a long time. God took my life’s experiences and is helping me apply what I learned. God is the Great Recycler, taking all the things (trash and treasure) from our lives and turning them into something beautiful. Nothing is wasted. Nothing.

For us deacons, being responsible for finding our own full-time appointments, starting a non-profit isn’t easy. Health insurance is costly to find on one’s own. The benefits of holidays, vacation, and pension, are lost, at least in the beginning. If successful, these things can come in time.

Fundraising in all its forms is essential, so get ready for grant writing! Doing side jobs that don’t require a lot of emotional energy can help pay bills along the way. To me, it’s all worth it.

The United Methodist Church can continue to grow far beyond sanctuary walls through deacons who reach out in creative and unusual ministries. It takes courage, faith, and a supportive network.

Women arise when our voices are heard and respected and when we live into the image imprinted inside us: God’s own image. What began for women in East Congo is helping women now in Uganda, Northern Nigeria, other parts of DR Congo, and in the United States, for I too have arisen. No matter what comes your way, by God’s grace, you will too.

Rev. Hicks, a deacon in the Tennessee Annual Conference, is executive director of Harper Hill Global in Nashville, Tenn.

By Sue Zahorbenski

Death and taxes. Two things we can’t avoid, no matter what, no matter where.

In Germany, the churches and their many agencies and institutions are mostly supported by the government through taxes. About 8 to 9 percent of income tax supports the churches, although this may translate to only 2 percent of a taxpayer’s income. (Example:  $50,000 income, taxed at 20 percent, equals $10,000; church tax comes to $800-$900.) This allows unique and comprehensive caring for many people, as we witnessed during the World Diakonia Assembly in Berlin in July 2013.

Sue Zahorbenski visits a remaining part of the Berlin Wall on July 4, 2013.

Sue Zahorbenski visits a remaining part of the Berlin Wall on July 4, 2013.

For example, an old city church had dwindled to only 20 people in the congregation, so they went on a European search for a new model. A Swiss pastor and his wife were recruited to import their community model, including several families, to create the “Stadtkloster Segen” (City Cloister Blessing) in Berlin. After two years, they now offer Bible study and prayer, worship, breakfasts, counseling, spiritual mentoring, and more, for all who come, including visitors in their guest accommodations.

On a larger scale, the Evangelisches Johannesstift, which hosted our conference, is a huge community that offers a variety of ministries. Located on 187 acres with over 60 buildings, the campus accommodates both those who need help and those who provide help, employing about 1,900 people. The handicap-accessible bus stops at the front gate, so it is not isolated even though it’s on the outskirts of Berlin in the Spandau Forest.

At the Berlin Wall, I was touched by the story told in the Reconciliation Chapel service about a young West Berlin man who accidentally fell while peering over the wall. He was shot and killed by the East Berlin police, who told no one about the death of this innocent man. It was not until the wall came down in 1989 that this and other deaths were revealed to the public. His friends and family didn’t know what happened to him for years!

Elizabeth, one of our tour guides, may be the best example of the vim and vigor of the German deaconesses. She met our group at the train station and led us all around the city. The youngest person in her community was introduced at age 72, so we guessed that Elizabeth is probably closer to eighty. There were no golf carts on the Johannesstift campus to shuttle people from one end to the other. In the U.S., our lack of exercise may shorten our lifespan—another sobering lesson from Germany.

I was grateful for the opportunity to travel to Berlin to represent the diaconal ministers and deacons of the United Methodist Church. As one of the few diaconal ministers still working in New Jersey, it was great to meet so many from other denominations who still go by the name “diaconal minister” (though they may pronounce it “dia-KON-al”). Having attended many United Methodist Women jurisdictional and assembly meetings, I thought I had a global view of the church. The UMC is global, but now I see even more broadly. Thank you!

Sue Zahorbenski is diaconal minister at the United Methodist Church at New Brunswick (N.J.). This is a contribution to a series of reflections on the World Federation of Diakonia Assembly held in July 2013 in Berlin.

By Rev. Rick Buckingham

The Gospel of Christ knows no religion but social; no holiness but social holiness – John Wesley, Preface to Hymns and Sacred Poems (1739).

In the August issue of the United Methodist Deacon News, the Rev. Rick Tettau gave an excellent description of the theme, content, and location of the World Assembly of the World Diakonia Federation, held in Berlin, Germany, held in July 2013. To hold this event in Berlin held particular relevance in the history of the organization. World Diakonia began in 1946 in the midst of the debris of the Second World War. Much of Europe lay in ruins, and the Nazi movement had been the chief cause of the resulting horror. A residual dislike—even hatred—of Germans in general can still be identified in many parts of Europe to this day. Yet it was in 1946 that a group of Dutch deaconesses decided to reach out to their German sisters and others to rebuild the Christian bonds that had once united them. Diakonia World Federation had its roots in this act of reconciliation and healing, and was formally organized the next year in Copenhagen. The 2013 assembly is only the fourth one to be held in Germany, and the second in Berlin, the previous Berlin assembly being in 1963 in a newly divided city. To meet once again in this now unified city in a reunified Germany, under the elected leadership of President Sister Doris Horn, a native German (and a United Methodist), with the theme “Healing and Wholeness for the World,” was an especially powerful symbol for all of us.

Rev. Rick Buckingham, third from right, connects with other United Methodist deacons and diaconal ministers outside the chapel at Johannesstift.

Rev. Rick Buckingham, third from right, connects with other United Methodist deacons and diaconal ministers outside the chapel at Johannesstift.

My first exposure to World Diakonia came in 1992, at the assembly in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. I had been a United Methodist diaconal minister for almost ten years, and was aware of the movement within our denomination to create an ordained order of deacons. I wanted to learn more about diaconal work worldwide, and I was not disappointed. Meeting deacons and deaconesses and hearing their stories of call and service from around the world changed my perspective and, indeed, my identity. Prior to that assembly, I saw myself primarily in occupational and professional terms as Christian educator and youth minister; afterwards I began to see myself as a called, set-apart person in mission and ministry, with concern for the needs of the larger world. I learned about DIAKAID, the fund established in 1969 to provide direct assistance for various diaconal ministries located in areas of the greatest need, and realized that I needed to be doing more in my own place of service to educate and motivate my congregation to take action to meet such needs.

Now, 20 years later, I found myself connecting to old friends and meeting new ones: the Swedish deaconesses with whom I shared a lunch, the Australian with whom I ate breakfast, the Canadian with whom I shared a hotel room, and especially the Tanzanians with whom I struck up a particularly enjoyable relationship. A young man from my church is about to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, and I was able to send him the names of Christian friends there who could render him assistance and hospitality should he need it. Through Christ, the world comes together.

When we are willing to step outside of our comfort zones, experience people and cultures that are unfamiliar to us, and trust in the grace of God, we begin to discover what it truly means to be part of the church universal. We learn to communicate in the languages of faith and music, smiles and sharing. And when in the presence of other deacons and deaconesses and diaconal workers, we realize the powerful unifying factor of the call of Christ to serve others. When John Wesley wrote about the essence of the Gospel being social religion, and true holiness being social holiness, he had in mind what today we would call diakonia: serving by connecting the gifts of the church and the needs of the people. I now return to my workaday world rejuvenated, but also looking forward to the next opportunity I may have to be in company with others who share my call. I hope that you will consider joining me!

Rev. Rick Buckingham is minister of education and youth for St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Kensington, Md. This is a contribution to a series of reflections on the World Federation of Diakonia Assembly held in July 2013 in Berlin.

By Rev. Jim Kraus

I first heard about the Diakonia World Federation assembly back in 2001 when it met in Australia. I was intrigued that a world community gathered every four years to encourage people in diaconal/deacon ministry. I was finally able to attend the 2013 gathering, in Berlin, and was moved and inspired through the programming, the discussions and connecting with so many from around the world.

Those in the diaconate from around the world meet at the historic Berliner Dom for worship and singing.

Those in the diaconate from around the world met at the historic Berliner Dom for worship and singing.

I loved hearing the daily chapel bells calling us to worship in the morning and the evening. I was moved to hear those bells peel as we all prayed The Lord’s Prayer in our own tongues. It was as if the bells agreed with the prayer and carried it over the community, first on the Johannesstift campus and then at the Berliner Dom.

We gathered twice in small groups, where I loved meeting people from all over the globe who serve God in so many ways and shared from their experiences. My view of ministry was widened by hearing others share of the work they are called to: a Presbyterian deacon pastor of a three-point charge from Canada, a mother superior from Tanzania, a surviving spouse who runs a ministry for the poor in Australia, and others from all types of ministry from nursing to education to administration. God’s hand is active and moving in the world.

How impressive to meet in Berlin, a city that has been destroyed by war, divided by ideology and politics, and yet has been reunited and is under constant renovation and rebuilding. This is a picture of the Church in many ways. We are separated from others only to be reunited and reclaimed by Christ and then remade. Even as Christian workers across denominations we are united in Christ.

As we exited the Berliner Dom for a final group picture the conference members and friends numbering near 500 spontaneously began singing “We Are Marching in the Light of God.” People in the park across the street ran over to see what this big group was about. Soon there were as many people looking at us as there were on the steps singing, witnessing to the goodness of God.

A presenter who spoke about Bonhoeffer included this memorable quote: “Wherever you serve God, even if you feel you are serving in the margins, you are serving in the center of God’s will.” Another speaker said, “When you are serving God, you are living your call and this service is a privilege.” How great to join with others from around the world at that moment and demonstrate the love and community of God to the world.

Rev. Jim Kraus is director of music and leadership development for First United Methodist Church in St. Joseph, Mich. This is a contribution to a series of reflections on the World Federation of Diakonia Assembly held in July 2013 in Berlin.

By Rev. Rick Tettau

 In Christ there is no east or west, in him no south or north; but one great fellowship of love throughout the whole wide earth.—William A. Dunkerly

The Berlin Wall was erected on August 13, 1961. The wall divided streets, families, friends, and whole communities. The wall cut through the heart of Berlin, dividing the city, and on a much grander scale symbolized the division of Germany and all of Europe during the time of World War II.

Our tour guide on the bus told us a story about how a community that was divided by the wall worked out an agreement to swap church buildings in an effort to maintain their congregations who were living on opposite sides of the wall. It was a solemn experience for me to attend worship at the Chapel of Reconciliation at the memorial of the Berlin Wall, where they hold service every Tuesday through Friday at noon to remember those who were killed trying to get over the wall. It broke my heart to the read the names of peaceful men and women whose lives were cut short at the Berlin Wall. To the delight and praise of the world, the Berlin Wall was opened on the night of November 9, 1989. On this day thousands of people streamed like water through the boundary and the work of healing in Germany began.

“Healing and Wholeness for the World” was the theme for the Diakonia World Assembly, held July 1-8, 2013, at Evangelishes

Rick Tettau (second from left) confers with other United Methodist deacons and diaconal ministers on the Johannesstift campus.

Rick Tettau (second from left) confers with other United Methodist deacons and diaconal ministers on the Johannesstift campus.

Johannesstift in Berlin, Germany. The Evangelishes Johannesstift is a diaconal training and ministry center that serves older adults, families with children, and people with disabilities. Evangelishes Johannesstift has served the Berlin community for over 150 years. Their purpose is based on 1 John 3:18: “Let us not love with word, neither in tongue; but in deed and truth.” Nearly 350 deacons and diaconal workers representing 37 different countries gathered for the assembly, which meets every four years.

Throughout the week we were engaged in a variety of activities. Each day opened and closed with worship. There were multiple presentations during the mornings and afternoons. Presentation included “Life is Flowering for Us All,” “God at the Margins,” “Healing and Salvation in the Work of Hildegard van Bingen,” and “Healing and Community.” Each participant was assigned to a small group of about 10 people to discuss the presentations and share experiences. The small groups were intentionally mixed by region so one received a global perspective of diakonia. World and regional meetings uplifted the ministries in which participants were engaged back home. There was a German cultural night and plenty of opportunities for sightseeing.

This was my third Diakonia World Assembly. The 2001 World Diakonia Assembly was a critical part of my spiritual formation as a deacon and it helped me prepare for my ordination interview with the Board of Ordained Ministry. Since then, I continue to make the World Assembly a part of my continuing education as a deacon. There is much to learn by attending and many great people to meet and get to know. Needless to say, it is refreshing to be around people who share a common call and vocation. You will not need to explain to anybody the purpose of diakonia or the function of a deacon, diaconal minister, or deaconess. You are among friends who understand!

Overall, I plan to keep the World Diakonia community in my thoughts and prayers until we are able to meet in person again. In the meantime, having a computer that translates different languages will help me stay connected to my colleagues and friends from around the world. I leave you with the prayer below. Use this to guide your prayers as you offer healing and wholeness to the world.

Prayer from the Chapel of Reconciliation at the Berlin Wall Memorial:

“Let us praise the Lord, who lifts up the low and tears down the mighty from his throne. He alone knows how to judge rightfully. To him let us pray, “Lord have mercy on us!”

“For all those, murdered at the Wall and its line of death, in the prisons and camps, we pray, “Lord, have mercy on us!”

“For the dead, who died of sorrow because of their destroyed families; for all, who lost their home and homeland at the boundary, we pray, “Lord, have mercy on us!”

“For all who have public responsibilities for justice, freedom, and virtue of every person, we pray, “Lord, have mercy on us!”

“For all, who influence public opinion as testimonies of truth; for all, who educate the coming generations, we pray, “Lord, have mercy on us!”

“For all, who are not able to take advantage of freedom, we pray, “Lord, have mercy on us!”

“Lord, our Father, let us take up the task of reconciliation, which you ordered us to fulfill by being free in Jesus Christ our Master. Amen.”

The next Diakonia World Assembly is scheduled to meet July 3-10, 2017.

Rev. Rick Tettau serves Faith Community United Methodist Church in Xenia, Ohio. This is the first in a series of reflections by deacons and diaconal ministers who attended the gathering with the assistance of a United Methodist General Board of Higher Education and Ministry grant.