A Global Church
I am pleased and honored to serve as bishop of the Texas Annual Conference. I am also pleased and honored to serve as bishop of the United Methodist mission in Laos and Thailand.
If you are surprised by my involvement in Southeast Asia, you are not alone. Leaders of the Texas Annual Conference discovered that, by receiving me as bishop, they were also going to have a connection with our mission work in Laos and Thailand.
Let me explain. Every United Methodist congregation and pastor has a bishop. When we plant churches in a new country, missionaries supervise the work there along with staff from the General Board of Global Ministries. But in each of those cases, a bishop is assigned to work with the missionaries to supervise the work.
Over a year ago the Council of Bishops assigned me to take over episcopal supervision in these two countries. Last October I visited for the first time and held the annual meetings of pastors. I visited a number of congregations and learned about the culture.
Both of these are culturally Buddhist countries where Christians are a very small minority. Yet we are growing. In Laos, we have over 40 pastors who are preaching the gospel and planting churches in very difficult situations.
Laos, like Vietnam, has a government that is transitioning from communism to a market economy. They are trying to implement freedom of religion, but they are not fully sure what that looks like. Our United Methodist Church is not officially registered and so we are sometimes subjected to governmental harassment. In other places, government officials praise us for our contributions to the community. It is a very complex situation.
Thailand has much greater freedom of religion, but we have very few congregations and our mission work is much less developed.
The process of planting a new annual conference involves helping pastors gain credentials and ordination. As their bishop, I assign them to places of service. But the approval for commissioning and ordination must be done by a board of ordained ministry. In Laos there are a number of persons who have progressed in their studies to the point where they are ready to be interviewed.
That is now the responsibility of the Texas Annual Conference Board of Ordained Ministry. I will be travelling (along with Mary Lou) to Laos and Thailand after Thanksgiving. Four members of our TAC Board of Ordained Ministry will be going with me to interview candidates for commissioning. Please keep us in your prayers. This is exciting work, but very challenging. Our goal is to help these people become faithful Wesleyan leaders in a very different context. The United Methodist Church is truly a global church!