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Prepare for missions, retired GBGM head tells TTC students

Seeing eye to eye on the importance of missions: The Rev Dr Nugent and Bishop Dr Solomon. — Methodist Message picture.

THE retired General Secretary of the United Methodist missions board was in Singapore recently to encourage students at Trinity Theological College (TTC) to prepare for missions.

The Rev Dr Randy Nugent, who retired in 2002 after 21 years leading the General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM), spoke to students and faculty at TTC about the continuing importance of missions. Since his retirement in 2002, he has been focusing on mission education both in America and internationally.

In a four-day stay in Singapore, he also called on Bishop Dr Robert Solomon at Methodist Centre and visited several agencies of The Methodist Church in Singapore (MCS).

He was impressed with Bethany Methodist Nursing Home and encouraged the staff of the Methodist Missions Society. He encouraged MCS leaders to have regional consultations to share their important work with other churches and agencies.

“We have an important relationship with GBGM,” said Bishop Dr Solomon. “Randy Nugent, with his 21 years of experience, is a wealth of knowledge about missions.”

At TTC, the Rev Dr Nugent told the students: “Mission is everyone’s task. We must always be prepared to share the good news of Jesus Christ. You should keep that in mind in your theological education so that mission becomes central to your ministry.”

Mission is about bearing witness full time to that good news. “Everywhere, every time we are expected to be on duty to be Christ’s witnesses.”

That kind of witness can be seen in the reintroduction of Methodism to former Soviet block countries and in the Methodist collaborations in Asia. The great mission work going on in Cambodia is a co-operative effort between the United Methodist Church (UMC) and several other Methodist bodies, including Singapore Methodists.

In 1990, American Methodists also began exploring possibilities in Russia. Christianity is not new to Russia, the Rev Dr Nugent explained, even though Christian activities were limited.

“Whatever some may think of it, the Russian Orthodox Church remained throughout the Soviet era and kept the Gospel alive. When Methodist missionaries first went back to Russia the first thing they did was to thank the Orthodox Church for remaining faithful,” he said.

But additionally many other groups had remained faithful, though underground. Hence, the GBGM mission was actually a response to the “faithfulness of laypersons” in the Soviet who had kept the faith all those years. They were in fact ready for leaders to come and bring them together.

Two of the early GBGM missionaries, in fact, seemed unlikely candidates at first — a Korean American clergy who was not yet ordained an elder, and a Liberian woman. No one thought the Liberian woman would be able to stand against racist pressure. However, within the first three months, both had organised 3,000 to 5,000 people into the church.

An important principle of missions, the Rev Dr Nugent said, is to look for new ways to minister the Gospel.

In Khazakstan, many children who were radiation scarred from Soviet era nuclear testing, needed medical and social help. GBGM developed a programme with American nuclear scientists from Los Alamos to help these children. Since then new congregations have developed in Khazakstan.

In Lithuania, also a former Soviet state, GBGM missionaries celebrated communion with local Christians for the first time in 50 years. “The Lithuanian people asked, ‘What took you so long?’” All those years, the Rev Dr Nugent said, some people had continued to keep the faith.

He also pointed out that while “we must always be ready to proclaim the Gospel, we need to recognise that God is already working wherever we go”.

In many countries missionaries have discovered informal faith communities that often bear the name or insignia of Methodist because students found the love of Christ in a United Methodist church and wanted to bring the experience back home. In those cases missionaries help the local faith community catch up with Christian education and theological training.

The Rev George Martzen, Minister Attached to the Bishop’s Office, is a GBGM missionary.