Friday, May 24, 2013

Sharing Experiences, Viewpoints, and Resources on Mission

Conferences in general are daunting. Walking into a room full of people where you maybe know one or two people, the introvert in me wants to go stand in a corner and chow down on hor’ devours.  Add in traveling to another continent and half the participants speak only Spanish. You could say I was feeling a little nervous (but excited) to attend the Global Episcopal Mission Network (GEMN) Conference in Bogotá, Colombia from May 4 – 10.

Needless to say, it was a wonderful experience and I wouldn’t trade it for the world! I am thankful my office gave me the opportunity to attend to share viewpoints on mission, learn what amazing projects the church is doing, and meet incredible, passionate people from the United States, Central and South America and the Caribbean. 

Me, Elizabeth Boe, Officer of Global Networking for The Episcopal Church, and Ryan Abrams, current YASC-er in Costa Rica at the Sunday Church Service. Photo Courtesy of Lynette Wilson.

GEMN is "an organization open to all individuals, organizations and diocese who have determined to share prayers, ideas, dreams, hopes and strategies about Global Mission." They host an annual conference to bring all of those players together to share their experiences, viewpoints, goals and resources on Global Mission. 

This year's conference was GEMN's 18th annual conference. They hosted it in Bogotá, a part of Province IX of the Episcopal Church, hoping it would encourage members of Province IX to attend, which was a success! There were participants from Colombia, Ecuador, Honduras, Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Puerto Rico and Haiti as well as all over the United States. 

Me on top of a mountain at Mision Santa Marta outside Facatativa where you can slightly see Bogota in the background. Simply a spectacular view!

Sidenote: For those who don't know, The Episcopal Church (TEC), which we think of as the US Episcopal Church, consists of 9 provinces. The Diocese of Virginia is a member of Province III. Province IX consists of the Dioceses of Dominican Republic, Ecuador Litoral, Ecuador Central, Colombia, Honduras, Puerto Rico and Venezuela.

The theme of this year's conference was "Companions in Faith and Resources: Participating in God's Mission." It also included a focus on financial sustainability for the diocese of Province IX. There were wonderful plenary sessions ranging on topics from microcredit programs in Honduras to understanding mission in theology to how to operate a successful development group. We broke out into small groups for a Bible Study focused on mission. And they took us on two field trips to sites to see firsthand the wonderful work of the church in Colombia.

A group of past, current and soon to be missionaries with the Presiding Bishop, the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori. Photo Courtesy of Ashley Bingaman

Time flew by throughout the week! Highlights included: 
  • Watching Elizabeth Boe break a bus window while trying to open it on our two hour long bus ride, 
  • Almost having a heart attack while hiking a mountain at 9,000 feet above sea level but being rewarded by a spectacular view of Bogotá and the Colombian countryside,
  • Latin Dancing to a Colombian band on the last night,
  • Listening to the Presiding Bishop preach on mission and community,
  • Meeting current YASC-ers and hearing their insights, 
  • Sharing ideas, reflections, and experiences with a compassionate small group,
  • Witnessing strong, influential, and driven women working to empower those around them to fight for human rights.
The strongest and most driven women I've ever met who run Mesa de Organizaciones de mujeres de Soacha.

By the end of the week, we were no long a group of strangers, we laughed and celebrated like old friends and family. We were all connected with the burning desire to serve the least of these and get others involved in Global Mission.

And as I shared during the GEMN Board Open Forum, I am going to take a very important lesson with me on journey as a missionary. It is the lesson of listening, sharing and developing relationships. In mission it is not about US and THEM. It is about US as a whole, Christian community. Everyone has something to bring to the table. Instead of us always stepping in offering everything we have, we need to step back to listen first to what they have to offer. It is not about doing, but taking the time to listen and share and develop those relationships.

Me with Current YASC-ers, Nina Boe, Ashley Bingaman, and Ryan Abrams

Having the opportunity to meet current YASC-ers, Ryan Abrams in Costa Rica, Nina Boe in Brazil and Ashley Bingaman in Haiti, and other missionaries of The Episcopal Church gave me such encouragement and excitement for my upcoming year! To see their enthusiasm and hear their insight made me want to get out in the field immediately. After this experience at GEMN, I have no doubt that YASC is what I am suppose to be doing as my next step. 

More resources, reflections, and information on GEMN:

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