Bringing Back the Holy Spirit Within Us
By Jesse N. Love
The National Association of Filipino-American United Methodists met on July 9-12 at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Ill. Over 200 laity and clergy of all ages attended NAFAUM from over 15 states, representing all five Methodist jurisdictions within the US. Representatives from the Philippines Central Conference, as well as, missionaries from Hong Kong, Canada, and Nigeria also gathered for this convocation.
NAFAUM was a time to reunite with friends, worship, and retool for ministry. During its 15th biennial celebration, NAFAUM featured workshops addressing a variety of issues including General Conference 2016, migrant ministry, LGBTQ conversations, and church vitality through social media.
The theme “Acts and the City” emphasized a reflection on how apostles are doing the work of Jesus Christ in new landscapes where God calls people to be. The planning team was encouraged to be creative and to shape activities around the theme.
Aquilino Javier, outgoing president of the board, addressed the congregants with some ideas to help put the convocation’s purpose into perspective:
- Continue supporting the mission of The United Methodist Church, maintaining good relationships with boards and agencies of the UMC
- Stay updated with justice and peace organizations
- Nurture the connection between Filipino-Americans and churches in the Philippines while serving as voices in the US for those who are marginalized
- Chronicle the history of Filipinos in the United States.
THE HOLY SPIRIT AT WORK
During the convocation, two United Methodist bishops helped plant deeper seeds of thought by sharing how the Holy Spirit works within and around us.
Bishop Sally Dyck of The Northern Illinois Conference preached on how the disciples faced challenges as witnesses of Jesus Christ. The disciples, who had encountered the Holy Spirit, were in the midst of many who were possessed by spirits that were unclean. Like the disciples, people today are building churches, new faith communities, and vital congregations – where people are gripped by hatred, prejudice, violence and despair.
Those who have experienced the Holy Spirit are called to bring joy by meeting the needs of the community. It may be through building a school for children to learn and grow or establishing a senior center for older adults to help nurture others. If the church can be vital by bringing joy and life into the city, others will see joyful people as hope for the future though the Holy Spirit.
Bishop Linda Lee of The Wisconsin Conference likened the Holy Spirit to a loud, impactful noise that demands attention. In cities and towns, everyday life dampens the ability to listen to the Holy Spirit. The power provided to disciples through witnessing God’s work is needed to rise above the noise of culture. At the recent shooting at St. John AME Church in South Carolina, the community heard and witnessed the Spirit of forgiveness as it struggled with the spirit of anger and revenge. Lee hopes that with wisdom in how we speak, how we make choices, and in how we partner with others in the work of Jesus Christ will be how the human race survives – blessed by the Holy Spirit.
The challenge of bringing the Holy Spirit into the communities where Filipino-Americans worship and serve in the US extends to kababayan, or fellow countrymen in the Philippines. An important goal for NAFAUM is to nurture its connection with Methodists back in the homeland – with the hope that traditions and culture will be passed to future generations of Filipinos in America. Over the next year, the NAFAUM board will discuss plans for the next convocation in 2017 to take place in the Philippines. Many see this as a great opportunity to share ministry ideas, resources, and to be in mission.
Struggling to preserve Filipino Methodist tradition and identity is a facet of the larger, universal challenges that the United Methodist Church faces. As a shifting spiritual landscape and church decline impact the denomination, there are those within NAFAUM who prioritize developing leadership and vital congregations can be accomplished alongside maintaining Filipino tradition.
“The real issue is leadership. Are we planting new churches? We know how to do this,” shares the Rev. Dr. Bener Agtarap, Superintendent for Congregational Vitality for the California-Nevada Conference. Agtarap had this to share about the current status of NAFAUM as an organization:
“I think NAFAUM leadership should begin to think and act more of a movement and not simply an organization that meets for four days, once every two years. If we are to make disciples in this context, we should be open to enjoy and embrace cultural gifts that are around us – use them not to abandon our ways and culture, but enhance it so our ministry can speak to and relate with the changing and shifting culture. In the West, our Filipino-American ministries have so much to offer for the good of UMC and the nation.”
Agtarap also identifies Christmas Institute, an annual retreat with Filipino and Methodist roots, as a gift that has produced leaders for the general church. During the Young Voices Service, Pastor Francis Serrano – the director of youth ministry for Corona UMC and a 20-year attendee of CI – shared a passionate testimony to parents at NAFAUM: “You’ve invested in your child’s health, you’ve invested in your child’s education. But invest in something that will last for an eternity, invest for them to attend CI and I promise you they will attend every single year.”
“We are very spiritual people who are committed to serve God’s people in whatever way we can,” shares Celinne Mencias. Mencias is a young person who has attended CI since 2002 and volunteers as its camp nurse. She shared her gifts of singing and music for worship alongside her administrative skills at the NAFAUM registration desk.
BRINGING BACK THE HOLY SPIRIT
NAFAUM reenergized many to bring hope and life into the cities where Filipinos serve. The Rev. Bing Canlas, pastor of Custer UMC and First UMC of Canada shares the overall importance of this Association: “For FUMCC, (NAFAUM) should mean an institution where our values as Filipinos continue to be nurtured and shared especially for the next generations. For the church in the U.S., it should serve as a resource of Filipino ethnic wisdom and knowledge. For the greater UMC, it should mean a source of talent and personnel.”
“Filipino-American Methodists truly welcome all to the table,” shares Pastor Nancy Grim Hunter – who is Caucasian and has been welcomed into the Filipino-American community in Oak Park, Ill. “Their sense of community is very strong. As a people, they represent more than 77 ethnic groups, but they come together as a single body in unity with God’s mission of love in ministry to others. This convocation highlights their desire to continue to gain theological and practical knowledge and skills to minister to all members in their cross-cultural communities. This community adopted my family and several other non-Filipinos individuals and made us feel part of the family.”
How is your local church community bringing joy and vitality into the cities and towns where you are from? Share your stories by e-mailing email@example.com.
For photos and video from NAFAUM 2015, visit Facebook: http://www.fb.com/nafaum, hashtag: #nafaum15.
Special thanks to the Rev. David V. Valera, Kristina Gonzalez, the Commission on Ethnic Ministries (PNWUMC),
Aquilino Javier, and Pastor Nancy Grim Hunter.
Jesse N. Love serves as Graphic Designer & Print Manager for the PNWUMC. Love also served as part of the leadership of Christmas Institute in Northern California.