General Secretary Roland Fernandes and GBGM President Bishop Hee-Soo Jung. (Photo: Mr. Mon Visal)

PHNOM PENH – “God invites us to put our commitment on the table in the name of service to the people…because we are connected to one another,” said Bishop Israel Maestrado Painit of the Davao Episcopal Area in the Philippines during his sermon at the opening worship of Global Ministries Fall Board of Directors meeting. The gathering was held Oct. 19-21 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and marks the first time that the agency’s board meeting was held in Asia and the second time a board meeting convened outside the United States; the first was the 2023 spring meeting held in Maputo, Mozambique.

GBGM and UMCOR Boards met in Phnom Penh, Cambodia Oct. 19-21. 
Photo: Mr. Von Visal

Roland Fernandes, general secretary of Global Ministries and UMCOR, opened his report to the board with an acknowledgment of the painful history of the meeting’s setting. “We meet in a country that was ravaged by the Khmer Rouge regime decades ago, a regime responsible for the mass genocide of over 3 million of its own citizens,” he said. “The images you have seen and will see are a reminder of the impact of hateful ideologies, which sadly continue to blanket us across the globe.” 

He provided an overview of The United Methodist Church’s long mission history in Asia, stating that much of Methodist mission history is Asian mission history, which stood as a template for mission work around the world. For example, in 1944, nearly two-thirds of foreign missionaries – 795 out of 1210 – were serving in Asia. Today, most missionaries serving in Asia come from Asia. The Cambodia Mission Initiative, which is now a provisional conference, is notable for the ecumenical cooperation among the five Methodist mission agencies that support it. The Cambodia Methodist Church is expected to become an autonomous, self-governing church by 2027.

Missionaries serving throughout Asia gathered in the days preceding the meeting for a time of renewal, fellowship and conversation, primarily with the general secretary and a couple of key staff. The missionaries also spent a day in conversation with the agency’s directors on the opening day of the board meeting.

Fernandes cited many such strategic conversations the agency has held over the last couple of years with staff, missionaries, bishops around the world, church leaders, board members and other general agencies. Key points from these conversations are helping Global Ministries sharpen its programmatic focus around four mission priorities: missionaries, evangelism and church revitalization, global health and humanitarian relief and recovery.

He also informed the board that Global Ministries will be re-engaging on the issue of having a physical presence on the African continent, something that was approved by the board in 2018 but, because of the pandemic and other issues, was not implemented.

The financial review for the first eight months of 2023 showed a significant revenue decline, primarily because of lower Advance giving for Ukraine. Net assets for Global Ministries and UMCOR were at $341.1 million and $95 million, respectively, at the end of August.

Committee chairs provided summaries of their respective meetings that took place remotely in advance of the full board meeting. Below are some of several actions taken by the board.

  • The 2024 Mission Appropriations Budget was approved: $49.2 million for Global Ministries and nearly $38.4 million for UMCOR, including Global Health.
  • The board approved a one-time grant of $1.4 million to United Women in Faith to support the Brooks Howell Home in Asheville, North Carolina. The grant will create long-term financial sustainability for its retirement community, which serves, among others, some missionaries and former staff.
  • The UMCOR committee reported on nearly $4 million in grant approvals, including international and U.S. disaster response, the Yambasu Agriculture Initiative, Environmental Sustainability, Global Migration and Global Health.

A significant decision of the board was the unanimous affirmation of the appointment of Roland Fernandes as general secretary of the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM) starting July 1, 2024, after the retirement of the Rev. Greg Bergquist, a role that Fernandes will add to his current responsibilities as general secretary for Global Ministries and UMCOR. The two agencies have been moving toward greater collaboration and alignment over the past two years, bringing together program staff in the areas of scholarships, granting, monitoring and evaluation, shared services and leadership formation and training. Though Global Ministries and GBHEM will remain separate tax-exempt 501 (c)(3) organizations, this change will bring more opportunity for programmatic and operational alignment. Future Global Ministries board meetings will be held jointly with the GBHEM board.

Directors visited several Phnom Penh ministry sites during their time in Cambodia. Their first stop, the Cambodia Students Children Fund Organization, introduced them to the church’s long-term ministry with street children. This ministry shares the gospel and love of God by funding children’s education, teaching vocational skills and providing health care to the sick and undernourished. Directors visited the Susanna Wesley Dorm Ministry, which provides a safe place for young women as they continue college education in Phnom Penh. They also visited the Cambodian Methodist Bible School, the only theological institute in Cambodia that trains pastors and lay leaders to carry out God’s ministries in and through local churches.

The last afternoon of the meeting was spent visiting the Killing Fields just outside Phnom Penh, a sobering memorial of the genocide inflicted on millions of Cambodians by the Khmer Rouge regime. In Fernandes’ final remarks of the meeting, he acknowledged the difficulty of seeing the Killing Fields, saying “it’s hard to imagine what the human race can do to each other, and yet, here we are,” referring to the current war in Israel and Palestine, Ukraine and other places of conflict around the world.

The final morning offered an opportunity for directors to attend worship services at two local Methodist churches, Phnom Penh Prektoal Methodist Church and Toul Kork Methodist Church. As the visitors stood side by side with Cambodian Methodists, reciting the Apostles Creed and singing together, Khmer and English blended in harmony. The words of John Wesley, shared in an earlier worship, came to mind, “’Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike?’ Without all doubt we may.”

Susan Clark is the chief communications officer for Global Ministries.