People say so often that, “the world is a small place.” It is not really small, but our ability to connect in this present age across geographical lines of division has become much easier than in the days before social media and mass communication. When I was in the US visiting, I hoped to purchase some Florida oranges. You can imagine my amazement when I picked up an orange in the store with a sticker that read, “South Africa.” The impact of the ever increasing globalization of our world will be measured in positives and negatives for years to come, but one of the gifts it brings with it, is the ability for us to grow for being exposed to the stories of other places and people.
In 1986, Peter Storey preached at the World Methodist Conference. In the crowd, was a man named Jim Harnish. Jim later invited Peter to Florida to help him with a church he was starting, St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Orlando, Florida. The building was ready, but Jim wanted to make sure that the people were as ready as they could be for the journey they would be embarking upon. Peter went to St. Luke’s and invested time, energy, and relationship with a group of people he did not know on the other end of the world.
The Bishop of the Cape of Good Hope District, Bishop Michele Hansrod, was able to spend a day with some of the people at St. Luke’s in Orlando, Florida while he was in the United States for the World Methodist Conference just a couple of weeks ago. Many of the people remember the days of Peter Storey’s teaching and they remember how it opened up for them a witness they needed during their beginning years as a congregation. Today, St. Luke’s is a strong congregation leading the Church at large in new directions at every turn.
Jim Harnish was later sent to a community called, Hyde Park UMC in Tampa, Florida. Hyde Park UMC is the church I still call home. Peter visited Hyde Park UMC as well and so did Alan. Alan was the retreat leader at my Disciple I Bible Study retreat in 2000. I remember him showing pictures of his country and engaging the young adult class I was a part of about learning as much as we could about the world. His message in the end was for us to understand the importance of living as disciples in the place where we were.
I did not know until recently how long the relationship between Peter Storey and my Pastor, Jim Harnish, goes back. I am thankful for their friendship because the people of South Africa have been a part of my story, from the very beginning of my journey of faith. When Alan shared stories about his country, I had to “come and see.” I am not the only one though, just last week, there was a group from Hyde Park UMC that had to “come and see.” Doug and Cheri Roland are two members of Hyde Park who volunteered with Seth Mokitimi Seminary to help develop a field education program for the students. My hope is that the connection back and forth will continue to give birth to growth on both sides.
Over the next couple of weeks in our sanctuary, there will be stories arriving. We will have the opportunity to hear about life and ministry in other places on the continent of Africa that are within the boundaries of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa and we will receive stories from those beyond the boundaries of the connection. My hope is that the stories and prayer requests coming in will create for us a thread of connection to a work we are engaged in with our lives that is bigger than the place we live and bigger than ourselves. May we stand stronger where we are for knowing the ways we are bound in ministry around the world.
With you on the journey,