In the process of evangelism and making disciples, the General Board of Church and Society (GBCS) is using United Methodist teachings on social issues and social justice to reach people around the world.
One goal of the agency is to create more of an on-the-ground presence for community organizing, advocacy and reinforcing the teachings of the Social Principles. While the agency has organizers in the United States and at the United Nations, there is a need to have local organizers working actively in other parts of the world. Today, Church and Society has local staff organizers in Nigeria, Mozambique, the Philippines and Eurasia.
The Rev. Neal Christie, assistant general secretary for education and leadership formation at the board, said the program in Eurasia took root more than 12 years ago. Church and Society was then collaborating with the General Board of Global Ministries for training sessions in the Ukraine and Moldova on substance abuse, addiction and violence related to addiction.
"We wanted to raise awareness with young people [on] how all these issues connect – addiction, violence, spousal abuse, mental health, sexual abuse," he said.
| The Rev. Irina Margulis.
A few years later, Christie talked with Bishop Eduard Khegay and other church leaders in Eurasia about what it might look like if Church and Society emphasized these issues conference wide. That conversation led to classes on the Social Principles at Russia United Methodist Theological Seminary in Moscow.
"When new people come to the church, there's a discipleship model that doesn't necessarily include social issues," Christie said. "We feel when we engage in these conversations, we are doing discipleship as well."
Khegay offered and strongly supported the idea of having someone on staff to serve as a community organizer who would itinerate teams of people, excite their imaginations and get them to take ownership of programs.
Soon after, Khegay appointed the Rev. Irina Margulis as the district superintendent for the Moscow District — and as Church and Society's organizer for the Eurasia Area. The bishop supervises her work as a district superintendent; Christie supervises her work on social issues.
"We're helping to find the best methods to coach the Social Principles in geographic areas where people, frankly, are still learning to read the Bible in a way that's contextual and relevant."
"In most cases, people do not think about the connection between the Social Principles to their daily lives," Margulis said. "But the Social Principles are an expression of our faith. They invite us to step out of our comfort zones and take care of the world we live in, just as Jesus cared for it."
Joey Butler, multimedia editor at United Methodist Communications.
One of seven apportioned giving opportunities of The United Methodist Church, the World Service Fund is the financial lifeline to a long list of Christian mission and ministry throughout the denomination. Through the Four Areas of Focus churches are engaging in developing principled Christian leaders and building an understanding that everyone has a role in God's work to transform the world and move people to take action.
First published in the Interpreter March/April 2016 issue.