Global Health: “We Have Strong Reason to Hope”


From Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church

A new unit being shaped by its mission agency will position The United Methodist Church for participation in major international health campaigns through the next few decades.

Establishment of a distinct health unit within the General Board of Global Ministries was ahighlight of the report given by the agency’s chief executive to the semi-annual meeting of its board of directors on April 16. Thomas Kemper outlined possibilities for an active United Methodist role in Convergence 2035—the vision of 25 renowned global health experts and economists—leading to a collaboration of a range of governmental and non-governmental organizations.

The strategy for a new international program, tentatively called “Abundant Health: Our Promise to Children,” will take into account intersections with the other denominational areas of focus—particularly Ministry with the Poor—but also Developing Principled Christian Leaders, and Creating New and Renewed Congregations. It will build on the successes of the denomination’s signature health campaign “Imagine No Malaria,” as that program moves toward celebration at the 2016 General Conference.

Kemper also linked the health strategy to Global Ministries’ work through the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). “The health unit will continue to relate strongly to UMCOR,” he said. This is especially important “as we respond to health crises caused by natural and human-made disasters and to the health components of long-term humanitarian rehabilitation and community development,” he continued. He also indicated that missionaries in health professions will be involved in the program.

Working with the Council of Bishops, the Connectional Table, and other general agencies, Global Ministries expects to roll out, at the 2016 General Conference, a new program that focuses on child and neo-natal health.

The decision to address child and neo-natal health was determined by responses from more than 5,000 people in 59 countries to a survey that prioritized the four greatest health challenges. These priorities overlapped with the needs presented by the respected Lancet Commission on Investing in Health.  A Lancet Commission report, “Global Health 2035: A World Converging within a Generation,” provides the international community and low- and middle-income countries with guidance to achieve dramatic health gains within one generation.

Kemper spoke of the church’s role in global health in the framework of a John Wesley quote, “We have strong reason to hope.” Methodism’s 18th century founder put strong emphasis on the promotion of health as a Christian responsibility.

Through this new program, Kemper believes The United Methodist Church can make a significant contribution to the collaborative efforts of Global Health 2035. While the exact wording is still being developed, Kemper said “Abundant Health: Our Promise to Children” plans to make five promises—with the strategic goal of reaching one million children with lifesaving measures by 2020:

• Promote safe births for all mothers and their children

• Address nutritional challenges and promote breastfeeding

• Advance the prevention and treatment of childhood killer diseases

• Increase availability of lifesaving vaccines, medicines and commodities

• Encourage engagement in health-promoting activities such as exercise

US Health Forum

In addition to the international program, Kemper announced that a joint effort in the United States with the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits and Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC, will focus on congregational health.

“Healthy Congregations, Healthy Communities” will be introduced at a U.S.  Health Summit scheduled for September 9-10, 2015, in Houston. The summit is hosted and sponsored by the Methodist Medical Center and St. Paul’s United Methodist Church.

Lifting up these two major initiatives, Kemper said, “I consider our opportunities in health ministry one of our expanding fields of mission. He continued, “Let us ask God to give us the energy and wisdom for this work of healing and wholeness in the world.”

New Operational Plan for Global Ministries

In his report, Kemper also shared updates on the agency’s plan to establish global regional offices. In October 2014 the board of directors voted to open offices in Latin America, Asia, and Africa in addition to moving Global Ministries’ headquarters from New York, NY, to Atlanta, GA.

Kemper said the primary function of the offices will be to connect partners in the region with key staff in its headquarters. “The regions will represent the agency in making links to mission partners,” he said. Noting that each office will reflect the culture of its location, he anticipates that regional offices “will identify and connect local initiatives with the broad range of programs and resources offered by the agency.”

Reporting on the move to Atlanta, which will be completed by October 2016, Kemper said, “We had a glorious celebration of mission and welcome in Atlanta hosted by the North and South Georgia annual conferences and a group of local churches.”

According to Kemper, approximately 80% of the agency’s professional and executive staff has indicated interest in being invited to Atlanta or a regional office. He is thankful for the “abundance of creativity and vision of the staff” and for the staff members engagement in various planning teams.

Quoting John Wesley, Kemper concluded, “We have strong reason to hope that the work God hath begun, God will carry on unto the day of the Lord Jesus…Hallelujah.”