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People of the Light!

By Ken Sloane

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UMNews Photo by Vicki Brown

As I write this, I am recalling that we just last week celebrated Epiphany and the star that guided the magi to the Christ child. Light is one of the big themes of this season— Christ’s light coming into the world— as we move toward Lent. A couple of memories brought to mind this past week have me thinking a lot about light.

  • I got to visit with a group of United Methodist leaders from northern Europe (Finland, Sweden, Norway) where one guest from Norway commented that this time of year there are virtually no daylight hours, just lots of night. That’s got to be tough.
  • I rewatched the movie, The 33. It’s a story you might remember: the collapse of a mine in Chile that trapped miners three hundred meters underground for sixty-nine days. It is hard to imagine surviving in those conditions with no light except the lamps they wore on their helmets.

We, as followers of Jesus, are called to be people of the light. Jesus told us that light shouldn’t be hidden but put on a stand and lifted up, so that it lights the way for others as well! Light is given to be shared!

As United Methodists, we take this a little further. A world filled with a lot of individual lights is a wonderful thing. They sparkle like Christmas lights on a tree. Bring those lights together, close to one another, side by side, and the resulting light can be seen from outer space. Think about searchlights that send their beams into the sky. This is so important to us as United Methodists: we bring the light of our individual lives and individual churches together to offer light to the whole world.

A world filled with a lot of individual lights is a wonderful thing. They sparkle like Christmas lights on a tree. Bring those lights together, close to one another, side by side, and the resulting light can be seen from outer space.

We are hearing a lot these days about a small percentage of United Methodist churches that are leaving The United Methodist Church through a process called “disaffiliation” as well as those churches that are remaining in The United Methodist Church. Some disaffiliating churches are departing to join other denominations that profess a doctrine more in line with their congregation’s dominant theological stance. Many of them seem to be leaving to become independent – moving away from the connectional bonds that are such a key part of The United Methodist Church. My prayer is they will continue to let their light shine brightly.

For the many churches remaining in The United Methodist Church, we’re hearing that they are staying for a variety of reasons. As you lead your congregation through this season, we hope that you have opportunities to explore together “the why” behind you and your congregation remaining connected as a United Methodist church. Our prayer is that you recognize how your light shines in the connection and is made brighter because of that support.

Thirty-five years ago, all we heard from the continent of Africa was about droughts and famine. All the images we saw were of barren, arid land and hungry, emaciated children holding empty bowls. Faithful people responded to each appeal for help, but some United Methodists asked, “Isn’t there something we can do that will change things for the long haul to help build a brighter future? Isn’t there some way, if we all bring our light together, to create ‘a shining light’ on the continent of Africa?” And we did that with the creation of Africa University. No one person, no one church could have done this alone. With more than 10,000 graduates now from more than twenty-eight African countries, there is indeed a light in Africa that wasn’t here before!

Collecting and connecting our light together is only one of the cool things United Methodists do with our light. By being a church where all the individual parts work together, we also have occasions when we are able to focus our light, like a laser. Focusing our light, our attention, on one problem can make an enormous impact.

Fifteen years ago, the United Nations Foundation approached The United Methodist Church with a problem: in Africa, three thousand children a day were dying from malaria, a disease that had been eradicated in the United States. Malaria is treatable, and it is easily preventable with the use of a ten-dollar insecticide-treated bed net. So, somebody asked, “What would happen if we challenged United Methodist annual conferences and churches, youth groups, United Methodist Women, and United Methodist Men to help eradicate malaria in Africa?” We raised more than seventy million dollars for “Imagine No Malaria.” In fewer than five years, the number of malaria deaths in children was cut in half. The most recent report indicated that childhood malaria deaths have been reduced to twenty-five percent of what they were prior to the bed net campaign.

So how do you want to use your light?

  • Keep it to yourself, hide it away?
  • Stand side by side with others, letting it shine like a searchlight?
  • Letting it be focused to do “laser surgery” on the wounds of the world?

Ken Sloane is the Director of Stewardship & Generosity for Discipleship Ministries of The United Methodist Church.

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