January 29, 2015
The Mission of Peace is a yearly journey of discovery and shalom to nations in our global community sponsored by the Northeastern Jurisdictional (NEJ) Council on Youth Ministries of The United Methodist Church.
Four youth from the New England Conference joined Bishop Sudarshana and Prema Devadhar as part of the 2015 NEJ delegation to India, which included 16 youth, three adult leaders and 16 church leaders from throughout the denomination. The trip took place from Dec. 28, 2014 to Jan. 15, 2015.
NEUMC youth who were part of this delegation are: Ashley Bonnette-Kim from Wilmington United Methodist Church, Wilmington, MA; Zach DeBesche and Aidan Rojo from Calvary Church, United Methodist, Arlington, MA, and Gretchen Wright, United Church of Underhill, Underhill, VT.
The MOP delegation always includes at least one bishop; this year, there were seven: Bishop Sandra Steiner Ball, who serves the West Virginia Area; Bishop Warner H. Brown, Jr., who serves the San Francisco Area; Bishop Devadhar, Bishop Violet Fisher, retired; Bishop Peggy A. Johnson, who serves the Philadelphia Area; Bishop Jonathan D. Keaton, who serves the Illinois Area, and Bishop Peter Weaver, retired, who currently serves as Executive Secretary to the Council of Bishops and formerly served the New England Area as resident bishop. Additionally the group was joined by Mr. Moses Kumar, General Secretary of the General Council of Finance and Administration and Mr. George Howard, Deputy General Secretary of the General Board of Global Ministries.
The delegation visited natural and cultural landmarks in places such as Bangalore, Mysore, Mangalore, Delhi, Agra, and Mumbai. They visited mission sites, churches, schools and community centers. They met with Indian Methodist and other church leaders, religious leaders of other faiths, and state government officials. They also visited a Tibetan monastery, Shri Kshethra Dharmasthala, where they met Dr. Dharmasthala Veerendra Heggade, who is Dharmadhikari of Shri Kshethra Dharmasthala. The group also toured shrimp and cashew factories.
“Mission of Peace is a life-transforming experience for our youth,” said Bishop Devadhar. “We never know how God is going to use them, but they are changed forever.”
MOPer Ashley Bonnette-Kim acknowledged that she has been changed by this experience.
“I thought that going to India was going to be an adventure. I had never been off the North American continent before, and when this opportunity arrived I jumped on it,” Bonnette-Kim wrote. “Looking back, I’m not sure that I truly understood what was going to happen. India was nothing like I expected. It is a loud, bright and vibrant country. The people are proud and (have) fought to survive. Compared to the USA, India is an old country, full of history and struggle, and here we began to see the progressiveness of the country – how far it has come and how far it still has to go.”
Showcasing the journey India is making were the visits to the Dharavi slum in Mumbai and to one of India’s biggest tech companies, Infosys in Bangalore. Founded in 1981, Infosys is a global consulting, technology and outsourcing firm serving clients in more than 50 countries. As of March 2014, the company had more than 165,000 employees.
“’Guests are gods,’ we heard our first night in India,” MOPer Gretchen Wright writes. “If each of us contains something divine, something holy, then should we not welcome each other with radical hospitality? And the Indian people have perfected radical hospitality.”
Wright described being greeted with “bouquets of fresh flowers, sprinkled with holy water, showered in yellow flower petals, serenaded, danced for, processed in, draped with necklaces, given tea and cookies and fruit, blessed, welcomed, accepted.”
“It overwhelms me that these people, some of them living in slums like Dharavi, or in Dharavi itself, went to so much trouble and effort to make us feel at home,” Wright wrote. “How much food could the money spent on 30 bouquets buy? How much cleaning or working or washing could be done in the time they spent with us? But the guest is god. The guest is God.”
The Mission of Peace allowed the delegation to see the “richness of India – culturally and otherwise,” the bishop said, adding that was likely “eye-opening” for youth and adults alike.
“India is a country built up by hundreds of languages, thousands of cultures and 1.2 billion people all whom hold a different meaning of God in their hearts,” writes Bonnette-Kim. “This all shouldn’t blend together, it shouldn’t be able to create harmony and build a country so diverse, but it does. And God, while bearing many different names and faces, is present here.”
Photos by Tom Schmidt, a member of the delegation from the Upper New York Conference can be found on the NEJ Mission of Peace Facebook page.
Mission of Peace was created through a prophetic vision of Bishop C. Dale White, retired, when he challenged the Northeastern Jurisdiction Council on Youth Ministries to venture out and meet their counterparts and see the Church at work throughout the world. The first Mission of Peace Journey traveled to the then USSR in 1986. Bishop White served as a pastor and as a superintendent in the New England Southern Conference before being elected bishop in 1976.
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