Response: July/August 2016 Issue

To Share and to Receive

Voices: A Transformative Leadership Event offers the opportunity for those working to bridge language barriers to be empowered, supported and heard.

To Share and to Receive

At Voices 2016 in Nashville, Tenn.

"Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel." —Philippians 4:3

For the past six years, United Methodist Women conference presidents and language coordinators have congregated annually for Voices: A Transformative Leadership Event. This year's gathering took place February 26-28 at Scarritt Bennett Center in Nashville, Tennessee. In addition to structured learning opportunities, Voices allows for women from across the country and even world to be together in solidarity and fellowship.

"I learned a lot, and I'm taking home a lot. The Spirit was present," said Anna Hakai, Samoan language coordinator from the California-Pacific Conference and first-time attendee.

Serna Samuel, United Methodist Women regional missionary serving the Caribbean, was the weekend's study leader, sharing about United Methodist Women in the world. Attendees also learned about Web communications, United Methodist Women national mission institutions, and United Methodist Women in the community.

The weekend included multilingual, multicultural worship with the United Methodist music ministry Global Praise. Global Praise has partnered with The National Plan for Hispanic/Latino Ministries of The United Methodist Church to offer CantoMetodista.com, an online community of persons engaged in worship and music ministries providing bilingual resources representing the richness of Latin American cultures.

Attendees also heard from Sharah Dass, United Methodist Women scholarship recipient from Pakistan attending Vanderbilt Divinity School in Nashville and working at Scarritt Bennett.

Creative, supportive community

Sunday morning was a time for attendees to share what United Methodist Women means to them in their context and to share how women in language ministries continue to support one another and grow.

"How do we stay connected?" asked Marisa Villarreal, United Methodist Women executive for language ministries. "How do we find ways to build one another up, especially in doing the work of the gospel?"

Being with other women who are working to not only put faith, hope and love into action but to make United Methodist Women accessible and welcoming to women whose first language is other than English helped Voices attendees know they are not alone, know that they are supported in a sisterhood of grace.

"Instead of looking at my very full plate, I reached out to people and they have helped me," said Gladys Lucena De Quiñones, language coordinator for the Northern Illinois Conference. "My president said go to this this training, empower yourself by learning, get to know other people. Coming here has helped me look at what I have that I can use to help others.

"I look at what God is doing," she said. "Every one of you encourages me."

"I work full time, and I'm a pastor's wife," said Ms. Hakai. "I have a sick husband to care for, and I help with pastoral duties." But she makes time for United Methodist Women and encourages others to do the same. She plans to take what she learned at Voices back to her conference.

United Methodist Women offers various resources in English, Spanish and Korean. United Methodist Women language ministries include, among others, Creole, French, Hmong, Japanese, and Tagalog, so language coordinators serve a key role in not only translating resources but contextualizing what it means to be part of United Methodist Women.

"I am Creek Indian. Woman's Society of Christian Service was my beginning, with my aunts and mother and elders pushing me," said Pearl Thomas, language coordinator from the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference. "I've been doing this all my life. I'm very proud."

Making connections

Just as language ministries is a vital part of United Methodist Women, United Methodist Women is a vital part of The United Methodist Church. Women at Voices talked about the collaborative relationships that can be made within the church, from reaching out to pastors, being part of theological training, being present and reporting at annual conferences to partnering with United Methodist Men. United Methodist Women, especially language coordinators, can help be a bridge between cultures within the church.

"In our conference there are invariably pastors who are assigned to churches that are not their cultural background," said Marlene Ward, president of the California-Nevada Conference United Methodist Women. "Many years ago in my own church we had our first black pastor, and it was the United Methodist Women who helped bridge the gap between the pastor and the majority white congregation. Where cross-cultural pastoral appointments are made, that's where United Methodist Women can step up, because we are already doing cross-cultural work."

The California-Nevada conference is also sure to include the denomination's racial/ethnic caucuses in decision making, and it offers a Mission u event in February at a time when migrant farmworkers are able to attend. The conference United Methodist Women were also invited to the Pacific School of Religion to talk about what they do.

Baltimore-Washington Conference United Methodist Women also take part in the conference theological conversations.

"We have a collaborative relationship with Wesley Theological Seminary, and United Methodist Women is also part of conference pastors' training," said Elizabeth Stemley, president of the Baltimore-Washington Conference United Methodist Women.

"Make connections with the seminary or theological school near you, especially presidents — you can make those connections," said Ms. Villarreal.

United Methodist Women and The United Methodist Church pride themselves on their connectional relationships of mutual support. Those doing the blessed yet difficult work of inviting non-English speakers into a majority English-speaking context know the importance of partnerships and sustenance and of deep, enduring faith. United Methodist Women language coordinators exemplify faith, hope and love in action.

"We remembered our baptisms. We shared in the bread and the cup. We were fed the bread of life and we drank from the cup of the covenant," said Ms. Villarreal of the weekend. "We shared our stories. We told what hurts and what is rejoicing in our hearts. We shared what is going on in our communities and what is going on in our families. We opened our hearts to share with one another and to receive from one another.

"The weekend's Scripture says, 'Help these women, for they have struggled beside me,'" she continued. "I would say, help my United Methodist Women. They have struggled beside me, and they have brought me to this place."


Tara Barnes is editor of response.

Posted or updated: 7/17/2016 11:00:00 PM
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