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Latin America should be church priority, supporters say

10/2/2002 News media contact: Linda Bloom · (646) 369-3759 · New York

By United Methodist News Service

Concerned United Methodists are calling upon the denomination to give priority to the churches and people of Latin America and the Caribbean.

They hope the Nov. 3-4 joint meeting of the United Methodist Council of Bishops and Council of Evangelical Methodist Churches in Latin America (CIEMAL) in Puerto Rico will help foster increased attention from the United Methodist Church to its partnership with the 19 Methodist bodies in the region.

Advocates for the Latin America/Caribbean emphasis include representatives of MARCHA (Methodists Associated to Represent the Cause of Hispanic Americans) and related staff at the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries. The board has a permanent fund called "Encounter With Christ" that is raising money to support mission partnerships for Methodist churches throughout the Southern Hemisphere.

In November 2001, MARCHA approved a resolution, in cooperation with CIEMAL, requesting the denomination make Latin America and the Caribbean a "missional priority" for the 2005-2008 quadrennium.

The resolution calls for the denomination to work with CIEMAL to provide ministries in the areas of evangelism and church growth; leadership development, health and community ministries; ministries with women, children and youth; and ministries with Afro-Caribbean, Afro-Latin American and indigenous peoples.

In some areas, assistance is desperately needed, MARCHA says. The Caribbean, for example, is second only to sub-Saharan Africa in the number of adults infected with HIV, and HIV/AIDS has become a leading cause of death in several countries. In addition, more than half of the 468 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean live in extreme poverty, including millions of children who live on the streets, struggling to survive.

The region's Methodist churches are growing and need strong partnerships with the United Methodist Church to continue their witness and mission opportunities, according to MARCHA.

Supporters of the proposal for a mission emphasis on Latin America met in August in Chicago. Mary Silva, MARCHA's executive director, pointed to the connection between ministry with those in the region and Hispanics in the United States. "If the church is to respond to the growing number of Hispanics in this country," she said, "the church needs to understand and be in ministry with Latin American countries because our people are emigrating from there."

Bishop Elias Galvan of Seattle noted that more involvement with churches of the Southern Hemisphere "would give our churches a better understanding of Latin American cultures so they can be more effective in ministry right here."

Besides the Council of Bishops, supporters of the mission priority will take their request to the General Council on Ministries, other general agencies and, eventually, to the denomination's top legislative body, General Conference, which meets in April 2004 in Pittsburgh.

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