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Korean churches hope to continue shared mission work in Mongolia (UM News)

May 24, 2023

The United Methodist Mongolia Mission Initiative Summit gathered at Christ United Methodist Church in Honolulu with participants from Mongolia, South Korea and [the U.S.] to discuss the ministry’s future and direction.

The United Methodist Board of Global Ministries sent Helen May Shepherd as the first United Methodist missionary to Mongolia in 2002. The next year, the Association of Korean United Methodist Churches celebrated its centennial anniversary at Christ United Methodist Church in Honolulu, the first overseas church started by Korean immigrants on Nov. 10, 1903. 

At the anniversary gathering, the association committed to the Mongolia Mission, which is when Christ Church became the birthplace of the Mongolia Mission of Korean Churches.

In 2012, Global Ministries adopted the Mongolia Mission as its official mission initiative and asked the Council of Bishops to assign a presiding bishop. Bishop Jeremiah Park has served that role since then.

The mission marked its 20th anniversary in October 2022 and celebrated the ordination of the first two local elders in the country.

However, since the 2019 Special General Conference created a temporary law allowing churches in the United States to leave the denomination with their assets despite the denomination’s trust clause, a number of Korean churches are expected to disaffiliate — including a few of the most active Korean churches of the Mongolia Mission. 

One of the most frequently used phrases during the May 10-13 mission summit was “such a time as this,” which Mordecai said to Esther in Esther 4:14.

In his opening sermon, Bishop Park emphasized the importance of oneness in mission in such a time as this, regardless of theological understandings.

“We want our church to turn around and start moving in the right direction. Where does the breakthrough come from? Mission is the answer. … When mission is alive, church comes alive,” he said. 

Park acknowledged that there are differing strategies, methods and emphasis for the mission, but he said the best way of fulfilling the mission of the church can be summed up in two words: Better Together. 

Dr. Sang Curtis Lee, one of the mission initiative’s most active lay members, shared his experience for the past 20 years as a medical doctor. 

“People want to do good works regardless of their faiths and denominations,” he said. “I just became a channel for their involvement in a mission, and I was able to raise an unimaginable amount of money for Gerelt Church, which finished its building project recently, and for other medical mission works.”

The Rev. Dexter Ceballos from the Philippines, a Global Ministries missionary to Mongolia since 2022, honored Shepherd’s work at the Cancer Center in Ulaanbaatar in 2002. She started Grace Hospice Home & Care in 2005, which has provided care for more than 2,500 advanced-stage cancer patients.

One of the highlights of his report was the dedication service of Grace Hospice Home & Center, which was held on Oct. 4, 2022. Grace Hospice Home & Center has a new name, “Энэрэнгүй харц LLC” — meaning “Compassionate Sight LLC” — and is certified for medical services.

Ceballos, who serves as Grace Ministries’ director, remarked on the significant contribution of Korean United Methodist churches toward the facilities. 

“The Korean churches have raised about $250,000 for the hospice center and its equipment,” he said. “This signified and demonstrated the partnership and commitment of the Korean United Methodist Church community to the Mongolian Mission Initiative.”

There was time to share voices from the mission’s leaders, and as they intensively discussed the future and direction of the ministry, all agreed to collaborate on the mission regardless of denominational division and theological differences.

Lee also asked if the Board of Global Ministries and Mongolia Mission Initiative are willing to continue to open the door to collaboration between The United Methodist Church and the Global Methodist Church, a theologically conservative breakaway denomination that launched last year. Lee is a lay elder of the Korean United Methodist Church of Metro Detroit, which recently voted to leave The United Methodist Church.

“I hope we focus on the mission field so that the Mongolian people are not hurt and victimized by our division,” he said. “We should be able to create an atmosphere where we can share our interest in the common mission and cooperate comfortably and peacefully together at such a time as this.”

The Rev. Eugene Han of Christ United Methodist Church in Honolulu shared Lee’s hope that though theology may divide the denomination, shared mission work would continue.

“God blesses a missional church. Mission itself is a gift from God but also sharing grace,” Han said. “For the future and solid leadership of Mongolia Mission, we must walk together as a local church and pastor, even though we are separated.”

The Rev. Jonathan S. Lee just returned from a Cambodia mission trip and shared what he learned. He is the pastor of Aiea Korean United Methodist Church in Hawaii, which has also voted to disaffiliate.  

“We are here because of Mongolia Mission despite having different theological viewpoints. We need to learn and benchmark from the Cambodia Mission Initiative at such a time as this,” he said. “The United Methodist Church, Korean Methodist Church and Singapore Methodist Church are uniting in mission in Cambodia.”

Bishop Park agreed with Lee’s comment. “Even though a couple is divorced, they support a child together. The Mongolia mission is Korean churches’ baby. Let us embrace the missional heart in us.”

The Rev. Paul Kong, who has been the Asia Pacific regional office representative for more than six years, agreed with those suggestions and projected the direction of the mission.

“We respond to and collaborate with other partners in Asia, including Mongolia, with deep cultural sensitivity. With mission partners, we are able to multiply our efforts in sharing the love of Christ,” he said. 

Kong said he expects the Mongolian churches will form their own denomination, adding that they don’t have to be a United Methodist church because they are unique and different culturally.

“We cannot impose and export the Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church,” he said. “It will be totally up to their decision for their future denomination.” 

Bishop Park said the summit’s most important accomplishment was identifying positive stories that can be shared with the broader community while agreeing they must not convey their problems to their Mongolian brothers and sisters. 

“Even though we are different theologically, we must honor and respect each other. We must love each other. Even if we belong to other denominations, we belong to Christ,” he said.