“God’s got the whole world in God’s hands,” the choir sang at worship April 27 at General Conference.
Both Bishop Minera Carcaño of the Phoenix Area and the Rev. Mark Derby of Grace UMC in Gaithersburg know this to be absolutely true.
Carcaño preached on the story in Mark 5 of Jesus and the Gerasene demoniac named Legion. She drew parallels between this lost soul in the Gospel story, who dwelt in a wasteland, and the thousands of immigrants who are swallowed up and die each year trying to cross the deserts of the southwest United States.
Crossing that 60 miles of desert in 120 degree heat without food can drive a person mad. But people still come because they seek bread and hope, Carcaño said.
She celebrated the placing of water tanks in the desert by United Methodist volunteers. Why would we, why would the church, want to leave anyone to die in the desert, she asked.
Why would anyone choose to allow the poverty and suffering that affects 80 percent of the people in this world?
The desperation of many immigrants and the severity and scope of poverty can feel overwhelming, the bishop admitted.
In fact, she sometimes finds herself doubting that United Methodists can faithfully achieve their vision of overcoming poverty in community with the poor.
“I’m not sure we’re smart enough, disciplined enough or compassionate enough. But I don’t lose hope, because there is hope beyond ourselves,” she said. “That hope beyond ourselves is Christ Jesus.”
In Gaithersburg, Derby also finds hope in Christ as he works in ministry with immigrants who struggle in a new land.
He is also discovering hope at this General Conference in the bishops, who seem to him to be providing more “visionary leadership” to guide the denomination as it wrestles with its vision and identity.
Derby is also hopeful because more people at the General Conference seem to be interested in unity.
The 2004 General Conference went to the brink of significant division, he said. At this conference, the delegates seem to be less interested in winning and losing and more concerned about “speaking the truth in love.”
That truth, for him, is not watered down. On issues like homosexuality, he has reached out to people with differing views and sought to understand the theological basis of their thoughts.
So many of the issues facing General Conference around grounded in a theology of the nature of God, Derby said.
“If we are created in the image of God, when we begin to understand who God is, we can start to understand who we are,” he said.
But how do we fully and faithfully reflect on these issues?
For Derby and Carcaño, it’s a matter of realizing that “it’s not an easy journey.” But the starting point of conversations needs to be a realization that we should never be less than God created us to be, they say.
With that realization, hope is born – a hope beyond ourselves.