Meet the people of the UMC Missionary Conferences at Mission u 2017

July 03, 2017
Connie Takamine
Mission u Study Leader
Submitted by James L Gulley
Mission u Dean

“Christian mission” has, at times, focused on lands far away, overlooking people and places which have often been isolated from social and economic opportunities and media attention in the U.S.  Over the past century, United Methodists (and their parent churches) have reached out to people in the Appalachian mountains and Native Americans in Oklahoma and Alaska, connecting in mission and ministry through our unique “missionary conferences”.  Study leaders Betsy Keyack, Connie Takamine and Elliott Wright will all be sharing their personal experiences working in and with our three U.S. missionary conferences.  

Betsy Keyack recently visited Red Bird Missionary Conference in Appalachia and noted the beauty of the Appalachian landscape, defined by “dense forests of tall maple, oak and pine trees … alive with birds – cardinals, warblers and songsters“ alongside “Small settlements and homes … scattered far and wide in this very rural area…. However, ”The shrinking of coal mining as the economic backbone Appalachia has eroded opportunities for people in several counties where median income is among the lowest in the U.S.  The negative impact of coal mining on mountaintops, forests and streams is evident in many places."  Come to Mission u 2017 to learn how we United Methodists (can) continue to be connected in mission WITH the people of the missionary conferences. (Read the full account of Betsy’s visit below.)

Mission u 2017 offers three transformative mission education opportunities to learn, grow and engage in God’s mission in new places and new ways:
  • The Missionary Conferences of the UMC in the United States: Alaska, Oklahoma Indian Missionary, and Redbird Missionary Conferences - The history of the three Missionary conferences in the US is a rich story. The story is also about class and race. The study provides an overview of the three conferences, the contexts out of which they grew, and their current engagements. What does the future look like for these conferences?
  • Living as a Covenant Community - Covenants are found in the Bible from the moment God created man and woman until the last page of Revelation. We will discover that covenantal living calls us to acts of mercy and justice with all. As we grow to understand the divine covenants made by God with our ancestors, and thus with us, our faith and our lives will transform.
  • Climate Justice: Call to Hope and Action - This study is designed to deepen your understanding and awareness of climate change and its impact on God's creation. It will offer us Biblical, theological, and ethical insight as a basis of our advocacy on climate justice in churches and in the public sphere. [NB:  Offered only on Saturday, July 22, 2017 at St. Andrew UMC.]
         The first two Mission u 2017 events target clergy and lay people who can
         participate more readily in mid-week courses:
                  •  Wednesday, July 19 – University Park UMC, Denver, CO
                  •  Friday and/or Saturday, July 21 and 22 – St. Andrew UMC, Highlands Ranch, CO
         To register for these events now online, go to:
         Register for other 1-day events at:
We look forward to meeting you colleagues in mission and ministry at University Park UMC, St. Andrew UMC in July 2017.

Red Bird Missionary Conference – by Betsy Keyack
Betsy Keyack, Mission u Study LeaderThe landscape is lush – dense forests of tall maple, oak and pine trees rising up beside curvy mountain roads and streams. The woods are alive with birds – cardinals, warblers and songsters I have never heard before! Occasional bright green fields accent the view. Small settlements and homes are scattered far and wide in this very rural area in the Appalachian Mountains. This is the setting for the United Methodist Red Bird Missionary Conference in southeast Kentucky. This part of Kentucky is beloved home to its families. If I could use one word to describe Red Bird it is “COMMUNITY.”
Red Bird has its origins in the 1920’s when people in isolated mining villages longed for churches and schools. Today, 23 churches, 4 outreach centers and three major agencies – Red Bird Mission, Red Bird Clinic and Henderson Settlement - bring people together to take care of their spiritual, emotional, physical, educational and material needs.
Red Bird Missionary Conference (Advance # 773978) ministers with people in several counties, some of the poorest in the United States in terms of median income. In one county, most people don’t have running water. The coal industry, once a major source of employment for the citizens of the area, has declined since the 1980’s, creating a new class of poor citizens. Coal mining and processing plants have laid off miners or shut down entirely due to lower demand for coal nationwide, as well as automation. Many people have lost their homes.  Needless to say, unemployment is very high. There are some other job opportunities, but they are farther away and low-paying.
Over time, coal mining has caused water pollution. The mining companies, doing mountain-top removal, have not reclaimed the land and replanted trees, causing more damage from floods and wind. If some mines open up again due to less environmental regulation, what would people choose?
By the way, a “missionary conference” is a special entity designed to do creative and unique ministry in an area with special needs. The Red Bird Missionary Conference ministers in a region where resources are insufficient to maintain an adequate program without outside help. It looks to the church-at-large for support.
When I visited Red Bird recently I saw images of children, teens, parents and elderly people participating in a variety of events and ministries at the churches under the Conference’s wing. The churches were alive with love, care and fellowship. In addition to the churches, the four outreach centers provide food, “meals on wheels” for seniors, clothing, and youth and drug recovery programs.
The major agencies supported by United Methodist Women and the United Methodist Advance are Red Bird Mission (Advance  773726 ), Red Bird Clinic (Advance  773724  ) and Henderson Settlement (Advance 773365).
The Red Bird Mission is awesome. Programs include an impressive preschool and K-12 school (Advance 773728), serving about 260 children and youth; food and clothing assistance; a clean water kiosk; benefit counseling; elderly ministries; baby pantry; mother-to-mother group; adult education; and after-school enrichment. Extensive housing is provided for Volunteers in Mission teams. There is also a craft store, where homemade quilts, baskets and other items made locally are sold. In addition, there is an emerging farming program, in which people are encouraged to raise their own food organically and “can” the produce.
The coolest program I heard of is the Family-to-Family program that connects families in the Red Bird Conference with “sponsor” families in another state. The sponsor family regularly sends funds for food and a meaningful connection is established between the two families, writing letters back and forth.
The Red Bird clinic, on the campus of Red Bird Mission, partners with the closest hospital, about 35 minutes away. It provides a variety of medical and dental services and wellness programs. Clients may have insurance or Medicaid. There is a sliding-scale fee for procedures not covered by insurance.
Henderson Settlement is in the community of Frakes, a couple of hours west of Red Bird Mission. Here, unemployment is about 50%. What impressed me the most was the number of Volunteers in Mission teams that come to Henderson. In 2016, there were 2500 volunteers, who completed 400 community projects, mainly home repairs, and 150 “campus” projects! A 34th home build was finished. “To get a new roof or broken windows replaced or a handicap ramp to name a few when no real opportunity to fix it yourself is available is a true blessing for so many people in this area.” The relationships formed between homeowners and volunteers are priceless.
I hope many of you sign up for the Mission u study, “Missionary Conferences of the United Methodist Church” to learn more about the people in the special communities with which the United Methodist Women and Global Ministries are in ministry!
Our Mission u studies are both informational and spiritual. I will close with a quote by John Wesley from one of the books I have read in preparation for facilitating the study. It is about how we receive and act on the inspiration of the Spirit:

“…the continual inspiration of God’s Holy Spirit: God’s breathing into the soul. And the soul’s breathing back what it first receives from God; a continual action of God on the soul, and reaction of the soul on God; an unceasing presence of God, the loving, pardoning God, manifested to the heart, and perceived by faith and an unceasing return of love, praise and prayer, offering up all the thoughts of our hearts, all the words of our tongues, all the works of our hands, all our body, soul and spirit…”