"When Barnabas arrived in Antioch and saw what the grace of God had done, he was glad. He told them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul. He found him and brought him to Antioch. For a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church. They taught large numbers of people. At Antioch the believers were called Christians for the first time." (Acts 11:23, 25-26)
By BISHOP ROBERT HAYES JR.
In its era, Antioch was the third largest city, exceeded only by Rome and Alexandria. Its geographic location made it a major military and economic trade center, supplying spices and silk, among other items, to an emerging cosmopolitan population. The city itself claimed two names, "Queen of the East" and "The Cradle of Christianity."
Historians believe that, at some point, more than half-a-million people resided there, from all over the known world. That mixture of people became both the greatest strength and the greatest weakness for Antioch.
With so many people of different races and nations, the city never was able to unite them, to bring them together for a common cause -- not until Barnabas and Saul (later to be known as Paul) showed up.
After the stoning of Stephen in Jerusalem, Christians fled to Antioch. There they organized a little church and soon became the talk of the city. Barnabas arrived, saw what God was doing, and was so impressed that he went in search of Saul.
When the two men returned, they spent an entire year teaching great numbers of church members. That collective influence on the city and the people was so great that even their detractors identified them as Christians: people whose lives exhibited the character and principles of the risen Savior.
The church welcomed people of all races, creeds, and origins to worship side-by-side, thus turning Antioch’s characteristic weakness into a powerfully strong connection. Later, when the Roman Empire began to crumble, the single force that held together the world was literally the far-flung fellowship of Christians!
"Holding the world together" is the best way for me to describe the mission presence of the Oklahoma Conference.
Later this month, when the gavel sounds, calling to order our yearly gathering of laity and clergy, we will open an Annual Conference devoted to highlighting our extensive mission work. The people and churches of the Oklahoma Conference engage in one of the strongest mission programs in the entire United Methodist denomination. Did you know that? Our work exceeds that of most annual conferences and, in many cases, matches the work of entire jurisdictions, which often average several thousand churches!
Through in-person mission service by individuals and teams, through our Apportionment and extra-mile Advance giving, through prayer vigils and advocacy efforts, the Oklahoma Conference is present in a host of places.
We respond after wildfires rage in Oklahoma and earthquakes ravage Haiti. We staff medical clinics in Mexico, dig into construction work in the Philippines, and lead Vacation Bible Schools in Alaska. We help launch a school in Liberia, a university in Zimbabwe, and a seminary in Russia. We serve meals and fill backpacks with healthy snacks. We donate Bibles in communities where the faithful have been sharing one.
Our children collect coins for other Oklahoma children whose parents are incarcerated. Our teens knock on doors and pray for strangers behind those doors. Our young adults refurbish our camps as well as make repairs at a high school on the Texas-Mexico border.
We are a collective force for good near and far, building and repairing, reaching out to meet ministry needs. We serve on Christ’s behalf in South Africa, Vietnam, Bolivia, Palestine, China, and the Caribbean, among other nations. Here in the United States, we support hundreds of mission projects, assisting immense numbers of people.
The reason we feel so strongly about missions can be found in our beliefs that Christ belongs to all and that it is our responsibility to share him and be engaged in meaningful assistance to people of all races, creeds, and nations.
Much like the church in Antioch, our mission work forms the glue that holds the world together. If you have ever been on a mission trip, you can attest that, in serving alongside people new to you, sharing the Good News with them, you become bonded with them and also even closer to Christ.
The word "mission" is a great word that embraces the whole task of the Church. According to Scripture, we are "the company of the sent." Christians are committed, set apart, and willing to preach and witness to a Gospel that compels us to "go."
An Oklahoma Volunteer In Mission was talking about Christianity and Jesus Christ with some young people for the first time. The volunteer told the stories of how Jesus lived, taught, and healed the sick. "Oh, yes, I have heard of him!" one youngster said. "My father knows him. He is the doctor who comes to our village every year from the church in America."