|Twila Gibbens-Rickman and Lesly Broadbent take turns pouring water as 38 clergy and spouses are memorialized. (Photos by Holly McCray)
By Holly McCray
Testimonies of transformed lives motivated delegates at the 2010 Oklahoma Annual Conference, May 30-June 2, at Boston Avenue United Methodist Church in Tulsa.
Theme was "Following the Plan—Faithful Witness, Transforming Presence." Again and again, personal stories of God’s power spurred standing ovations in the Boston Avenue sanctuary, and surely inspired people watching the live broadcast online.
I grew up wildly unchurched," said Temple Diehl. Then as an expectant mother, she accepted a friend’s invitation to attend a worship service only after eliciting promises that no one would hug her and that she could dress casually. When the baby was born prematurely, Diehl said, the church "overwhelmed us with love. They were the hands and body of Christ."
Today, Rev. Diehl is the United Methodist pastor at Elmore City, and her daughter is a student at Oklahoma City University. Diehl spoke during the evangelism report by the Discipleship Ministry Team.
Throughout his first summer at Tulsa-Southern Hills, Pastor Jeff Jaynes said, the church office was the only room used on weekdays. "We needed transformation," he said.
A mile from the church, families lived in government-supported housing. "Parents kept their kids inside because there was no safe place for them to go," said Rev. Jaynes.
Then Southern Hills became a host site for Project Transformation, a United Methodist literacy day-camp, held in summertime. The first camp on site served 60 children.
Four years later, rooms and halls teem with activity at the church. Visiting the nearby elementary school, "I hear shouts of ‘Pastor Jeff!’ from kids who can’t wait to come back to camp," Jaynes said.
"We have seen when God’s people are faithful to God’s call, amazing things can happen. For two years, a church that once struggled with Apportionments has paid them in full by May. We have grown numerically in people, too. I have been transformed by this. Your prayers—we covet them."
Between June 7 and July 29, Project Transformation will serve about 500 youngsters in Tulsa, Oklahoma City, and Bartlesville.
Now a young adult, Alethia Bartley was age 7 when she went on her first mission trip. With writing help from adults in her church, she gave her first sermon at age 11. At 16, she became a Lay Speaker. At Oklahoma City University, her studies related to social justice have been "a direct result of growing up United Methodist," she said.
Bartley challenged perceptions that limit young people to future church leadership.
"My church treated me as the NOW," she emphasized in the Board of Laity report. "Let’s raise our leaders as the NOW, no matter what age!"
"Above all I have achieved, I am a Christian," said Tao Tao, a member of Edmond Chinese International UMC. She was baptized there nine years ago. She is a new mother and a certified public accountant. She told her story of transformation as part of the report by the Department of Congregational Development.
"While I continue to grow in Christ, so does my church," Tao said. "I got a baby; my church got a new building!"
Initially, a multi-ethnic group of 14 college students gathered in a small room for Bible study. Tao was one of two students from her native region of China. Today, more than 25 adults from Tao’s homeland are among 150 people worshipping in a church building purchased merely months ago. The mortgage has been paid in full.
A member of the church’s Finance Committee, Tao quoted Malachi and spoke of "first fruits." She described donating her first paycheck to the church after she began working. She said practicing tithing is teaching her "to revere God first."
Pointing to scars on his head, a former member of the Aryan Brotherhood told of his prison conversion experience, then introduced his fiancée, who is African-American. The couple has found a source of Christian support in Exodus House, a program of Criminal Justice & Mercy Ministries (CJAMM).