Oklahoma Conference of the United Methodist Church

Partnering in mission for God


Over seafood empanadas in Chile, the lay leader of Concepción District and Karen Distefano of Oklahoma, right, discuss projects.

Delegation’s visit will bring news of Methodism in Chile

An upcoming visit to Annual Conference by Chile’s new Methodist bishop will spotlight Oklahoma United Methodists’ interest in a partnership with that South American country.
The Oklahoma Conference is looking forward to a visit from Jorge Merino, who assumed the position of bishop to the Church in Chile in early February, said Jeremy Basset, director of Oklahoma’s Office of Mission.
Bishop Merino is expected to bring three people with him as part of a visiting delegation, Rev. Basset said. The members of the delegation will visit various churches in Oklahoma to discuss the needs of Chile’s Evangelical Methodist Church.
Purpose of the visit is for the Chileans to tell Oklahomans “what their priorities are (and) what we can contribute,” Basset said.
What is being called the Chile/Oklahoma Encounter is an “emerging mission focus” for the Oklahoma Conference, Basset said. The hope is that a covenant partnership will develop, with specific priorities.
He expects plans for the partnership to include working with the indigenous Mapuche people, addressing needs of Haitian refugees in Chile, and repairing or rebuilding earthquake-damaged infrastructure.
“We will focus on what they ask us to focus on,” Basset said. He expects most of the need will arise between the northern side of the long, skinny country and its central-south region.
Priorities also probably will include working with the Chileans to develop Church leadership and make disciples of young people, he said.
“We are not going there to be the saviors — we’re going to go there to work with them,” said Karen Distefano, coordinator for the Chile/Oklahoma Encounter. She also is the Oklahoma Conference secretary of Global Ministries.
While at a meeting in Colombia about two years ago, Distefano and Basset met Bishop Pedro Correa, the Chilean Methodist Church’s episcopal leader at the time. Their conversations continued, resulting today in Oklahoma’s emerging covenant with the Church in Chile.
“Resources are limited, and they need help,” Distefano said.
The Church in Chile has about 8,000 members, a tiny fraction of the country’s population of 18 million, she said. Many of Chile’s residents are Catholics.
The Chilean Methodists have focused on places that “needed most to hear The Word” — places beset by gang violence, drug activity, child abandonment, and economic difficulties for single parents, she said.
During an Oklahoma Volunteers In Mission scouting visit to Chile in 2017, Distefano and Lori Foster identified some key projects, including churches and parsonages that had sustained earthquake damage, Distefano said.
Foster is VIM coordinator in the Office of Mission.
They also learned of a congregation meeting in a building without a roof and requests from a school in Santiago that is focused on students who are differently abled — those with autism, cerebral palsy, and Down syndrome.
Oklahoma churches interested in participating in mission work in Chile or getting a visit from a member of the delegation during its visit in May should contact Distefano by phone at 918-440-9213 or by email at kdistefano@okumc.org.  

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