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Finding a Partner in Ministry Across the Street

March 5, 2014

When HiRho Park wanted to provide opportunities and support for clergywomen in Latin America, she encountered one big problem. There aren’t many ordained clergywomen in Latin America.

In January, with a little help from a good neighbor in Nashville, Tenn., Park coordinated a historic event: The Latin American and Caribbean Methodist Women Leadership Conference.

By partnering with The Upper Room, a ministry of the General Board of Discipleship of the United Methodist Church, the Director of Clergy Lifelong Learning of the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry was able to what seemed impossible.

There are currently only two Methodist ordained clergywomen in Ecuador, three in Perú, eight in Chile, none in Costa Rica, less than 10 in México, one in Panamá, and about 20 in Argentina. 

In recent years, Park had coordinated large gatherings of United Methodist clergywomen in other regions around the world. Nearly 300 clergywomen received support and consultation in the Philippines in 2011. More than 350 gathered in Africa in 2012. Attendance for these central conferences was not an issue; they were only lacking the resources to provide a high level of networking and leadership development for their clergywomen.

Then came a request from Latin America.

"HiRho, can you provide such an event for Latin American women?" asked Guillermo Yoshikawa, president of the Peruvian United Methodist Church during the 2012 General Conference.

Park explains, "Every region has its own culture and complications, of course, but when Dr. Yoshikawa expressed interest in our work for women, I was overjoyed.”

Because of her worldwide travels connecting with various publishing partners of The Upper Room, Publisher Sarah Wilke was eager to partner with Park. The Upper Room daily devotional guide is distributed in 100 countries, in 35 languages, including a Spanish edition (El Aposento Alto) and a Portuguese edition (no Cenáculo). In nearly every Latin American country, there are men and women giving time and service to help translate and distribute the devotional guide to their home countries.

The United Methodist Women contributed $2,500 to the event and General Secretary Harriet Olson attended.

Wilke agreed to not only connect the GBHEM director with women leaders in the region; she agreed that The Upper Room would sponsor seven women, all individuals who facilitate the ministry of The Upper Room in their home countries.

Many phone calls, e-mails, and travel arrangements later, 75 women, representing 14 countries in Latin American and the Caribbean participated in a three day Methodist Women Leadership Conference at the Retreat Center of Kawai, Perú.

“The Methodist Church in Latin America is in a different than the US, Africa, Europe, and Asia concerning women’s journey to ordained ministry,” Park adds. “We need to open doors for Latin American women and help them envision what is next for them in their own culture and church.”

Workshops on the topics of violence against women, self-esteem, leadership skills, sexual abuse, universal history of women, women in leadership roles, discrimination of women in the church, and women in ordained ministry were made possible because of the collaboration between the various Methodist agencies.

“As good Methodists, we made connections!” said the Rev. Debbie Weatherspoon, minister of Los Altos United Methodist Church in Los Altos, Calif. “As a pastor serving a local church, I returned to my setting energized about the connection with the Upper Room, the United Methodist Women, the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, and the Methodist Church in Latin America.”

“The Upper Room is where the world meets to pray,” said Wilke about why this event is significant to the ministry. “We always seek ways to deepen our relationships and commitments with international partners. Together, we create a worldwide network of prayer, a global ministry of connecting people to each other and to God.”

“From many contexts, many languages, and many countries,” Weatherspoon added. “God is good! Dios es bueno!”