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Dr. Julia McLean Williams served for 10 years as a missionary with the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries in Bolivia in community development and Christian Education. She has directed some 16 mission teams to South America. Currently she is the President-Emeritus of the Mission Society for United Methodists and serves with Enterprise Development International in Fairfax, Virginia. This is the text of an address she gave to "CONVO - 90" at the Galt House in Louisville, Kentucky in 1990.

When Convo 1990 was in the planning stage, I was invited to come and tell the story of my own personal journey in the church and missions. Mine is both a story of God's call upon an ordinary life to be obedient to the Great Commission and a story of the mission of the Church.

I grew up in a parsonage home in the Louisiana Conference. We moved every four or five years-as was the custom then-from North Louisiana to South Louisiana and places in between. There were seven children in Slim and Lucille McLean's family. I was one of the twins, born at home while my Daddy was attending annual conference. When we drove into any new town on moving day in the month of November, we were the social event of the season. Everyone was certain that seven children would wreck the parsonage, but they soon calmed down when they found out what kind of housekeeper Mama was. Of course, it didn't hurt that we filled up at least two rows in church and that as time went on, those who were "just friends of the family" increased church attendance, the church roll and its financial resources.

We heard about what Daddy and Mama expected of us and what God expected of us at home and in the church. We learned early on that, even with our own big family and the larger one of the local congregation, we were just a small part of an even larger family that lived around the world. From the big, soft Bible beside the dining table we learned about the kingdom of God. At night when we went to bed we heard stories from a thick, illustrated book, Hulbert's Stories of the Bible, and discovered what happens to ordinary people when they become God's people.

One Sunday Daddy invited a bishop from Mexico to speak at our church. He ate Sunday dinner with us. Between my plate and his was a lone English pea on the starched tablecloth. He pointed to it, winked and said, "Mine? or yourrrrrs?" It was then that I heard for the first time the trilled "r"s of the language I would one day learn in order to share the message of Christ in Bolivia, South America.

On Wednesdays after school the World Friendship Circle met in our parlor. Present at every meeting was a giant map with mysterious names all over it.


Seven days a week the church nurtured our lives for service in that world. Wednesday night prayer meeting was as essential to our health as the spoon of black strap molasses Mama gave us every night. I remember the first prayer meeting at the last church Daddy served in New Iberia, Louisiana. It was moving day. Daddy had been transferred from Crowley, Louisiana, just 25 miles away, in one of those mid-year moves caused by a death in the conference. We arrived just in time for a quick supper and then ran next door to the church to meet our new church family. Daddy was the last one to arrive. He had hastily unpacked and changed into his new seersucker suit from Sears Roebuck. As he lifted his well-worn Bible to read the Scripture, there dangling from the button on his sleeve was the price [tag] of his new suit. My sister and I, both college students, broke into gales of laughter. Daddy stopped and asked what was so funny, and then joined our laughter; the congregation followed.

I learned a lot from my preacher Daddy: his view of the world and of his Heavenly Father, the value he placed on the Scripture and the place of prayer in his life. I was deeply affected by the way he serenely met the complexities of a minister's life.

And then there was Mama. She was his help in his work and was a giant in her own right! After I had become a missionary, she went with me back to where Daddy had served when I was six years old to hear me speak. Mama came into the church after the prelude had begun. When the people recognized her, they all rose from their seats to hug her and to applaud her presence. Her arrival literally broke up the service. She was a great woman.

My faith was nurtured by Daddy and Mama and by all those precious souls who faithfully shared our church life in Franklinton, Vivian, Bastrop, Crowley and New Iberia, Louisiana. Daddy had great expectations for me and for all his children. He expected us to continue to grow spiritually and to serve the Lord he served. In my first Bible he wrote the verse: "Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed" (2 Timothy 2: 15a, KJV).

Daddy died just two weeks before I graduated from college. He went home one Sunday in May after preaching a communion service and died of a heart attack. In his pocket we found these words written on a used envelope:

Some Other hands by love inspired
And gifted for the task
Will reap the harvest in my stead
What more could mortals ask?

Twenty years later Mama died, holding my hand and my sister's, talking to us about our families and to God about being ready to be with Him.


No story about my journey could be complete without recognizing the heritage of faith I received through Mama, Daddy and that group of faithful servants in those churches who took seriously the command of Christ. They made sure not only that I heard his command but that I understood it as well.


The words of Hebrews 12:1-2a come alive to me today because of them. These verses honor our heritage and unite us with those who have gone before. The testimony of those who have gone before us challenges us to be obedient. Think about those around you here at Convo 1990 as you reflect on these words:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross.. .(Hebrews 12:1-2a).

You and I are those whom God calls to do his work in our time. We came here to Convo 1990 to reaffirm the imperative of world evangelization and to renew our own commitment to this task as we enter the decade of the 1990s.

My Story

Perhaps my story can be helpful as we look at what it means to lay aside every encumbrance. Laying aside encumbrances means to be set free of entangling sin within ourselves and our church. It means being able to run, not only with endurance but with the joy Jesus knew, the race before us. That race is the mission of the Church!

During this convocation several prominent bishops and outstanding United Methodist pastors of our great church have inspired us. But I come as a layperson. I represent the millions of United Methodists who look to our bishops, our pastors and our church to nurture and guide us. We live out our Christian faith from the pews, the Sunday School rooms, the vacation church schools, the mission studies, the United Methodist Women's groups, the neighborhood prayer fellowships and the places across this land where we minister outside the doors of the church.

My roles in the United Methodist Church since those early days of being nurtured in a parsonage have been many. I've served as a Sunday school teacher, youth leader, choir member and UMW member. I studied missions at Scarritt, went to Costa Rica to learn Spanish and served as a missionary for the Board of Global Ministries to Bolivia, South America. I have led work teams to Central and South America and have interpreted the mission of the church as a core interpreter for the World Division. I organized Volunteers In Mission in the North Carolina Conference and taught missions in local churches at both conference and jurisdictional levels. On one occasion I was named Layperson of the Year in the North Carolina Conference. I have been Dean of the VIM rally at Lake Junaluska, and served five years as President of the Board of Missions in the North Carolina Conference. Since 1985 I have served on the Dialogue Committee mandated by General Conference in 1984. Now I am Chief Operations Officer of The Mission Society for United Methodists. With 61 years under my belt, I've done a lot!

Each of these roles placed me in direct and close contact with the lay people I represent. I want to show you who they are and share some of our thinking for the decade ahead of us. My twin brother, Jim McLean, professor of art at Georgia State University and a former United Methodist pastor, drew some cartoons to illustrate; I think you will recognize yourself and your church friends in them.

Ed and Eva Earnest just had their first baby. Even before he was born they began to realize that for their child to be well and happy it really matters not only what they believe but what the world believes. Since they wanted the best of life for their child and needed help, they took him to church on a bright Sunday morning to have him dedicated to God in baptism. The minister asked them some pointed questions on how they would "exercise all godly care" that he be brought up in the Christian faith, be taught the Holy Scriptures and attend church.

They heard those who stood with them say that with God's help, they would order their lives after the example of Christ and endeavor to live so that he could grow in the knowledge and love of God the Father through the Savior Jesus Christ. Eva left wondering if everybody really meant what they said-including themselves!

Malcolm Mediamania is a teenager. He has a hard time getting excited about Christianity-or even hearing about it since his ears and eyes are full of so many things that seem more fun. Most of the adults he knows in church don't seem too excited about it. He goes bowling and to Pizza Hut on Sunday night with the youth, and sometimes they even do a car wash to raise money for a retreat at the beach.

Rita Retired was a school teacher. She now teaches the third grade Sunday school, sits on the third row on the left-hand side of the church and smiles with pride when one of her former students sings a solo. She belongs to the night circle and faithfully pays her pledge each year to the United Methodist Women. She has a hard time with the study books at UMW and usually uses Guideposts or a friend who has been on a trip when it's her time to do the program.

William Wineheart Woe-is-Me ushers every Sunday. His wife insists. He has never voted "yes" on any program of the church and feels missions are a waste since there's enough to do here at home. He really likes the Methodist Men though because they discuss bird hunting and the basketball team. As his head gets balder, his mouth gets bigger.

Grandma Good-as-Gold is an inspiration. She is the one the preacher can ask to pray out loud without notifying her ahead of time. She carries her offering neatly folded in a clean handkerchief and never misses a service. She is a Bible scholar. Everyone loves and respects Grandma but seldom stops to ask why.

Broderick Busy is an extremely successful engineer. He is always tied up-always on his way to or from somewhere and knows three languages. He is a world citizen and has lived in several countries. He is efficient and smart. If he is feeling really benevolent or guilty, he can sit through an entire budget meeting at the church.

Sam and Sally Singles sit on opposite ends of the pew every Sunday. Sam is divorced; Sally is an unwed mother. They come to church regularly to heal their wounds and search for the love that has somehow escaped them. It is better than the "Y" or a singles bar.

Mr. and Mrs. All American and their Children, Smart and Popular, come to church on Sunday morning-a "picture book" family. They feel very safe in the church and we feel very safe when the pews are full of them. There is not a spot of dirt on them, and their sins are clean, perfumed and color coordinated!

Susan Singout is a choir member. We all know what Susan Singout and other choir members give to the life of the church! It is wonderful. I was in a church recently where the choir folks seemed too important. They sang specials and had presentations until seven minutes until 12:00. After hearing the sermon I realized they could have used six more minutes. If we want to know how to manage the church, we should go to the choir room.

Bertha Bureaucrat is a verbose, efficient United Methodist woman. She has followed instructions for the past 20 years, has boycotted everything she was told to and her collar is usually heavy with all kinds of pins she has been awarded for her faithfulness. When she is asked to pray, she reads it right off page 14 of the resource book.

Margaret and Mevil Mall Walker are pillars of the church. They are faithful with their presence and their pledge as they are with their laps around the mall. They aren't quite sure of what Bertha means when she says boycott Shell Oil since their son-in-law owns a Shell Station and doesn't have a mean bone in his body. They love their preacher and always tell him his sermon was good, even if they slept through it.

So great a cloud of witnesses-all kinds of people. In some we recognize ourselves or someone in the church we attend. There are lots of others:

  • the chronically ill
  • the elderly huddled around a TV
  • the young mother who just lost her baby
  • the 60-year-old man who married his 30-year-old secretary
  • the wife he left
  • the dying and
on and on, all sitting beside us right here and now. As the Scripture says, "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders" (Hebrews 12:1). What stands in the way? What encumbrances do we need to lay aside?

The first place we need to look is at ourselves as evangelical Christians. Now here is one perception of who we are. I know you recognize him. I call him Dr. Cash-and-carry Kingdom Builder. Sometimes we leaders in the evangelical community appear to be building our own kingdoms rather than the kingdom. We are notorious for our ego development and for doing "our own thing" even to the detriment of the causes we believe in most. The population of "Cash-and-carries" increases simply by saying, "The Lord told me to do it," which of course justifies everything-or anything.

Finally, there is the "angelic" crowd, the encumbering perfect, "holier-than-thous" who are extremely pious. We think we're just wonderful - and we are of course - but sometimes we act like the only ones who know anything.

As people of God whose eyes are fixed on Jesus, let us lay aside these and any other encumbrances we in this community of faith carry!

I must tell you, and I do it with sadness, that there are many encumbrances in my journey. When I returned from the mission field in 1969, I went straight to the conference office and told them I was a returned missionary and that I wanted to volunteer to help promote missions in my conference. It was fully two years later when the Conference Council on Ministries director called on me to serve, and then only because he accidentally scheduled himself in two places at the same time.

After that, things began to happen. He asked me if I would consider starting a Volunteers In Mission program like the one in the Holston and Western Carolina Conferences. We organized it and conducted five months of training and orientation. The first team went out from Edenton Street Church, the largest United Methodist Church in the conference. It was a huge success! All across the conference the people in the pew began to get excited about being Christians. They were being called on to testify to their faith, to pray and to rely on God. Everyone wanted to go. Not surprisingly, Advance Special giving nearly doubled.

One night when I arrived at a North Carolina beach for a team's orientation, I received a call from a minister. He said, "Julia, you don't know me, but can you meet with me and another minister this afternoon?" When we met they said, "We are district superintendents. We think you should know that the bishop told us in the cabinet to try to stop this 'Bolivia thing' that is getting 'out-of-hand."'

I was shocked! I wept as I said to them, "I feel grief for him and for whatever it is that could motivate such action. But we couldn't stop it if we wanted to! It has been out of our hands for a long time."


Other teams went to Bolivia. The bishop of the church there asked if we could provide a scholarship for the Bolivian who had been our team leader. Before we landed in Miami we had our strategy planned, and in just two months we had raised the funds for two years of study. Since I coordinated everything through the Latin American office in New York, I called to tell them the good news. They were furious!

The next year I took a team to Chile. The Latin American office graciously offered to send a letter of introduction commending us to the church of Chile. When I arrived there with a team of 16 volunteers, the district superintendent and the Board missionary showed me the letter. Attached to it was a personal note from the Latin American director saying, "Watch this woman. She does her own thing."

Again, it was grief I felt; not only because of the note, but because her relationship with that church was so poor that they would share her note with me - a relative stranger - out of their own grief and frustration.

The Volunteers In Mission program multiplied astronomically as a vital movement from the people in the pews across the Southeast. Soon I became a leader in VIM. For three years I served as dean of the United Methodist VIM Conference at Lake Junaluska, North Carolina. At the same time I was speaking all over the Southeast as a core interpreter for the Board of Global Ministries.

Whenever I met a mission board staff person on one of these trips, I would ask the troubling questions people were asking me, such as why there was so much difficulty in getting our funds to the field. None of my questions were ever answered.

In 1980 I was elected to serve on the conference Board of Missions. I was elected its president at the first meeting I attended. I was excited about this and said to myself, "Julia Williams the pew-sitter couldn't get answers, but Julia Williams the conference board president will. I'll have some clout. Our questions will be answered. Our funds will get to the field. Oh, Joy!" How wrong I was!

While all this was happening, I was speaking in churches across the jurisdiction and teaching in mission schools at Lake Junaluska. I was even invited to go to Kentucky to do several district spiritual life retreats for the UMW. I loved what God was calling me to do. My heritage had prepared me for it!

But as I worked as a conference officer, visiting churches and pastors and women across the church and hearing their concerns, I saw more problems and became more filled with grief. My telephone calls to New York were many. Conference calls with our treasurer and the treasurer's office in New York and letters, letters, letters-some signed by our entire board-were answered with one of two attitudes: We were either trouble-makers or were too dumb to understand the intricacies of the connectional system and the complexities of the international scene. They had too much to do to spend time answering their "critics."

Soon I began to ask myself, "What does this mean? I'm not dumb. Our North Carolina Board is not dumb. And many of us have spent more time on the international scene than those who are writing us those miserable responses. Is this what Christians who were nurtured in the church and are eager to serve are supposed to get from the offices which were created to enable us to be obedient to the Great Commission?"

Then one day I got a call from H. T. Maclin. I had known him for some time and had found him to be the only one who seemed to have really heard our concerns. H. T. had been the General Board's field representative for the Southeastern Jurisdiction. He told me how a group of United Methodists who loved their church-people who felt the same as I did-had formed a supplemental missions agency, The Mission Society for United Methodists. He asked me to serve on its board. I was ecstatic because I thought that now we would surely be able to get some issues resolved! I knew and respected many of the people who had organized the Mission Society. I knew that theirs were the finest mission-supporting churches in our denomination. Mostly, I felt hope!

And so I accepted H. T. 's invitation gladly, feeling that the North Carolina Conference could be a real reconciling agent. My conference board fully supported me. In fact, I was elected to the board for a second quadrennium with only three votes against me. But those three votes gave me insight into the next encumbrance. They came from the conference president of the United Methodist Women and the two women who happened to be sitting on either side of her.

A week after I accepted the Mission Society's invitation to be on its board and two weeks before the series of UMW spiritual life retreats were to begin in Kentucky, I received an early morning telephone call. The voice on the phone said to me, "I have never had to do anything so hard, but you are not to come to Kentucky. We are canceling the retreats. You have betrayed the United Methodist Church. We do not want to hear anything you have to say."

I said, "What did you say?" She repeated herself. I asked what was going on. She said they had been at the national UMW conference and found out I was on the board of that "other" agency. They had called New York to verify it and were told that I should not be allowed to speak.

I wept.

The next day a certified letter came saying, "Since you are a part of 'that' agency, we know you will not want to honor your commitment with us. Will you please send us a letter stating the same?"

It did not stop there. I went to Lake Junaluska where for 14 years I had attended Missions Week. That summer I taught on missions in the local church. There were 57 in my class, and we had a great time. Afterward the dean of the Missions Week came to ask me to teach again the next summer. "But you know," he said, "they called us and told us to take you off the program. We argued with them and settled it by agreeing to put a monitor in your class." I called the office and asked, "Did you put a monitor in my class?" "Yes," was the reply.

I wept.

The journey continued. Each year we had more people at the Volunteers In Mission Conference. They were excited "pew people" doing the glorious work of witnessing. Their faith was growing, nurtured by those in all the countries where they went to serve, and they shared the stories here at home of what God was doing in their lives.

In 1985 I was scheduled to give the keynote address at the July VIM Rally and to teach missions once again. As had happened before, the Board in New York wrote and called asking that I be removed from the program. The program chairman refused-but that was the last year I was ever invited to do anything in the Southeast Jurisdiction in Volunteers-in-Mission.

The whole drama was like a horror story to me. It was so far removed from my heritage in a parsonage family in Louisiana and from the nurturing characteristics of the church I loved. Worst of all, I knew that if it was happening to me it must be happening to others as well all over the country.

I searched for answers with my pastor and my bishop; I made appointments, called my district superintendent and wrote letter after letter....

As a Core Interpreter for GBGM, I had known and respected H. T. Maclin. When he asked me to be on the board of the Mission Society and eventually to join the staff, I was thrilled. Now, I felt, I could finally lay aside every encumbrance and run the race! I remember the first Mission Society Board meeting I attended. I arrived late. As I walked into the room, Dr. L. D. Thomas, chairman of the board, got up from his chair and came to hug me and greet me. I thought, there's an expression on his face like Daddy's. Then Ira Gallaway greeted me. I thought he, too, had that expression. As I looked around that room, and as I witnessed the board stopping to pray over and over again as hard issues were discussed, I felt the kind of peace and confidence you always get in the presence of godly people.

What I saw and felt at that meeting really was not complex. It was simple and right and good. And it was of God. It was what every person in every pew across our church hungers for: leaders with their eyes fixed on Jesus!

I had told my children when I left Raleigh to go to my first Mission Society meeting in Atlanta, "Mark this day on your calendar. I'm going to Atlanta to work with people who are part of a great movement of faith that will bring renewal to the church. We will be writing history." And history has proved that prediction to be true.

H. T. warned me that the opposition would be great. But I didn't know what an encumbrance was until I felt the grief and deep sadness we have experienced in our journey to restore the heritage of missions to our great church.

I learned in my journey just how serious is the battle for the soul of our great church.

I've learned in this journey that when God calls us to witness, He enables us to see the enemy clearly. He even gives us the courage to call sin, "sin," and the strength to lay aside its entangling, vicious hold.

We laypersons of the church feel it is time to "throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles" (Hebrews 12:1) us in the United Methodist Church.

It is time for the leaders of the United Methodist Church to tell the staff of the Latin American office of the Board of Global Ministries to stop their concentrated attack on Bishop Roberto Diaz of Costa Rica and the blatant support and funding of those who would destroy the remarkable growth and development of the Evangelical Methodist Church of Costa Rica! It is time for the bishops of our church to reach out to this man who does with his life all we have talked about doing in this Convo.

At the 1989 Convo at Lake Junaluska, we began a network called the Evangelical Coalition for United Methodist Women to empower, educate and equip evangelical United Methodist women. We found out very quickly what the people in the pew think and believe-already more than 600 are in the network. The reaction from the Women's Division was swift also. One official sent a letter to all conference presidents across the nation telling them not to be a part of this "divisive group." The Women's Division stated that they are the only agency that may empower, equip and educate United Methodist women!

Recently I attended the UMW meeting in Kansas. The same kind of careful control was revealed in these statements from the leadership:
  • 10,000 women were there for four days. There was not a single spontaneous prayers; everything was by rote (and they are supposed to be the "liberated" women.)
  • The workshop on Central America was a constant attack on the United States; for example, the action in Panama was not because of Noriega's relationship with his people but to help Bush-it was "a 2 billion dollar drug bust."
  • A joke was told by the leader-"Why has there never been a military coup in the U.S.? Because there is no U.S. Embassy in the U.S." (laughter) There were constant derogatory statements about the U.S.
  • The mission books on Central America show a very limited view of what is happening in Latin America. They speak of liberation theology with no mention, except negatively, of the huge evangelical movement in all of Latin America.
  • I found a new study book on the resource table. Written in March 1990 to supplement the study, it includes false information and another subtle attack on Roberto Diaz.

But as I wrote today's message and thought about what has happened in the years of the Mission Society-and of the renewal we have prayed for-I laughed out loud. Think of what we have already seen:
  1. the birth of Bristol Books,
  2. new Sunday school materials,
  3. an Evangelical Coalition for United Methodist Women,
  4. the Mission Society for United Methodists,
  5. 77 new United Methodist missionaries sent out through the Mission Society for United Methodists, [Note: the total is far higher now in 1999]
  6. the precious progress in the Dialogue,
  7. the Committee on Evangelism in the Board of Global Ministries, and
  8. the tremendous messages of the bishops at this Convo.

Renewal Is Happening!

I want to tell just one of my missionary stories. I just got back from accompanying a team from Tanner-Williams United Methodist Church of Mobile to Costa Rica. I had spoken at their church several times. On my second visit, B. J. Sanderson came up to me and asked, "If we get up a work team, would you take us?" And I said, "Absolutely." Little did I know that in just a few months they were going to have assembled a good-sized team.

We went to Costa Rica last year with the first team, which included B. J., his wife Virginia and 14 others. B. J. recalls that after he suggested his idea, he began to think, "Well, you know, they're going to paint and build. Maybe I shouldn't go. Maybe I should just send my money." But a friend kept saying, "Now look, B. J., you need to go. Maybe you don't understand why God's asking you to go, but there's a reason. Have faith and go." B. J. finally decided to go to Costa Rica.

The first Sunday morning there we went to church. B. J. had a video camera, and he was recording everything on video. I saw him come down the side aisle and ask his wife for the Bible. He went to the back of the church and in a few minutes he motioned for me to come. B. J. was trembling. He said, "Julia, I prayed before I came here and asked God to reveal to me why I should come. I saw a vision of a little crippled child. Last night I had that same vision. Now I've come in here to this church and I want you to look on the back row. There is that child." And he began to weep. He said, "What must I do? What must I do? I went to get the Bible and I opened it up and it said, "...anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these. . ."(John 14:12). He said, "Julia, do you think God is telling me that the reason I came here is to enable him to heal that little child through me?" I looked at him and said, "Well, we certainly can't ignore what you are feeling."

I went up to tell the pastor. He stopped the service and called B. J. to the pulpit with me to translate, and B. J. told the story. The little child was brought to the altar. Many other people came up to that altar, and for 45 minutes we prayed for healing for all kinds of things that were brought to that altar. The preacher asked B. J. to lead the prayer.

After the service nobody wanted to go home. Everybody stayed around. There was something there that was so precious. A lady stood up and said, "I've got to tell you something. I didn't want to come to church this morning. I have been full of anger and awful thoughts for years. I want you to know I am free today!" I found out that day that this was the first time B.J. had ever prayed in public.

We went back to Costa Rica on a second work team just two weeks ago, and B. J. went again. We went back to that same church and the little girl came running up to B. J. and threw her arms around him. The mother told us that the child was scheduled for two operations, and the doctor said, "We don't have to do either one of them. She is well."

The laypersons of our church are trembling from encounters with God!

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