Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Tom Lank: UMVIM Values and Best Practices

Today’s post is by Rev. Tom Lank. Rev. Lank is the UMVIM Coordinator for the Northeastern Jurisdiction. This post is the third in a series about short-term mission in The United Methodist Church.
Over its more than four decades of experience organizing short-term mission, UMVIM has tried to learn from its own mistakes. In what we call the “Big Manual,” originally developed in 2005, we made the following statement of Guidelines for United Methodist Volunteer In Mission Teams:

“A United Methodist Volunteers In Mission (UMVIM) team is one that serves locally, nationally, or internationally where it is invited; works in a ministry endorsed by the host Methodist church, partner church or agency, or nongovernment organization (NGO); and serves in cooperation with the local host group. The intent of these guidelines is to ensure that the presence of the team will not interfere with the authority and integrity of the church leadership, thereby strengthening and upholding the local church. The team will have an UMVIM trained leader who provides training for the team, ensures completion of proper forms and insurance coverage, and is in communication with annual conference and jurisdictional UMVIM leadership.”

Since that time, the Mission Theology statement of Global Ministries has helped us reflect upon these guidelines and our practice of ministry such that we have also developed core values and best practices.

In 2016 in the Northeastern Jurisdiction, we passed a Call to Action on Systemic  Racism which called on every annual conference and affiliated agency in the jurisdiction to evaluate and adjust its programs and training with an eye to dismantling systemic racism, white privilege, and white supremacy.  I asked for the help of the General Commission on Religion and Race to help me evaluate our Team Leader handbook with that in mind.  One of the suggestions I received was that we make a statement of core values that make our commitment to intercultural competency explicit and prominent.

So in the Northeastern Jurisdiction, we ended up identifying these five core values:

1.  Missio Dei - It’s God’s mission, not our mission
This takes us out of the driver’s seat and helps loosen our need to control and opens us up to practice ministry WITH.

2.  Radical DiscipleshipFollowing Jesus, our mission relationships are meant to be incarnational, relational, humble, based in service, justice-seeking, and intentionally and radically inclusive.

3.  Partnership / Mutuality

4.  Relationships over Projects
We say that projects are secondary. Relationships are primary. Mission relationships are built over time by accompaniment. As we share life with one another, listen to one another, and learn about one another, we also discover how to serve alongside one another with dignity, respect, and mutual accountability.

5.  Intercultural Competency & Self-Awareness
In mission, we recognize that God’s image is reflected in our diversity. As we honestly engage, respect, and create space for this diversity, we honor God. To understand ourselves and the ways we affect (and are affected by) others requires time for reflection, prayer, and honest conversation.

Additionally, the five jurisdictions have shared the following best practices in trainings and training materials for several years.

1.  Have a trained team leader through your annual conference.
Our hosts have reflected to us that they appreciate the teams with trained leaders because they can expect that they have prepared their teams well.

2.  Comply with the Safe Sanctuaries policy of your annual conference.

3.  Serve with an UMVIM project.
This helps ensure both minimum standards for volunteers and that the area bishop or judicatory head has knowledge and gives permission to the work. It builds the connection.

4.  Register your team.
When the earthquake hit Haiti in 2010, there were more than a dozen teams from United Methodist churches on the island. UMVIM knew about two or three. Registration helps us coordinate resources to assist you and communicate with your annual conference and loved ones. It also gives us a birds-eye view so that we can help connect teams and churches that are working in the same area or doing the same kind of ministry.

5. Take insurance through UMVIM.
This is often an afterthought, but the consequences of not taking insurance can be disastrous.

6. Spiritual Formation.
 We stress to team leaders that they must pay attention to the spiritual formation of their team members before, during, and after the mission journey and that worshiping in the community where you are serving is vital for respecting your hosts, understanding the culture, and creating partnership. 

7. Commitment to Intercultural Competence.
Each of us approaches the world with implicit assumptions, stereotypes, and prejudices about other people.  We have knee-jerk reactions. It is vital that you do the hard work with your team before, during, and after your mission experience to critically examine your own biases, stereotypes, and prejudices. Honestly acknowledge them, allow God to transform them and to redeem you. In many cases we enter a mission relationship carrying privileges that we do not understand fully, due to our nationality, relative wealth, or even race. While we may have been born into some of these privileges, what we do with them now is our responsibility so that, as far as possible, we can “Do No Harm.”

These are the foundation from which we train team leaders to engage in mission responsibly. We look forward to a day when every mission team is trained and connected for more effective ministry as we discover the Kingdom of God in our midst.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Defining Mission: Good News

The following post is based on excerpts from UM & Global blogmaster David W. Scott's book, Crossing Boundaries: Sharing God's Good News Through Mission.

In Crossing Boundaries, I lay out a new definition of mission: Mission is cultivating relationships across boundaries for the sake of fostering conversations in word and deed about the nature of God’s good news.

While a full understanding of that definition and its practical implications for mission work in congregations is best grasped by reading the book, this series of blog posts briefly examines the four components of this definition – good news, relationships, crossing boundaries, and conversation. This post will examine the component of good news.

Good news is at the heart of Christianity and at the heart of Christian mission. Mark identifies his account of the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus as “the good news about Jesus Christ, God’s Son.” Indeed, the term “gospel,” the name usually given to the biblical books written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, literally means “good news.” Christians believe that the story of Jesus is good news!

For early Christians, this concept was central to how they understood what it meant to be a Christian. Throughout the Acts of the Apostles, there are numerous references to Christians preaching “the good news,” and the apostle Paul refers to himself as one who has been “set apart for God’s good news” (Romans 1:1).

Mission is about God sending good news to the world. Mission begins with God (what missiologists refer to as the missio Dei, the mission of God) and God’s love for the world. The message of God’s love for the world is conveyed by God sending Jesus, God and Jesus sending the Holy Spirit, Jesus sending his disciples, and the triune God sending the church in mission.

Those who are sent by God in mission are sent with a message. Mission is grounded in this message of love that God sends to the world. And this message is not bad news to the world; God is sending good news! We should treat it as such and present it with joy.

Note that it’s not just evangelism that involves good news. All forms of mission should have a component of good news to them. They should be both good and involve something new or not present in that situation before. Thus, good news is not just a narrow formulation of theology but includes the full breadth of God’s loving actions in the world.

Mission thus is centrally about the good news, which is basic to Christianity. Without it, not only would there be no mission; there would be no Christianity. Being a Christian is about claiming the story of God’s good news as the story of our lives as well. It’s about finding our place in the conversation of the saints of all times and places. And it’s about the God who loves us and who, because of that love, came down to earth in the person of Jesus to set us free, heal our wounds, forgive our sins, renew the world in which we live, and restore our relationships.

Methodism has always been clear that while being a Christian involves finding our place in the story of God’s good news, that place is never a solitary one. When we become Christians, when we recognize and respond to God’s gracious love, we are connected to other Christians. We become part of the ongoing conversation of the Christian faith, a conversation in which Christians throughout the world and throughout the ages share their understanding of God’s good news.

Furthermore, when we experience the good news of God’s love, we are compelled to share God’s love with everyone, Christian or not. When we truly experience the good news of God’s love, we want to talk with others about it! We want to know if they, too, have experienced this love, to learn from them if they have, and to encourage them to look for it if they haven’t. Moreover, we want to demonstrate God’s love for others in our actions as well as our conversations. In short, when we truly experience God’s love, we want to engage in mission. Good news is thus both the message of, and the motivation for, mission.

In Crossing Boundaries: Sharing God's Good News Through Mission, Chapter 3 explores the nature of this good news in greater detail. As Christians, we may think we know the good news about which God wants us to engage the world in mission, but the gospel writers don’t precisely clarify what they mean by “good news.”

This chapter looks at four different senses in which the terms “good news” and “gospel” are used in the New Testament: as the Kingdom of God, as freedom from sin, as resurrection, and as restoration of relationship. The chapter then lays out how these different dimensions of good news connect to different dimensions of mission work and why thinking of the breadth of good news requires us to engage in relationships with others as part of our mission work, the topic of next week’s post.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Plan Now: Global Climate Strike on Sept. 20th

Environmental activist and United Methodist Sunday School teacher Bill McKibben of is among those calling for a "global climate strike" next week on Friday, Sept. 20th. McKibben explains his reasoning in an article for YES Magazine. The strike is intended to draw attention to the pressing nature of the problems associated with climate change.

For why care for creation is a religious, theological and missiological issues, see this pastoral letter from UMC bishops, these previous posts from UM & Global, this UMW webpage highlighting their work in the area, and this Church & Society webpage highlighting their work in the area.

If you participate in the climate strike, here are some things you can do that day:

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Ronda Cordill: How UMVIM Disaster Response Teams Work

Today’s post is by Ronda Cordill. Ms. Cordill is the UMVIM Coordinator for the Western Jurisdiction. This post is the second in a series about short-term mission in The United Methodist Church.

There are many ways Volunteer in Mission (VIM) teams serve.  They:
  •  Construct of homes, churches, schools and clinics worldwide.
  •  Serve in outreach ministries to people who are homeless, hunger, or in poverty.
  •  Provide medical and dental needs.
  •  Assist with programs for children and youth.
  •  Teach vocational skills or children’s education.
  •  Help in disasters both through Early Response Teams (ERT) and Long-Term Recovery (LTR) Teams

After Hurricane Katrina, leaders in The United Methodist Church saw all the devastation caused by the hurricane, but they did not see the church being involved in the disaster response. At that time, each type of disaster response by churches was specialized. For example, the Baptist are known for feeding programs, the Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) do donations management, and the United Methodist were best known for their Case Management.

In response to the church’s request to do more, the leaders of UMCOR and UMVIM met together at Mr. Sequoyah in Arkansas. There, they developed and signed a covenant on how they would work together. At that time, UMVIM teams served hurricane recovery sites to assist with rebuilding homes. Through this new collaboration, the Early Response Team was developed as a specialized UMVIM team.

So how does this all fit into disaster response ministry? There are 5 phases of a disaster. They are:  Readiness, Rescue, Relief, Recovery, and then Review. These phases are related by the “Rule of 10.” If a disaster lasts 1 day, the rescue phase is 10 times longer, or 10 days, and the recovery phase is 10 times that, or 100 days. Readiness describes preparations before a disaster, and review happens at the end of the disaster response.

How does the church response in a disaster? During the readiness phase, UMCOR has developed the Connecting Neighbors program, which teaches individuals, churches, and communities how to be ready to work together in the event of a disaster. They develop disaster plans.

During the rescue phase, churches can set up shelters or feeding of survivors and volunteers.

Early Response Teams serve primarily in the relief phase, assisting survivors to start recover to a new life.

The recovery phase is the longest phase.  For example, in a flood where water has been in place for 30 days, this relief phase will last 300 days, and the recovery phase is 3000 days or more than 8 years.  This is where the Long-Term Recovery Teams work and will be there until recovery is completed.

The review phase is taking lessons learned and preparing for the next time. 

ERT Teams work with Disaster Response Coordinators of the Annual Conference where the disaster is located. They are trained by UMCOR, and after a disaster the ERT Teams primary role is to make the survivor’s home safe, secure, and sanitary. This is done through removing debris, tarping roofs after a hurricane or tornado, mucking out after flooding, and sifting ash after a fire, all with a listening presence as the survivors start to heal and rebuild their lives.

Long Term Recovery UMVIM Teams do rebuilding ministry, working on individual’s homes, churches, or schools that were damaged by disaster. They work with the Long-Term Recovery Organization of that community to assist with unmet needs. They also provide a caring ministry as the survivors continue to heal. Often there is a special connection with those families. As the team tells their story, they connect their church with the family. As the house gets completed, you will see the church gathering new furnishing and giving a “welcome home” celebration for that family. 

Disaster Response teams create networking between Conference Disaster Response Coordinators and UMVIM and other organizations such as VOAD (Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters).  There is a strong connection between the survivors and the teams. Almost anyone can be a part of Disaster Ministry through so many ways.  One of my favorite sayings is for my UMVIM teams is “Bringing Love and Leaving Hope”

Monday, September 9, 2019

Defining Mission: Not Just Helping Programs

The following post is based on an excerpt from UM & Global blogmaster David W. Scott's book, Crossing Boundaries: Sharing God's Good News Through Mission.

Christians often interpret mission as helping in programmatic ways. While helping and formal programs are necessarily and always bad, this understanding of mission is limited and potentially problematic.

Thinking of mission as helping programs is limited, because it makes us miss the breadth of God’s mission in the world and the full spiritual significance of joining in that mission. Many Christians would say that we should help others because God calls us to love others. That is true: God does call us to love others. Yet to equate helping and love is to dramatically misunderstand love, both God’s and ours. Helping may be part of love, but it cannot be the entirety of love.

Take as an illustration love as expressed in a marriage. One of my “love languages” in my marriage is doing things for my wife—in other words, helping. Sometimes she really appreciates my help. When she comes home from a work trip and the house is picked up, the laundry put away, the kids have both been bathed, and the lawn is mowed, that can be a big relief for her.

Other times, I think I get more out of doing the helping than she does being helped. That experience also has mission parallels—oftentimes our mission is more about how we feel than the impact on our mission partners.

Yet even when my wife appreciates my help, if helping was the only way I ever showed my love to her, if I never said I loved her, never spent time with her, never gave her gifts, never touched her, I would be more like a handyman and maid than a husband to her. I know that she would not find that a satisfying expression of love and, ultimately, I know I would not either. While I enjoy doing acts of service for her, I know there’s more to the relationship than that, and I want there to be more to the relationship than that.

While marriage is a special relationship, I think this insight applies to other forms of love as well. Others know that we love them not only because we serve them but because we spend time with them, share our treasures with them, and tell them how much they mean to us. Indeed, the ways we can show love to others go well beyond this list of “love languages” for romantic relationships.

Love expressed through service is good, but it is not a complete love. To confine love to helping is a limited understanding of love. In the same way, seeing mission as helping gives a limited understanding of the love God has for us and the love God calls us to share with the world.

Our understanding of mission is especially limited if we think of helping only in programmatic terms. When we see mission as a program, then we limit it to only those times and those places where such programs occur. If mission is a program, then it cannot be a way of life. A way of life happens at all times and in any place.

When we limit mission to specific programs, then it becomes easier to see mission as a small or optional component of the Christian faith and not a central aspect of how we live out our Christian calling. Yet, mission properly understood should be central to how we understand and practice our faith.

An understanding of mission as helping programs is not only limited but actually harmful at times. Such an understanding is especially problematic when we see helping as always flowing from the “haves” (the Christians in our congregation or group) to the “have-nots” (everybody else).

As books such as When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert and Toxic Charity by Robert Lupton show, it is quite possible to set out to help others but to actually have the opposite effect, if we do so with improper understandings and attitudes. As Corbett and Fikkert explain, when we combine a material definition of poverty with a sense of the superiority of the materially nonpoor and a sense of the inferiority of the materially poor, then we end up doing harm—spiritually, emotionally, economically, and/or socially—to both the materially poor and the materially nonpoor.

Because this definition of mission as helping programs is limited and potentially harmful, it is important to develop a fuller and more robust understanding of mission. That is what I do in Crossing Boundaries: Sharing God's Good News Through Mission.

By exploring the biblical basis of mission (in Chapters 1 and 2), I lay out a new definition of mission: Mission is cultivating relationships across boundaries for the sake of fostering conversations in word and deed about the nature of God’s good news. The book uses this definition to help churches rethink their own mission work, employing clear language, engaging writing, practical strategies, discussion questions, and additional resources.

While a full understanding of that definition of mission and how it can shape local churches’ engagement in mission is best grasped by reading the book, I will examine the four components of this definition – good news, relationships, crossing boundaries, and conversation – in an upcoming series of blog posts.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Recommended Readings: Central and Southern Europe Study Group Process

Previous UM & Global updates on United Methodist in Europe after General Conference 2019 have omitted the situation in the Central and Southern Europe Central Conference. Here's a quick rundown of how things have unfolded there:

At a meeting of the Executive Committee of the Central Conference in March, there were tense discussions about the widely varying opinions about gay marriage and gay ordination held by leaders within the Central Conference. In the light of this division, the Executive Committee approved the formation of a study group to investigate possible scenarios for future relations among the constituent annual conference.

A press release issued just prior to the second meeting of the study group last week (the first meeting was in June) clarified the stakes for the central conference of the possibility of structural changes. As the press release stated, "If positions within the Central Conference remain as they currently stand, a separation would be inevitable. However, each of the resulting sub-entities would no longer be big enough to be organized as a full standing central conference with the right to elect a bishop. This was a new discovery also for Bishop Streiff. In light of the planned election of his successor in 2021, it attracted attention and threw a spotlight on the importance of the pending decisions."

The process remains on-going, with a final report by the study group expected to be delivered to the Central Conference Executive Committee next March.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Tammy Kuntz: A Brief History of United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM)

Today’s post is by Rev. Tammy Kuntz. Rev. Kuntz is the UMVIM Coordinator for the North Central Jurisdiction. This post is the first in a series about short-term mission in The United Methodist Church.

My job, and the jobs of the other UMVIM jurisdictional coordinators, includes encouraging and empowering individuals, teams, team leaders, churches, district, conferences, and projects in all things mission by providing resources and training opportunities. We maintain the US project list and the international project list. We work with Una Jones of Global Ministries to recruit and train Mission Volunteers and promote Primetimers journeys.

My fellow UMVIM coordinators and I will be sharing more about the UMVIM program in this and a series of posts to follow. I will begin by telling a bit about the history of UMVIM, drawing on the book From the Grassroots: A History of the United Methodist Volunteers in Mission by Thomas L. Curtis.

UMVIM began as a grassroots effort led by laity in the Southeast Jurisdiction. The idea of Christian love in action which motivated its development came from 1 John 3:18: “Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.”

By 1972, a steering committee was formed and, two year later, Rev. David and Sue Lowry were named the first Southeast Jurisdiction coordinators. They encouraged cooperative relationships as teams served and the locations and types of service expanded. They established the cooperative nature of mission, that the request should come from the mission field rather than the sending church, and that volunteers should experience training prior to serving.

In 1976, The Lowrys returned to the mission field in what was then Rhodesia, and Tom and Margaret Curtis succeeded them as UMVIM coordinators. That same year, UMVIM became part of the Fellowship of Conference Mission Secretaries of the SEJ.

Good things were happening in the mission field with these amateur missionaries. They were sharing skills and teaching sewing classes and Vacation Bible School, helping with agriculture projects, reroofing houses and building school desks, providing medical and dental care and digging wells. Missioners were having life-changing experiences as they completed tasks and connected with the families with whom they served.

In 1980, a petition was passed at General Conference that admitted UMVIM as part of the structure of the global church. The legislation stated, “To affirm the concept of volunteers in mission (short-term) as an authentic form of personal missionary involvement, and to devise appropriate structures to interpret and implement such opportunities for short term volunteers in the global community.”

Yet there were still many concerns with the idea of amateur missionaries. There was not a lot of confidence in what they were doing nor how they were doing it. There was no funding made available for the program.

Through the early 80’s, each jurisdiction named an UMVIM coordinator to connect with and resource annual conferences. Coordinators’ responsibilities expanded to include travel beyond the US to “explain our program and outline operational styles so that those overseas could understand this new tool for our working together.” Remember, at this point, there was still no support from the General Board of Global Ministries.

Bill Rollins was appointed by Global Ministries to head up a new Mission Volunteer unit with a VIM office and a couple field representatives to facilitate engagement of conferences in this mission movement. This lasted just a few years before Global Ministries discontinued this support. Basically, information about the needs of projects and finding mission teams to serve was too slow or not provided to VIM coordinators.  The promise of “an abundance of opportunities” just didn’t happen.

The Board still considered missionary service to be something for professionals. The challenge for local churches became finding a way to engage “the church’s divine mandate to be engaged in mission.” With no funding from GBGM, local churches sought ways to be in mission and were making their own connections with projects domestically and internationally.

The SEJ and Global Ministries struggled for control of UMVIM. General Conference provided GBGM “support” for VIM, yet there was a clear attempt to take over. This struggle for leadership by the bureaucracy of the church caused great conflict and hindered expansion of the movement.

By the mid-1980’s, thousands of people in the SEJ were sharing in mission opportunities. Yet there was recognition of the exclusion of youth in the data. In 1985, Beverly Nolte, the North Central Jurisdiction coordinator, created Mission Discovery, a program specifically for teens and young adults.

In 1988, General Conference suggested that every conference have an UMVIM coordinator to work cooperatively with the General Board of Global Ministries and the jurisdictional UMVIM offices. These collaborations between conferences and jurisdictions were very important.

It was not until 1996 that the Mission Volunteers Program Area became an official part of Global Ministries. This program area was ordered “to enable the participation of Methodists from throughout the world in global mission volunteer programs so that affirming, empowering, and trusting relationships would be established.”

Financial support for jurisdiction UMVIM coordinators became a line item in 2000, and the reporting of teams as data collected on annual reports began in 2004. This important data became a way to reflect the strength of the VIM program, the diversity of missioners in the field, and the variety of the places where they serve.

Finally, in 2016, General Conference approved UMVIM Awareness Sunday to be observed annually on a date determined by each annual conference. The phrase "there may be a jurisdictional volunteer-in-mission (UMVIM) coordinator" was added to the tasks described in the Jurisdictional Conference section. Both these pieces are now part of the Book of Discipline.

And that’s how we got to this point in time. As the jurisdictional coordinators, our work continues. We collaborate on trainings, projects, and programs as we work to resource the church in all aspects of mission service.