A bit belatedly, I'd like to pass along this news story posted by UMConnections last week. It's about rural development projects in Sierra Leone sponsored by the United Methodist Church in Norway and the Norwegian government, working with the Sierra Leone Annual Conference as a local partner.
I think this story is worth noting for a couple of reasons. As I've mentioned in previous posts, stories about how non-US branches of the UMC are engaged in mission remind us that mission doesn't only flow from the US out to the rest of the world. Mission is a many-directional phenomenon in the present world. That's true of Christianity in general, and it's true of the UMC as well, as US-centric as the church remains. This story should challenge our US-centric understandings of mission even more so than previous stories I've shared because no US-based Annual Conferences or agencies are part of this project. It's just Norwegians and people of Sierra Leone connecting directly.
Second, it's important to note that this project isn't just a fly-by project for the UMC of Norway. It's part of an on-going relationship with the Sierra Leone Annual Conference that dates back from before 2008. The project comes out of a history of cooperation and partnership that makes this an example of Norwegians engaged in ministry with people from Sierra Leone, not ministry to them.
Finally, it's interesting to note that it's not just branches of the UMC that are involved in this project, but the Norwegian government. In the United States, we have certain deeply-held notions about the relationship between churches and government, but as we think about The United Methodist Church, we have to understand that not all countries will share these same assumptions. While the church must always be wary of submitting itself to too great of government influence, it is possible that government may be a positive partner in other countries in ways that are not conceivable in the United States.