Today's post is by UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott, Assistant Professor of Religion and Pieper Chair of Servant Leadership at Ripon College.
The General Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church (GBGM) is going to be commissioning fifteen new missionaries this Friday. That in itself is not particularly remarkable. The UMC and its predecessor bodies have been sending out missionaries for nearly two hundred years now. What is notable is that six out of the fifteen missionaries are not from the United States. That's 40% of the total, a just slightly higher percentage than the 36% of United Methodists as a whole who are not from the United States.
As the geographic nature of the UMC changes, those UMC members in the United States must expect that the face of UMC missions will change too. For missiologists, this is old news. Those who study missions from an academic standpoint declared a while ago that the old model of missionaries who travel from the United States or Europe to Africa, Asia, or Latin America is now dead. Instead, missiologists talk about mission going "from everywhere to everywhere."
I don't know, however, if that concept of mission has filtered its way to the pews (or even the pulpits) of the United States yet. I suspect that when many American UMC members hear the term "missionary," they think of the couple that their church supports who may have originally come from their Annual Conference or the one next door and is now teaching at Africa University, perhaps. I suspect they do not think about the Congolese man doing community development work in the Philippines, or the Bangladeshi woman who runs a ministry for street children in Cambodia. I strongly suspect they do not think of the Mexican woman leading ministries in the United States. Yet all of these are UMC missionaries. UMC missionaries come from many countries, not just the United States, and they serve in many countries, including the United States. UMC mission is from all UMC countries (and then some) and to all UMC countries (and then some).
I think that part of what will allow the UMC to be a global church, if indeed it can do that, will be the ability of its members to imagine the work of the church around the world. I encourage you then, especially if you are a UMC lay member or pastor from the United States, to spend some time looking at the backgrounds and work of the missionaries sent out by the UMC. I hope that reading some of their stories will help you rethink who a UMC missionary is and where they serve.