The United Methodist General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM) reported yesterday on the results of a survey sent to United Methodist-affiliated colleges and universities in the United States. The survey asked about their interest in partnering with the General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM). Encouragingly, the survey found a good deal of interest on the part of United Methodist colleges and universities to be more involved in promoting and partnering in the global work of GBGM.
The survey asked about several forms of potential college/GBGM collaboration: alternative break trips, promoting missionary programs, student exchanges with Africa, and jointly developing courses about cross-cultural learning. While I think all of these forms of collaboration are potentially exciting, I want to praise the last two in particular. (Incidentally, while the majority of survey respondents were in favor of all of these options, the last two received the fewest positive responses.)
I think student exchanges with Africa and courses about cross-cultural learning have the potential to greatly benefit both students at United Methodists institutions of higher education and The United Methodist Church's efforts to become a coherent and equitable global denomination. Earlier today, in my job as a professor, I listened to a presentation by the Center of Inquiry at Wabash College. The presentation summarized what components of a college education the Center had found had the greatest impact on student learning during college. One of those components was "Interactional Diversity" - interacting with people whose economic, social, racial, ethnic, political, religious, or personal backgrounds were different from one's own. Giving students at American United Methodist colleges and universities opportunities to interact with others of different backgrounds through student exchanges with African colleges and universities and through coursework focused on cross-cultural learning seems like it would directly provide students with the types of experiences that research has shown promote student learning.
At the same time, these experiences can also benefit the UMC as a whole, not just individual students. Certainly, not all students at UMC-related schools are themselves United Methodists, nor would all of the students who might participate in these programs be United Methodist. Nevertheless, by providing at least some United Methodist students the skills to learn from others of different cultures or, even better, the opportunity to travel from the United States to Africa or vice versa and study with United Methodists from other cultures, we would be developing members of the UMC that have the cross-cultural skills necessary to negotiate the tricky terrain of crafting a global denomination.
Certainly, building a global UMC requires many partners collaborating on many projects. I am encouraged, though, that American and perhaps African UMC-related colleges and universities are exploring more ways to partner with the GBGM. Such partnerships can only bring good results for students, for the church, and ultimately for the world.