Thursday, March 6, 2014

Where are the most United Methodist missionaries?

On the General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM) page about United Methodist missionaries, there is an interactive map.  Move your mouse over the map, and it will show the different regions of the world where United Methodist missionaries are at work.  The map is divided into six sections: Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Pacific, Europe/Eurasian, Latin America and the Caribbean, and North America.  If you click on these regions, a box appear that shows how many missionaries are serving in each region.  Can you guess which region of the world has the most United Methodist missionaries working in it?

You may be surprised to learn that it's North America.  In fact, North America has the largest number of UMC missionaries by far: more than 115.  The other regions of the world, in order, are Africa - more than 70, Latin America and the Caribbean - more than 65, Asia and Pacific - more than 50, Europe/Eurasia - more than 35, and the Middle East - 5.  The United States as the hot spot of missionary activity may not reflect how we've traditionally thought about missions, but it represents the culmination of two related trends.

First is the shift in which countries send missions and which countries receive missions.  A hundred years ago, in the era of modern or colonial missions, most missionaries came from the United States, Canada, or European countries, and they went to countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.  The United States, Canada, and Europe still send missionaries abroad today, but so do countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.  And all of those missionaries don't just go to Asia, Africa, and Latin America.  Nowadays they come to North America and Europe as well.  Some of the more than 115 missionaries serving in North America through the UMC come from other parts of the globe.  As the GBGM page on missionaries proclaims, mission has become "From Everywhere to Everywhere."

Second is a new way of thinking about missionaries.  United Methodists, like other Christians, have come to realize that missionaries aren't just foreign missionaries.  Indeed, many of the more than 115 missionaries in North America are serving with long-established domestic mission programs such as the US-2 program and the mission intern program.  Indeed, if we expand the scope of missionary to include anyone working for the church to extend its ministries beyond their current bounds, it's likely that North America has always had the largest number of United Methodist missionaries.  While the term "home missions" has dropped out of style, the former home mission societies in the UMC and its predecessor bodies recognized that mission can and does happen by people in their home country.  We've recently recovered that understanding, and it's reminded us that the United States is just as much a mission field as anywhere else.

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