Thursday, February 5, 2015

The changing times of Minnesotan Methodist mission support for Southeast Asia

The Minnesota Conference of the UMC recently signed an In Mission Together 50/50 Partnership Covenant with the United Methodist Mission in Vietnam.  This is not the first time that Minnesotan Methodists have made pledges to missions in Southeast Asia.  130 years ago, Mary Clarke Nind, WFMS leader from the Minnesota Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, pledged that her branch of the WFMS would financially support Sophia Blackmore as a WFMS missionary in Singapore.  Nind famously exclaimed, "Frozen Minnesota will send the gospel to the Equator!"

In both of these cases, Minnesotan Methodists pledged financial support of mission work.  In both of these cases, they pledged to support a mission that was already underway.  In both cases, their support helped underwrite care for children - through an orphan ministry in Vietnam and through girls' education in Singapore.

Yet there is a significant difference in these two stories.  When Minnesotan Methodists recently signed their pledge of support for mission in Vietnam, it was as part of a "50/50 Partnership."  When Minnesotan Methodists sent Sophia Blackmore to Singapore, it was a decision made by Western missionaries and Western mission supporters.  Mark Clarke Nind and Sophia Blackmore are founding heroes to the Methodist Church in Singapore and the Methodist Church in Malaysia, and there were locals who were involved in supporting the mission in Singapore financially and programmatically.  Yet that instance of mission was not seen as an equal partnership.  It was seen as Westerners coming over to impart something that benighted Easterners did not have but needed.

How Methodists think about mission has changed over the past 100 years, and Minnesotans have been part of that change no less than others.  Ways of approaching mission have become less imperialistic and less Western-dominated.  Locals now have more voice, more initiative, more involvement in determining how mission should be shaped and what forms of mission would be most life-giving to them.  The In Mission Together team has worked hard to promote this "paradigm shift" in thinking about mission.

Hence, in some ways history repeats itself -- but not quite.  Vietnam is not Singapore.  2015 is not 1885.  And partnership is not making decisions on behalf of others, but with others.

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