Today's post is by UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott, Director of Mission Theology at the General Board of Global Ministries. This post originally appeared in altered form in the Fall 2018 version of New World Outlook.
As a component of the United Methodist mission bicentennial celebration, I have been collecting and sharing stories of Methodists in mission on the bicentennial website. I encourage you to visit the website, read some of these stories, and submit a story of your own.
Reading the 250+ stories on the website has given me a real appreciation of the breadth of Methodist mission over the last two hundred years. Methodists have engaged in evangelism, social justice, health and healing, and education as forms of mission, among others. The wide variety of ways in which Methodists have participated in God’s mission is truly amazing!
Yet it is not surprising. We serve a God whose mercy is wide, whose power is great, and whose creativity is unbounded. Since mission starts with our God who is beyond all our abilities to describe and transcends all limits we may seek to place on God, it is a natural thing that mission should also be multifaceted, complex, and expansive.
I have been struck, too, by the breadth of those Methodists engaged in mission as well as the breadth of the types of mission in which they were engaged. Nowadays, Global Ministries speaks of missionaries going “from everywhere to everywhere.” Certainly, our corps of missionaries is increasingly international compared to previous decades.
Yet, if one looks in the right places, one discovers that mission has always been “from everywhere to everywhere.” Examples abound of people like Kanichi Miyama, a Japanese immigrant to the US in the 19th century, who converted to Methodism in San Francisco, founded Japanese-American Methodism in both California and Hawaii, and eventually returned to Japan as a missionary.
In mission history, as in other types of history, we are too often tempted by the “great man” version of the past, in which the past is a series of heroic exploits by leading individuals, usually men, and usually white Western men at that. Yet when we focus solely on such figures, we overlook the fact that mission has primarily been a women’s movement, both in terms of those who engage in mission and those who have supported mission. We also overlook the critical role that native leaders, usually unnamed and unnoted, have played in making disciples and in mobilizing the church to reach out to its surroundings.
At the bicentennial conference, we are still highlighting some of the great leaders of Methodist mission, but in a way that demonstrates the diversity of Methodists in mission by featuring the following stories (in approximate chronological order) on poster boards at the conference:
William and Clementina Butler
Mary McClellan Lambuth, Walter Russell Lambuth, and Nora Kate Lambuth Park
Amanda Berry Smith
James and Isabella Thoburn
Frances Willard and Katharine (Kate) Bushnell
Gertrude Howe, Ida Kahn, and Mary Stone
Belle Harris Bennett
Henry and Ella Appenzeller
Dr. Marietta Hatfield, Dr. Mabel Silver, and Rotifunk Hospital
Andres Martinez, Kicking Bird, and J. J. Methvin
John R. Mott
Alma Mathews and Kathryn Maurer
Susan Collins, Anna Hall, and Martha Drummer
William Springer, Helen Rasmussen Springer, and Tshangand Kayeke
E. Stanley Jones
Helen Kim and Prudencia Fabro
Vivienne and U.S. Gray
J. Harry Haines
Of course, by focusing only on the greats of whatever background, we miss the faithful, dedicated service of everyday people, ordained and lay, in mission. We miss stories such as Billie Rench of Michigan, who faithfully promoted mission among Methodists of the Detroit Conference for decades, or Rhodes Chimonyo, who served for a long time as the treasurer of Methodism in Zimbabwe as a Person in Mission, or Ed Ririe, who volunteered for 27 UMVIM trips in his life and died while on his last trip.
It is everyday people like this that have made up the bulk of Methodists involved in mission over the last 200 years; it is everyday people that make up the bulk of Methodists involved in mission today; and it will surely be everyday people that will make up the bulk of Methodists involved in mission in the future. We are all missionaries, and whether or not our deeds are written in the human annals of the history of mission, they will surely be recorded in the heavenly book.