Today’s post is by Rev. Tom Lank. Rev. Lank is the UMVIM Coordinator for the Northeastern Jurisdiction. This post is the third in a series about short-term mission in The United Methodist Church.
Over its more than four decades of experience organizing short-term mission, UMVIM has tried to learn from its own mistakes. In what we call the “Big Manual,” originally developed in 2005, we made the following statement of Guidelines for United Methodist Volunteer In Mission Teams:
“A United Methodist Volunteers In Mission (UMVIM) team is one that serves locally, nationally, or internationally where it is invited; works in a ministry endorsed by the host Methodist church, partner church or agency, or nongovernment organization (NGO); and serves in cooperation with the local host group. The intent of these guidelines is to ensure that the presence of the team will not interfere with the authority and integrity of the church leadership, thereby strengthening and upholding the local church. The team will have an UMVIM trained leader who provides training for the team, ensures completion of proper forms and insurance coverage, and is in communication with annual conference and jurisdictional UMVIM leadership.”
Since that time, the Mission Theology statement of Global Ministries has helped us reflect upon these guidelines and our practice of ministry such that we have also developed core values and best practices.
In 2016 in the Northeastern Jurisdiction, we passed a Call to Action on Systemic Racism which called on every annual conference and affiliated agency in the jurisdiction to evaluate and adjust its programs and training with an eye to dismantling systemic racism, white privilege, and white supremacy. I asked for the help of the General Commission on Religion and Race to help me evaluate our Team Leader handbook with that in mind. One of the suggestions I received was that we make a statement of core values that make our commitment to intercultural competency explicit and prominent.
So in the Northeastern Jurisdiction, we ended up identifying these five core values:
1. Missio Dei - It’s God’s mission, not our mission
This takes us out of the driver’s seat and helps loosen our need to control and opens us up to practice ministry WITH.
2. Radical DiscipleshipFollowing Jesus, our mission relationships are meant to be incarnational, relational, humble, based in service, justice-seeking, and intentionally and radically inclusive.
3. Partnership / Mutuality
4. Relationships over ProjectsWe say that projects are secondary. Relationships are primary. Mission relationships are built over time by accompaniment. As we share life with one another, listen to one another, and learn about one another, we also discover how to serve alongside one another with dignity, respect, and mutual accountability.
5. Intercultural Competency & Self-Awareness
In mission, we recognize that God’s image is reflected in our diversity. As we honestly engage, respect, and create space for this diversity, we honor God. To understand ourselves and the ways we affect (and are affected by) others requires time for reflection, prayer, and honest conversation.
Additionally, the five jurisdictions have shared the following best practices in trainings and training materials for several years.
1. Have a trained team leader through your annual conference.
Our hosts have reflected to us that they appreciate the teams with trained leaders because they can expect that they have prepared their teams well.
2. Comply with the Safe Sanctuaries policy of your annual conference.
3. Serve with an UMVIM project.
This helps ensure both minimum standards for volunteers and that the area bishop or judicatory head has knowledge and gives permission to the work. It builds the connection.
4. Register your team.
When the earthquake hit Haiti in 2010, there were more than a dozen teams from United Methodist churches on the island. UMVIM knew about two or three. Registration helps us coordinate resources to assist you and communicate with your annual conference and loved ones. It also gives us a birds-eye view so that we can help connect teams and churches that are working in the same area or doing the same kind of ministry.
5. Take insurance through UMVIM.
This is often an afterthought, but the consequences of not taking insurance can be disastrous.
6. Spiritual Formation.
We stress to team leaders that they must pay attention to the spiritual formation of their team members before, during, and after the mission journey and that worshiping in the community where you are serving is vital for respecting your hosts, understanding the culture, and creating partnership.
7. Commitment to Intercultural Competence.
Each of us approaches the world with implicit assumptions, stereotypes, and prejudices about other people. We have knee-jerk reactions. It is vital that you do the hard work with your team before, during, and after your mission experience to critically examine your own biases, stereotypes, and prejudices. Honestly acknowledge them, allow God to transform them and to redeem you. In many cases we enter a mission relationship carrying privileges that we do not understand fully, due to our nationality, relative wealth, or even race. While we may have been born into some of these privileges, what we do with them now is our responsibility so that, as far as possible, we can “Do No Harm.”
These are the foundation from which we train team leaders to engage in mission responsibly. We look forward to a day when every mission team is trained and connected for more effective ministry as we discover the Kingdom of God in our midst.