Monday, November 30, 2020

Becky Parsons: God's Call: A Place at the Table

Today’s post is by Becky Parsons. Parsons is the Global Ministries Mission Advocate for the Northeastern Jurisdiction.

As the mission sending agency of The United Methodist Church, Global Ministries connects the church in mission. General Conference tasks the agency to do four specific things:

1) Send missionaries
2) Join in efforts to alleviate human suffering
3) Seek justice, freedom and peace
4) Strengthen, develop and renew Christian congregations and communities.

Sending missionaries is the response we have to God’s call to mission. I find the other three goals all intersect in the presence and spark of a community who has invited a missionary or Global Ministries in; they are the result of healthy relationships of mutuality. The Holy Spirit, as it did in Acts, is calling us all to catch up to God's vision of the beloved kin-dom! Therefore, I want us all to consider how God is calling us to be in mission and whether God might be calling us to serve as a missionary.

Most often the image of call is left to ministers—ordained clergy or licensed local pastors—but I am here to tell you God’s call is bigger than needing preachers. As important as preaching can be, God's church has places for everyone the other 160 hours of the week.

And as in Acts, we are all called into many places, cultures, governments, and many ministries by our baptism into the family of God. Some of us are called into other cultures, not to dominate like Rome, but to transform through the mystery of God with us in our relationships of compassion, care, empowerment, and in the sharing of our lives.

In the United Methodist church, missionaries go out on behalf of the millions of us who sit in the pews or on Zoom. They share all our lives of faithful witness to Christ’s listening love, healing power, and bountiful grace. Christ offers all the world this opportunity of relationship, as there is nowhere God is not already present. The unique call of missionaries is seeking to witness to the Holy Spirit's movement in the world in local communities. Mission happens locally in seemingly ordinary time and tasks.

As the loftiest goal, the objective of a missionary is to work with the community of assignment with the intention of working ourselves out of a job, which means we support, empower, cross boundaries that have chained up people’s potential, and equip communities to unlock the God-given spirit within themselves. We do not build dependance or hierarchy, but instead we see to address complex social, economic, and political situations, which requires time, deep listening, and compassion. In my first placement, God was able through our long-term work (they had a missionary for about seventeen years, including eight years in which I had served there) to build up local leaders who continue God's work today without a missionary.

All UMC commissioned missionaries serve in full-time project placements that range from children’s ministries, legal services, health clinics, airplane ministries, community gardens, education, feeding ministries, farming and animal husbandry, ending human trafficking, surfing ministries, church growth/development, and mental health services. The list of talented people and vibrant ministries God calls the church into is endless. Every church, from the hollers of West Virginia to the echoing halls of The Church of the Resurrection, makes it possible to be in mission in over 70 countries (including the United States) because we take seriously Acts 2:45; we can do more together.

Don't get any ideas that missionaries wake up in the morning, polish their halos, and get about the work of God. When it was ten minutes until a board meeting where they were changing my title to executive director, I was elbow deep in an overflowing toilet. That is mission: no power, but service, truth telling, facing the pain of truth and humility for the one who calls us.

I am the daughter of two UMC Elders who met when one of them was serving as a Town and Country missionary. I myself was three-quarters of the way through my master’s of divinity and serving as an intern in a local church in suburban New Jersey when I heard about United Methodist missionaries who service in the United States. That is when I discerned my call to mission service. Today I have served eleven years as a missionary, and it still makes my heart leap for joy in the wholeness of knowing God's call is truth. Despite the ups and downs of life, being in mission is the delight of my life.

Now, as I serve as Mission Advocate in the Northeastern Jurisdiction, one of the things that called me to say yes to this placement is this very opportunity to share with others as they discern and re-evaluate their call, to let them know that our church responds when we are called. Whether we are called to the communion table, the construction table, or the kitchen table, each of us are called, and God has a place at the table for all.

The path to commissioned missionary status mirrors that of ordination, though the length of time is likely much shorter. The missionary application itself is a wonderful discernment tool; it helps guide you through your theology, your calling, and vision of service. There is an interview process that involves active missionaries, Global Ministries staff, and your local conference missions committee. Once approved, missionaries are given psychological evaluation, health screening, and begin training when they have been matched with a project where the community has invited the missionary to serve. Global Ministries trained twenty-one new missionaries in Spring 2020, and training and sending missionaries continues.

Global Ministries is currently accepting applications for its Global Mission Fellow program, and applications to serve as Global Missionaries, Church and Community Workers, and Mission Volunteers are on-going.

* The subtitle of this post is taken from lyrics to “For Everyone Born,” by Shirley Erena Murray in For Everyone Born: Global Songs for an Emerging Church, ed. by Jorge Lockwood and Christopher Heckert (New York: The General Board of Global Ministries, GBGMusik, 2008), 4.

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