The COVID pandemic interrupted ministry all over the world. Churches were forced to ask, “how do we worship without being together physically?” Mission projects saw an increased need all over the world but were unable to gather volunteers to meet those needs in person. COVID changed how we thought about ministry, what it meant to serve those in need, and how we live out our call as Christians.
For many years, mission teams shared in global journeys every year through UMVIM. Projects in Haiti, Panama, Alabama, Alaska, Malawi, and more, hosted these teams and forged strong relationships as they worked together to show Christian love in action. COVID changed all that. Almost overnight, those strong relationships were tested.
Yet, UMVIM volunteers, staff, and partners have remained faithful through it all, and many mission projects are now experiencing newness as people continue to recognize the importance of being in partnership as we serve in God’s mission. The pandemic created new ministries and new ways of doing old ministries.
Connections and relationships established over many years have not been eliminated during this liminal time. Some have been strengthened as missionaries share virtually with small groups and read scripture in worship. Project site directors are creating partnerships with organizations in the community to provide greater resources for people in need. God is moving in new ways and guiding the church in new learnings.
UMVIM helped connect projects and teams during the pandemic through Virtual Missions. Churches, missionaries, and projects in the US and abroad were brought together to share culture, language, food, and their vulnerabilities with one another. Individuals who rarely engaged in physical mission explored new ways to form relationships and help their neighbors.
Many Virtual Missions have been celebrated over the past two years. The jurisdictional United Methodist Volunteer in Mission (UMVIM) coordinators work to assist team leaders and project site hosts in this new format of being in mission. People who were unable to travel as part of a team can now connect via Zoom and learn about the God-work happening in places like Liberia, Cambodia, Honduras, Palestine, Mexico, and Laos. Ministries on the border are sharing the important work of assisting refugees and disaster response depots, Sager Brown and Midwest Mission Distribution Center, share the news of kits and meal packs sent to many places domestically and internationally.
New in-person projects have been added to the lists. Waverly, TN is a new long-term recovery site assisting survivors of flooding with housing rehab. Cass Community Social Services in Detroit, MI, and the Fuller Center are new projects for Mission Volunteers.
Youth groups traveling to Daytona Beach, FL for Youth 2023 have the opportunity to stop on the long drive and be in mission. Stefanie Williams, the Youth2023 team leader, is making connections with project sites to host these groups for one day or several days before or after the big event. She looks forward to presenting the places and ways youth can do the Jesus thing in the Jesus way.
Teams were challenged to continue disaster ministries as more and more disasters affected many more people throughout the country. Survivors face the challenge of the loss of their homes on top of living through their own COVID story.Faith-filled volunteers worked in their own communities and at nearby long-term recovery sites to help rebuild homes.
Work did not stop. It was just done differently. One strategy was for the project to be managed in one 6–8-hour day. These ‘done in a day’ VIM Teams brought their tools and lunches, wore their masks and social distanced, and completed the task. The next day a team from another area would be on site to continue the work from the previous day, all with the vision of serving Christ. Teams did not travel to their partners in mission in other countries, yet they were still able to serve and make a difference in the lives of their neighbors.
Ray Yarnall joined the UMVIM coordinator team this spring as the Northeastern Jurisdiction coordinator. The collaboration of the jurisdiction coordinators provides many opportunities to share in Mission Academies and trainings, connect with project sites around the world, and encourage teams to serve safely, always building relationships and partnerships. New Team Leader Trainers are ready to empower team leaders as teams begin to move into the world and serve as the hands and feet of Christ.
The mission piece that remains the same is the focus on relationships and partnerships. COVID remains a huge hurdle for ministry, yet it helped those who call themselves Volunteers in Mission see ministry in a new way. Something emerged because of the pandemic: the realization that despite the number of bricks laid, the amount of money given, or miles traveled – the love and relationships are what truly matters. It is about the people, not the projects.
Please visit https://www.umvim.org/ to see all the possibilities!
Ronda Cordill, firstname.lastname@example.org Western Jurisdiction
Karen Distefano, email@example.com South Central Jurisdiction
Rev. Matt Lacey, firstname.lastname@example.org Southeastern Jurisdiction
Gray Gambrell, email@example.com Southeastern Jurisdiction
Ray Yarnall, firstname.lastname@example.org Northeastern Jurisdiction
Rev. Tammy Kuntz, email@example.com North Central Jurisdiction
Stefanie Williams, firstname.lastname@example.org North Central Jurisdiction