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Seven Go-To's and Gotta Do's for United Methodist Volunteers

by Beth Buchanan

Children in the rural village of Brisas del Mar (Ocean Breezes), Colombia, watch water being pumped into a previously neglected well.  In 2008, a United Methodist Volunteers-In-Mission team repaired the well and installed a pump that brings clean water to the community.
Children in the rural village of Brisas del Mar (Ocean Breezes), Colombia, watch water being pumped into a previously neglected well. In 2008, a United Methodist Volunteers-In-Mission team repaired the well and installed a pump that brings clean water to the community.
Image by: Nile Sprague/UMCOR
Source: New World Outlook
Ginger Cooper, Global Ministries young-adult individual volunteer, sits with children in Cameroon, Africa.
Ginger Cooper, Global Ministries young-adult individual volunteer, sits with children in Cameroon, Africa.
Image by: Courtesy Ginger Cooper
Source: New World Outlook

New World Outlook, September/October 2008

So you think you want to be a volunteer. No it's not a yearning to be on a reality show, just a relentless thought in the back of your mind. You've seen the fliers, heard the stories, and recognized a need in the community and want to give back. But now what? Taking a cue from biblical numerology, here are seven quick tips for how to become a volunteer on the following pages.

  1. Go Local
    Volunteer movements begin at home, so the first people to contact are close at hand. First, check with your local church—some churches have a pastor or layperson who devotes much time to mission. Explore opportunities in urban and rural settings. Even youth groups and children can collect canned goods for a local food pantry. Who said only adults could be volunteers? Open your eyes to the needs of others.

  2. Make the Connection
    As you look for opportunities beyond your church and community, meet with your United Methodist Volunteer-In-Mission (UMVIM) annual conference or jurisdictional coordinator. UMVIM is a product of the church's volunteer movement. Each annual conference and jurisdiction has an UMVIM coordinator. Don't know the name of your jurisdiction or annual conference? Not a problem. Go to or ask your conference office.

    UMVIM conference coordinators are responsible for training and coordinating conference UMVIM teams. The jurisdictional coordinator is primarily responsible for training and networking with conference coordinators. Both groups plan and lead sessions for team-leader training. Every UMVIM team must have at least one leader who has gone through UMVIM team-leader training before a team can get started on a project at a work site.

    Volunteer coordinators are the best source of information for networking with teams and individuals and finding site locations. UMVIM coordinators also give information on supplemental insurance. Essential for any team member for safety and liability, insurance is available through the Global Ministries Mission Volunteers office and some conferences and jurisdictions.

    If you already have a team planned, let your UMVIM conference coordinator know. For safety and accountability reasons, the conference staff needs to know about volunteer teams and their work projects. Coordination will also prevent team and work project duplication.

  3. Follow Your Passion
    With so many opportunities, how do you know where to fit in? Maybe your calling is listening to people's life stories or building a house with no power tools. Volunteers' work runs the gamut from health care to education to construction. There is something for everyone.

    If you are a doctor or nurse, or work in the health-care profession, use your medical skills outside the workplace to help others. UMVIM has a need for medical teams of all types: dentists in Haiti, obstetricians/gynecologists and nurses in Liberia, optometrists in Honduras. Even non-health-care personnel can assist on medical trips by doing educational or administrative tasks.

    Perhaps you have served on a medical volunteer team and want to go further. Focus on comprehensive community-based primary health care. Work within a community to develop a sustainable health-care system for basic needs. Already the South Central and North Central Jurisdictions have begun conversations with Dr. Cherian Thomas of Global Ministries' Health and Welfare area to look at how short-term volunteers can participate in long-term community-based primary health care.

    Pitch in and lend a hand to a neighbor after a natural disaster. Disaster response is a three-phase process that includes Early Response Teams (ERTs) and Disaster Response teams.

    Become a member of an ERT and be one of the first to respond after a flood in the Midwest or a hurricane in the South. Upon invitation, ERTs are sent out to work with UMCOR and the UMVIM coordinator. All ERT members must receive specialized training, available through conference and jurisdiction offices.

    Continue working with relief efforts and join a Disaster Response team. Working with UMCOR, Disaster Response teams initiate the second and third phases of disaster response: clean-up and removal of debris; repair and rebuilding of the community. This work includes passing out flood buckets, filling cement bags, tearing down walls, and rebuilding.

  4. Know Your "Style"
    Get your feet wet as a volunteer by working alongside others. Sign up for a team through your church or conference; then invite friends and family to go with you. Take the opportunity to develop new or deeper friendships.

    Maybe you have done the team thing and are ready to go out on your own. Check out the Global Ministries' Individual Volunteers program. For anyone who is at least 18 or older, the Individual Volunteers program allows one person, or a married couple, to serve at a site for two months to two years. All Individual Volunteers must go through specific training. Training is held five times a year, once in each jurisdiction. To access the project list, contact information, and more details on the program, venture to the website

  5. Do Your Research
    Be an informed volunteer and conduct research before going on a volunteer work trip. The web is chock full of information. The Mission Volunteers website is a great place to start. Go to Here, you can find helpful links, such as guidelines for UMVIM teams, an insurance application, and contact information for Mission Volunteers staff and UMVIM conference and jurisdictional coordinators.

    Network with past volunteers. Ask about their experiences. Better yet, read about their stories on a blog. Blogs are great tools for information and staying connected. Before you leave, set up a free blog at or, where you can keep an online journal of your experiences.

    A blog is not just for the young or young at heart. It is an easy way to remember and organize trip details before they get hazy. It also provides vital information for others who might be planning to go on a similar trip. Jeanie Blankenbaker, former Assistant General Secretary of Mission Volunteers, set up a blog before she left for Korea as an Individual Volunteer. As she updates it, her family and friends are able to share in her experiences.

    Health-care volunteers can network with each other through a blog at This blog features health supplies, educational resources, photos and videos of recent trips, needs of individuals or teams, and other news. There are opportunities for visitors to make contact and interact on common topics of interest.

  6. Take the Plunge
    Okay, you've been there and done that. So now what? Challenge yourself and consider leading a team. Team leaders are vital to teams because they are responsible for preparing, building, orienting, and training the rest of the team members. Before leading a group, consult your conference or jurisdictional coordinator; then receive special training. Find a community or cause for which you are passionate. Don't know where to go? Check the international and domestic project lists online at

  7. Can't Get Enough?
    In addition to UMVIM, other volunteer programs are offered and available through Global Ministries' Mission Volunteers office.

    Explore the link between faith and social justice by working with local grassroots organizations. Global Justice Volunteers is an eight-week cross-cultural program for young adults ages 18 to 30. For dates and more information about future classes, check out

    If you are a bit older, but feel like you're in the "the prime of your life," the Primetimers program offers older adults opportunities for educational forums, cross-cultural exposure, faith-filled reflection, and greater insight into the work of The United Methodist Church. For dates and details about future excursions, go to

    Give more than just your time. Encourage your home community to support a particular cause, project, missionary, or UMCOR relief effort through The Advance. The Advance is an accountable, designated-giving arm of The United Methodist Church which ensures that 100 percent of each gift reaches its intended mission or ministry (see printed New World Outlook issue, pp. 38–39). Go to or ask your local church office for more information.

Final thoughts: Be in prayer about all of these ideas and use all available resources and people. Consult with a pastor, coordinator, or experienced team leader when choosing a volunteer path. There is a niche just for you in the vast network of Global Ministries volunteers.

Beth Buchanan is the program coordinator for Mission Volunteers at the General Board of Global Ministries.

See Also...
Topic: Education GBGM programs Mission opportunities United Methodist Church Volunteers
Geographic Region: World
Source: New World Outlook

Date posted: Sep 03, 2008