Celebrating the Volunteer Experience
November 18, 2008 -- Following God's Call: Individual Volunteers in Mission is a challenge to United Methodists to use all of their abilities and talents in the cause of God's mission in the world.
The new book by Dr. Betty Whitehurst and Rev. Walter Whitehurst is about the values and joys of volunteering. 'Individual Volunteers' is a mission service avenue linked to the General Board of Global Ministries, the international mission agency of the denomination.
The Whitehursts and Global Ministries celebrated the publication of Following God's Call, published by Abington Press, at a series of events at the board headquarters in mid-November.
The book quotes dozens of volunteers, who sent letters and emails to the Whitehursts from 1995 to 2006. The volunteers were troubled, surprised, and mostly grateful. Offering a rich kaleidoscope of experiences from the mission field, Following God's Call is practical, inspiring, and extremely readable. One can devour it from cover to cover or flip to any page to find meaning.
While there is a variety to the volunteers' experiences, one common theme emerges: "Expect the unexpected," Dr. Whitehurst said.
One unique aspect of the Individual Volunteer program is its flexibility; it can be tailor-made for any individual. "We ask volunteers, 'Where do you feel led to go?' Some will answer, 'Anywhere,'" Dr. Whitehurst said. While volunteers are not funded, they "always find their families, and churches will support them," Dr. Whitehurst said.
"They can serve from two months to ten years...from young adults to senior citizens," said Dr. Whitehurst. Volunteers may work in many countries from Guatemala to Ghana. The volunteer work is varied as well. Volunteers may teach children, build homes, staff libraries, help in church offices, provide health care, work on farms, and so much more.
Currently, more than 130 individual volunteers serve in the United States and around the world through the Southeastern Jurisdiction office and through Global Ministries' Mission Volunteers Office of The United Methodist Church.
This number is small compared to the more than 100,000 people who travel with United Methodist Volunteer in Mission (UMVIM) teams. But the UMVIM experience feeds the Individual Volunteer program. Dozens of individuals who serve on teams choose to return for longer periods of time as a volunteer. Some even become missionaries.
"We tell [volunteers] that they likely will be perceived as missionaries, so to behave accordingly," said Dr. Whitehurst.
The Whitehursts served as missionaries in Chile. They have staffed the office for the Individual Volunteer program in the Southeastern Jurisdiction and nationally for Global Ministries. As facilitators four times a year, the Whitehursts led weekend workshops for volunteers on cross-cultural sensitivity, finances, healthcare, and Bible Study. (Due to the increasingly popular nature of the program, presently there are six trainings offered per year, with more to come.)
"[The Whitehursts] were leaders in developing the Individual Volunteers program. They started a new thing. It continues to grow and get strong," said Rev. Clint Rabb, assistant general secretary, Mission Volunteers.
The word "mission" is frequently tossed around, but what does it mean to be in mission? "Mission means following the leadership of God to serve people. To share with people what Christ means to themselves and to ask people to be open to Christianity or to deepen their faith, if they already are Christian," said Rev. Whitehurst.
To discover your own personal call to mission, Rev. Whitehurst advises you to read Following God's Call. The book was originally three times the current length and took three years to write. "Writing this was a great way to culminate my years in mission," Rev. Whitehurst said.
"It is a work that is hard to put down and would be great not only to read and keep and cherish, but also to give as a Christmas gift," said Michael DeBorja of Global Ministries' Mission Volunteer office.
Following God's Call: Individual Volunteers in Mission is available from Cokesbury bookstores and at http://cokesbury.com. For a discounted rate and an autographed copy, you may get the book directly from the Whitehursts at WaltPungo@aol.com
Date posted: Nov 18, 2008