Call Issued for More Covenant Relationships
Between Congregations and Missionaries
By Elliott Wright
New York, NY, February 27, 2009—"Missionaries feel they are in mission with local churches rather than for churches," says the Rev. Lynn DeMoss of the West Michigan Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
"I've been a missionary, and Covenant Relationships let the missionaries know that the local church feels the same way," he adds, recalling his days of mission service in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Covenant Relationships build partnerships between United Methodist congregations and particular missionaries, and an expanding number of such partnerships are needed to spiritually and financially sustain the church's missionary community.
The General Board of Global Ministries is challenging the annual (regional) conferences in the US to increase the number of their covenants by 10 this year. Most conference secretaries of Global Ministries, such as Rev. DeMoss in West Michigan, are saying, "Yes."
Covenants Strengthen the Whole Church
"Covenants between congregations and missionaries strengthen the whole church as we go about God's mission," says Rachael Barnett, a Global Ministries' staff member with The Advance, the denomination's designated mission giving channel. "Covenants involve prayer and personal contacts as well as economic support. Covenants help to make disciples of Jesus Christ, build up the church, and respond to human needs."
"Without the support of the congregations, we could not carry out our ministries that reach out to the poor and others who need new hope in life through the gospel," agrees the Rev. Emmanuel Barte, a missionary in Cambodia. He and his wife, Beverly, are among the 300 United Methodist missionaries in 60 countries available for Covenant Relationships.
At present, some five percent of all United Methodist congregations have Covenant Relationships with missionaries through the General Board of Global Ministries. In 2008, the California-Pacific conference had the highest percentage of churches that participated in a Covenant Relationship, over 10 percent. The Virginia conference contributed the largest dollar total, or $509,429. One hundred percent of all gifts through The Advance go to the designated ministry. The annual financial contribution for a covenant is at least $2,500, or five dollars per church member.
"On the hardest days, we fight the temptation to believe that we are all alone," writes Missionaries Ardell and Gordon Graner from Bolivia. "Then we receive glimpses of God's unending faithfulness through an email from a conference mission secretary or a letter that has taken a month to come from a member of a covenant church."
Covenant Relationships underscore the advantages of the United Methodist connection in accomplishing the goals of mission. The relationship allows congregations and conferences to "meet and be in contact with real live missionaries," according to Katie Peterson, a church and community worker, a category of missionary in the US. They also give the missionaries a "wonderful opportunity to be with and in mission with people from all over the world," she adds, noting that the sense of connection helps her to share "how God's love is at work through The United Methodist Church."
"Missionaries are part of the lifeblood of the church, and the board has dedicated a considerable part of its investment income over the decades to missionary costs, pensions, and benefits," says the Rev. Edward B. Paup, general secretary of Global Ministries. "Investment income has virtually dried up in this time of economic downturn. We are increasingly dependent on World Service, the basic benevolence fund of our church, and designated giving through The Advance to maintain and increase the missionary community. Covenant Relationships are a viable means for a congregation or individual to supplement their World Service giving."
Broadening Mission Vision
Joining hands with missionaries broadens the mission vision of a congregation. Jeanne Mustain, treasurer of Cleora United Methodist Church in Cleroa, Oklahoma, recalls:
The Cleora church in December 2008 established its first Covent Relationship with Umba and Ngoy Kalangwa in Tanzania. The Kalangwas are originally from Congo. The Rev. Umba Kalangwa is an evangelist, and Ngoy Kalangwa, his wife, works in a refugee camp and leads a community center.
The Advance recently announced the opportunity for individuals to make covenants with missionaries at the level of $500 per year. It is also encouraging United Methodist youth groups and young adult groups to forge relationships with short-term young adult missionaries, such as US-2s, who serve two-year terms, and mission interns, who spend 15 months in an international placement and an equal time in a US setting.
An increase of covenants means that congregations must understand the value the relationship brings to them and their members. Often the best promotion is to invite a missionary or missionary couple to visit a church. That is what happened at the Red Bank United Methodist Church, Red Bank, New Jersey, when Missionaries Mutwale Wa Mushidi and his wife, Kabaka Alphonsine, also working in Tanzania, visited. Jane Schildge, chair of the outreach committee, recalls:
Missionaries connect personally with their covenant congregations through a program of itineration. "Itineration is not simply visitation; it is, even more, invitation," says Fred Price, who heads the Office of Missionary Itineration at Global Ministries. "It is an invitation to take a bigger role in God's story of life in Jesus Christ."
Missionaries: An International Community
The community of United Methodist missionaries is increasingly international. This greatly strengthens mission productivity and an awareness of the global nature of the church but can be a challenge in promoting covenants. A missionary from Africa working in Cambodia does not have a natural base of support, as is often the case with missionaries coming through annual conferences in the US.
The Rev. James Gulley, a retired missionary now serving as chairperson of the United Methodist Missionary Association, tells this story:
The Rev. Jeff Childs of Grand Island, New York, pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church, and secretary for Global Ministries in the North Central New York Conference, thinks there may be a way to address that challenge and also to reach and exceed the goal of 10 new covenants per annual conference. The answer, he suggests, is to get church people to think about missionaries in general; then more specifically how "someone" should support them, and moving on to the realization that the someone could be "me" and "my" congregation!
Congregations with a strong sense of mission want connections with missionaries. Covenant Relationships bring a sense of real engagement in mission by forging partnerships that enrich the congregations and benefit the work of missionaries. In a covenant, both congregation and missionary share the journey in God's mission.
"Covenant relationships have sustained me for more than two decades," says Missionary Kathleen Masters, now in West Virginia, who has served in several parts of the world. "They form my family in Christ and have shared my burdens and joys, life and death, and we work together, thriving in God's mission. I absolutely depend upon the unbreakable nature of the covenants to sustain me in joyful service."
Developing a Covenant Relationship
For more information about establishing a Covenant Relationship, please contact your conference secretary of Global Ministries. A list can be found online at CSGM.
Information on Covenant Relationships is also available online at www.advancinghope.org or by calling The Advance at 212-870-3718.
Elliott Wright is the information officer of the General Board of Global Ministries.
Date posted: Feb 27, 2009