Rethink Mission: Trends in Missionary Service
by Mary Beth Coudal
Recent trends in missionary service reflect a greater awareness and respect for cultural context, simple living, communication, and diversity. These trends may seem forward-looking, yet the changing tides of missionary service refer back to the past and to the life of Jesus Christ.
Context and Partnership
Today's missionaries walk with humility, love, and respect, learning about the world as they serve.
General Board of Global Ministries executive and former missionary Jodi Cataldo traveled to lead a Bible study in Mongolia. According to HyeYun Hong Seo, a missionary from Korea serving in Mongolia, Ms. Cataldo made a strong impression on the Mongolian people through:
...the love and compassion for the children and her dedication... The teacher's excitement spilled over into the vacation Bible school sponsored by a team of volunteers from the Ulsan Korean Methodist Church working in partnership with the teachers of the Gerelt United Methodist Church. Street evangelism was combined with singing and dancing, Bible stories, learning centers, 'Olympic' competitions, and a puppet show that captivated the hearts of 160 children.
The trend towards denying materialism resonates especially with young people. Among the many venues for young people to serve as missionaries within the United Methodist Church, there are US-2s who serve for two years in the United States and Mission Interns who serve in the US and internationally for three years. These young adults get paid very little, yet are motivated "to do justice, and to love kindness, and walk humbly with your God." (Micah 6:8)
Crickett Nicovich from Mississippi, who served as a young adult missionary from 2005 to 2008, said:
Living as a missionary isn't much different from living as a student so making the leap from one to the other isn't that difficult. The truth is that you're not making money in either profession and you're almost always up for a free meal. It's really not about the money, it's about the learning when you're a student, and again in the real world sense when you're a missionary.
Ms. Nicovich worked as a Mission Intern in South Africa with SHADE, a faith-based mission for displaced people. She is presently an outreach and advocacy associate at RESULTS Educational Fund in Washington DC.
Rachel Harvey, a former US-2, said, "I grew up in a working class family. Choosing to be a US-2 and live on 200 dollars a month (when my rent, food and transportation was covered) wasn't a huge issue because I'd seen my mom do it my whole life and still journey with family members living paycheck to paycheck. As a Christian, seeking to emulate a radical freedom fighter like Jesus, it was safe for me in our capitalist culture to be a US-2 because it gave me a reason to live below my means. The challenge for me came when I finished my service and was offered a salary with benefits above a living wage -- that was when (economically) the challenge of being in community with someone like Jesus really hit me." Ms. Harvey, from Pennsylvania, served as a young adult missionary from 2004-2006 as the director of CoffeeLoft.org in Vermillion, South Dakota. Ms. Harvey now serves as the Associate Executive Director of the Reconciling Ministries Network in Chicago, Illinois.
Laura Ralston, a former US-2 from Illinois, said:
Living a life of poverty is probably the least we can do in order to create a world where we are aware of the impact we have on the economy and others around us. I've seen many friends move away from a life of fulfilling everything that they want, and instead moving towards a life of simplicity. This movement towards simplicity certainly could cause a trend of more people looking at how they can help rid the world of injustice one step at a time.
Ms. Ralston served as a US-2 from 2005 to 2007 with Saranam, a homeless outreach ministry with Central United Methodist Church in Albuquerque, NM. Ms. Ralston is currently a youth director at Central United Methodist Church.
Communicating Through New Channels
Mss. Harvey, Nicovich and Ralston communicated their thoughts on missionariesâ€™ simpler lifestyles through Facebook. They, like many young adult missionaries, use new modes of communicating to share their message. Through Facebook and blog entries, readers can experience firsthand the daily challenges and joys of being a young adult missionary. These are also venues for sharing photos.
When readers visit Joseph Bradley's blog, a Mission Intern from Texas who is serving in Cambodia, they can learn about a taxi driver's radical kindness and Mr. Bradley's overall affection for and understanding of the Cambodian people. On his blog, http://jbradcambodia.wordpress.com/2010/01/, Bradley links to eight other young adult missionaries, all of whom share their daily lives as missionaries.
Joseph Bradley was commissioned as a missionary in the fall of 2009 in a worship service that was broadcast live as a webcast http://new.gbgm-umc.org/about/us/mp/. Hundreds of viewers from around the world logged on to watch this commissioning service. People also look to the internet to see United Methodist news and stories at UMTV.org. Webcasts, blogs, and Facebook messages are new ways of connecting in mission, as are Twitter and Skype.
Rachael Barnett, an executive with The Advance, talks frequently to the recently commissioned missionary Shannon Goran from Tomball, Texas, who is serving as a director of student ministry at several universities in L'viv, Ukraine. The two talk through Skype, a free internet calling service, whereby the two can see one another as well as hear one another through their computers.
Pastors are also using online tools to convey to their flock (and all who are interested) what mission means. On Twitter, Rev. Mike Slaughter of Ginghamsburg Church in Tipp City, Ohio, recently sent this message to his 580 followers:
Missional church engages world in places of real need 2day; doesn't waste time/resources fueling complex programs/structures #changeworld
The missionaries of Global Ministries are truly global. Almost half of the 185 international missionaries come from countries outside of the United States and serve outside of the United States. The majority of people applying to become United Methodist missionaries are not from the US.
Shorter and More Varied Ways to Serve
Present-day missionaries change assignments more frequently than missionaries of the past. The goal of missionary work is to work oneself out of the job. When this happens, a new assignment is needed. For example, Kathleen Masters worked as a missionary for decades -- in the Solomon Islands, Georgia in the US, Uganda, Zambia, New York, and West Virginia. She is now a Global Ministries executive in New York.
The usual duration of service for standard support missionaries is three years. Continuation of service depends on many factors, including the finances of Global Ministries.
To fulfill global mission partners' requests for help, United Methodist Volunteer in Mission (UMVIM) teams help for short periods of time. Often, these volunteers develop a heart for mission and commit to serve on a regular or long-term basis. In recent years, the number of mission volunteers has exceeded 100,000.
One new category of missionary service is the global health missionary. Dr. Eduardo Maia is one such missionary. He is originally from Brazil and serves as a physician and surgeon with Chicuque Hospital in Chicuque, Mozambique. In connection with the churchwide focus on global health, one facet of Dr. Maia's work is to help eliminate preventable diseases, such as malaria.
The Continuing Challenge
In 2010, the renewed Christian missionary movement truly seeks to connect in mission by living as Jesus did. In so doing, one learns that God still loves the world. The challenge for missionaries and for the mission-minded? To continue to evangelize the church as they evangelize the world.
To support any of the missionaries mentioned in this article, such as HyeYun Hong Seo in Mongolia, Shannon Goran in the Ukraine, Joseph Bradley in Cambodia, or Eduardo Maia in Mozambique, please consider partnering with them through a Covenant Relationship. About three thousand United Methodist churches in the United States have covenants with missionaries around the world. To learn more about how you or your church can set up a covenant relationship, link to www.advancinghope.org or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
This story is an excerpt of a longer magazine article. Mary Beth Coudal is the staff writer for Global Ministries. She would like to thank her colleagues Jerald McKie, John Nuessle, Antonietta Wilson, Fred Price, Rachael Barnett, James Rollins, Beth Buchanan, Kathleen Masters, Jodi Cataldo, and Gail Coulson for their conversations which contributed to the understanding of the missionary trends noted in this article. This sharing of ideas marks yet another trend in the mission movement of the General Board of Global Ministries -- greater collaboration.
Date posted: May 14, 2010