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College Students Enliven Mission Conference

by Elliott Wright

Pfeiffer students taking part in
Pfeiffer students taking part in "Rethink Mission" conference.
Image by: Elliott Wright
Source: Missionary stories
Pfeiffer students taking part in
Pfeiffer students taking part in "Rethink Mission" conference.
Image by: Elliott Wright
Source: Missionary stories

Nashville, Tennessee, October 22, 2010--Beth Kauffman, like many other United Methodist young people today, was introduced to Christian mission on a volunteer trip, hers to Cuba. The experience broadened her horizon about potential vocations, and now she is combining mission with her youth ministry studies at Pfeiffer College in North Carolina.

Beth was one of 15 Pfeiffer students taking part in "Rethink Mission," a conference on mission past, present, and future held at Scarritt-Bennett Center in Nashville from October 14 to 17. The students gave the meeting of 120 mission specialists a decidedly forward-looking direction.

Beth, a reflective sophomore from Woodlands, Texas, said that on the trip to Cuba she realized the need for mission and added the topic to her curriculum. She wishes that more teenagers and young adults were aware of mission and mission opportunities through The United Methodist Church. She applauds an increase in electronic media aimed at connecting mission and her generation. Beth grew up in the large-membership Woodlands United Methodist Church.

Alex Ellenberg, a second-semester sophomore from Cleveland, North Carolina, also has a "strong call to youth ministry and mission," and wants the church to be aware of the capacities of young people to take the gospel of Jesus Christ seriously. He has done an internship in youth ministry at Christ United Methodist Church in Salisbury, North Carolina, and is seeking God's guidance on whether to go to seminary in preparation for ordination.

Youth Welcomed

In short interviews, Beth, Alex, and several of their Pfeiffer friends commented on the welcome they received from the missionaries, deaconesses, and church leaders gathered for "Rethink Mission." The conference was one of several events around the world marking the 100 th anniversary of the famous World Missionary Conference held in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1910.

"It's great to interact with mission veterans," Alex commented. "They are open to what we have to say." This sentiment was underscored by Kayleigh Peterman, a Pfeiffer freshman from Naples, Florida. "In the small groups, the others really listened to us," she said.

The "veterans" were thankful for the students, who brought energy and fresh insights to serious questions of how the church today and its members engage in God's mission around the world. "Wasn't it great to have the students here?" was a common comment as the conference concluded following Sunday worship.

Pfeiffer College

Several in the Pfeiffer group are doing a double major in youth ministry and mission, a rare opportunity at the college level. Pfeiffer, with its main campus at Misenheimer, North Carolina, is the only United Methodist-related undergraduate institution with a major in mission.

The trip to Nashville for the mission conference was organized by the Rev. Philip Wingeier-Rayo, a professor of religion at Pfeiffer, who was a missionary for 15 years through the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries. He served in Nicaragua, Cuba, Mexico, and the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas.

Pfeiffer College, located near Charlotte in the Western North Carolina Annual Conference, was established in 1885 and offers both undergraduate and graduate degrees. The undergraduate school is centered in Misenheimer, with graduate facilities on that campus and in Charlotte and the Durham area. The school is proudly in the United Methodist tradition of higher education. It has a new Master of Arts program in practical theology as well as bachelor work in various areas of ministry, including mission.

Students will receive academic credit for their participation in "Rethink Mission" and the completion of academic requirements linked to the event. Pfeiffer provided transportation to Nashville in a van. Students paid for their own meals and slept each night in the youth rooms of Calvary United Methodist Church of Nashville.

The students had group opportunities to interact with several of the major conference speakers, including Dr. Dana Robert, a professor of mission at Boston University, who delivered the keynote address (see the story Rethinking Missionaries from 1910 to Today.)

Mission Volunteer Experience

"Mission trips"--involving volunteers in mission--seemed to be common experiences among most of the 15 Pfeiffer students. Such activities, which are sponsored by congregations, schools, districts, and annual conferences, are in the early 21 st century the primary doors to mission for young people.

David Bunn, while only a college freshman, has always been a volunteer in disaster relief in North Carolina and programs involving residents of a veteran's home and a homeless shelter in the Asheville area.

A native of Norwood, North Carolina, where he grew up in the First United Methodist Church, David is combining his talents as a musician with a passion for mission, especially with a focus on local communities. "Music speaks to people, sometimes more than words," he said. David came to the realization that God wanted him to link music and mission through a great deal of prayer. "God has laid this calling on me," he said.

"Everywhere to Everywhere"

David was especially impressed at the conference with an address by Dr. Daryl Balia, a professor of mission in Scotland, originally of Indian ancestry from South Africa.

Dr. Balia presented an overview of mission from the late 18 th century to the present day. He also analyzed practical implications and challenges introduced by the current concept of "mission from everywhere to everywhere"--a replacement for seeing mission as an enterprise of white westerners directed to indigenous people in other parts of the world.

Ms. Peterman found herself thinking about venues for mission service as she listened to the speaker and engaged in small-group discussions. Her home church, North Naples United Methodist, offers mission opportunities in Africa, but she is investigating a range of options as she pursues her education.

The Pfeiffer students actively took part in the drafting of a long list of mission affirmations that emerged from "Rethink Mission" through an intense small-group process. They also assisted with worship, under the leadership of the Rev. Debra Tyree, a staff member of the Global Praise program of the General Board of Global Ministries.

The students acted as communion servers in the liturgy of Holy Communion that concluded the conference.

"Rethink Mission" was sponsored by three professional associations of United Methodist mission personnel--the Church and Community Workers Association, National Association of Deaconesses, and United Methodist Missionary Association--and by the Mission Professors of The United Methodist Church, and the General Board of Global Ministries. Retired missionary Norma Kehrberg did most of the organizational work.


Date posted: Oct 22, 2010