The Changing Face of Mission
by Melissa Hinnen
The face of missionaries has changed, with nearly 50 percent of United Methodist missionaries coming from places outside the United States. "We now have missionaries who are coming from everywhere and going everywhere," said Thomas Kemper, who leads the denomination's mission agency.
Patterns of service are vastly different in the 21st century than in the 19th or 20th centuries, particularly as the center of Christian gravity has shifted to Africa. While the approach might look different, the need for professional mission service has not changed. Missionaries incarnate the universal message of the church, sharing their faith in foreign lands, bringing back their new experiences, and transforming themselves, the church, and the world.
"The universal gospel of Jesus always transcends any cultural context," said Kemper. "The tension in all mission work is to proclaim a universal gospel that is incarnated in a local context and is relevant in this place and time."
With these new understandings come new challenges to develop paradigms that reflect current realities. Global Ministries is intentionally engaging in prophetic discourse to address the shifting role and needs of missionaries. As part of the dialogue, the agency organized a two-day mission roundtable that included a cross-section of missionaries, staff, faith partners, business partners, and missiologists. The meeting was held February 27-28, 2012, at Drew University in Madison, New Jersey.
Developing Guiding Principles
The goal of the roundtable was "to articulate the guiding principles for missionary service in order to formulate, revise, and implement strategies and policies." The more than 50 participants spent time in daily worship and heard diverse educational speakers and personal testimonies. They also engaged in small groups and consensus-building exercises, exploring and prioritizing core values of missionary service, including compensation, financial sustainability, and missionary care and support.
The meeting also allowed the missionaries to discuss concerns and strengthen relationships with the Global Ministries headquarters staff. All the participants affirmed the importance of globally diverse missionaries and the related need for a process that supports them.
Dr. Carlos F. Cardoza Orlandi outlined current trends in missionary practice. A professor of global Christianity and mission studies, Dr. Orlandi emphasized the need to understand that people will conceptualize "Jesus in their own context of understanding deity." He challenged the group to ask, "How do missionaries who come from everywhere and go everywhere identify as the body of Christ in ways that represent the diversity of the body of Christ?"
Nkemba Ndjungu, a missionary from the Democratic Republic of Congo serving in Cameroon, said that diversity in Africa requires cultural adjustments. Past experiences of knowing only missionaries who were white colonized the hearts and minds of people where he serves. He has to overcome assumptions about his role as an African man. Ndjungu also noted that it can be more challenging to develop Covenant Relationship support for missionaries who are not from the US because they do not have the same connections. Ndjungu reported that, despite the challenges, over time he has been able to build trusting relationships with the community he serves and with a number of annual conferences. Being a missionary is a "privilege and opportunity. When you are in mission, you learn more than you teach."
Jeri and Bill Savuto recently returned from missionary service, and their roles in Kenya were both replaced by Kenyans. Jeri stressed the importance of serving with the intent to work herself out of a job. "We need to empower people in order to hand over our work by training others.... From the beginning, ask, 'How are we going to exit? Who is going to take our place?' We don't have the vision to know what will happen. Thank God, the person who will replace me has the vision."
Creative and Sacrificial Finances
A significant portion of the meeting addressed practical issues such as the declining budgets of general agencies in contrast with the desire to increase missionary presence. Different models of compensation and benefits were explored in various contexts and perspectives. The words "creative" and "sacrifice" emerged as common reference points in these discussions.
Acknowledging that there is a tension in how compensation is determined for responding to God's call, Jeri Savuto also expressed that "sacrifice has to be part of our work. The people we serve are phenomenally sacrificial. I don't deserve to be there with them if I'm not willing to sacrifice on some level."
There was discussion about the importance of the local people conducting asset-based assessments to determine what resources, such as time and talent, they can contribute. Jose Duque, a professor and missiologist from Colombia, said that when the "local community offers funds, and the offerings are collected to support the missions," the community becomes invested in "their" projects.
Erin Eidenshink, a young-adult missionary, reflected on her experience as a Mission Intern in Mongolia. She suggested that it was important to identify essential needs. "Church and worship don't require money, but leadership development does.... We need to be creative in how we raise support. Globalization allows us to be connected with brothers and sisters in other countries. How can we use Skype and other technology to share the work we are doing with others--particularly the churches we are in covenant with?"
Covenant Relationships are the most important source of missionary support. Only about 25 percent of missionary support comes from local church World Service apportionments. Churches and individuals who are committed to global mission are vital partners for continued missionary placements. While it can be more challenging for missionaries from outside the US to connect with churches in the US, technology creates exciting new opportunities for missionaries to share their work with people around the world. As more churches partner with missionaries, Global Ministries will be able to send more missionaries out into the world to make disciples of Jesus Christ.
Moving Forward as a Discipleship Movement for Mission
According to Judy Chung, head of the missionary services unit of Global Ministries, the roundtable set the foundation for a series of steps that will be taken to develop guiding principles relating to United Methodist missionaries. "Between now and October, we will develop a document with input from our staff and board, missionaries, and partners and ultimately we will make a recommendation to the board of directors about how to revise and implement new strategies and policies based on these guiding principles."
Kemper closed the meeting, affirming the different participant roles. "It has been a blessing to be gathered with some of our missionaries for this time. The coming together with our staff, faith partners, and business partners indicates that we are truly working together as a community of disciples." While he acknowledged a practical need for new institutional structures and policies, Kemper reminded the group that, "at the heart of what we are all doing is serving God's mission. Let us continue to be a discipleship movement shaped for mission."
Date posted: Mar 01, 2012