'Incredible' Growth of United Methodist
Mission Volunteers across a 15 Year Span
By Elliott Wright*
New York, NY, May 7, 2007-- United Methodist mission volunteers climbed from just under 20,000 in 1992 to more than 110,912 in 2006, with several peaks and valleys across the 15 year period.
"This is an incredible growth of voluntary mission service," said the Rev. Clinton Rabb, assistant general secretary for mission volunteers of the General Board of Global Ministries. "The growth and the appeal come from the grassroots nature of the volunteer movement."
The figures specifically chart the expansion of United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM), a program that involves mostly congregation-based teams engaged in short-term construction, medical, and educational service around the world.
The total number of mission volunteers registered by Global Ministries in 2006 was 112,486, a figure that includes several programs in addition to UMVIM.
Short-term volunteer services is widely considered to be the primary channel through which United Methodist youth and young adults become acquainted with the mission mandate of the Church today. "Volunteer service is woven into the fabric of congregations, district, annual conferences, and jurisdictions," Rabb stated.
UMVIM participants reached an all-time high of 135,000 in 2005, a figure clearly related to the deadly hurricanes along the Gulf Coast. Total participants fell into the mid 60,000 range in 2003 and 2004, down from some 96,000 in the year 2000. A slow but steady climb from 1992 to 1997 saw a dramatic upswing in 1998 through 2000, with a sharp fall in 2001 as a result of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, DC.
"The figures, of course, vary with what is happening in the world," Rabb said. He noted that the increase in late 1998 through 2000 was attributable in part to the response to Hurricane Mitch, which devastated large parts of Central America, especially Honduras and Nicaragua, and moved on into Florida.
Rabb said that the phenomenal growth, especially in 2005, "strained the system but we did not fall apart. The challenge has helped us to find way to strengthen the interaction between UMVIM and the work of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). As a network, we are always looking for ways to improve our outcomes and the experiences of mission service without doing damage to the very concept of voluntarism."
The 2005 UMVIM figure of 110,912 represents reports from 60 of 63 annual (regional) United Methodist conferences in the United States.
There were 7410 construction teams and 264 medical. Of the 7,674 teams, 2,074 took part in hurricane relief.
UMVIM is the largest component of the volunteer program but not the only one. Individual volunteers, who serve from a few months to years, numbered 78 in 2006, working in 28 countries and 9 U.S. states. Last year there were 1,100 documented participants in a program called Health Care Volunteers, with the possibility of some participant overlap with persons in medical teams.
In 2006, there were 1,152 active members of NOMADS, a program of mostly seniors who move around the US, and sometimes Central America, living in RVs while they engaged in mission volunteer work.
*Elliott Wright is the information officer of the General Board of Global Ministries.
Date posted: May 08, 2007