New World Outlook: November - December 1999 - Home Page Text Version

United Methodist Volunteers in Mission


United Methodist Volunteers In Mission (UMVIM), both lay and clergy, single and in couples, are engaged in Christian ministry. They serve as individual volunteers in a program designed to complement not compete with long-term mission service. In fulfilling the work to which God has called them, they embody the UMVIM motto: "Christian Love In Action."

Where and How Individuals Serve

Individual volunteers may serve nationally or internationally, sometimes ecumenically, in projects ranging from construction to evangelization, from social outreach to medical assistance. Individuals may serve locally in churches and communities, visiting the homebound, assisting in nursing homes, tutoring children, or repairing houses. They may also serve in annual-conference projects such as community centers, children's centers, camps, and vacation Bible schools.

Steps to Follow

Individual volunteers serve for periods of two months to two years, usually at their own expense. In general, individuals or married couples should follow these steps:

  1. Complete a UMVIM application form.
  2. Provide recommendations from your pastor and two other people.
  3. Arrange an interview with your conference or jurisdictional UMVIM representative.
  4. Prepare a budget and secure financing.
  5. Attend an Individual Volunteer Orientation.
  6. Make your travel arrangements.

For an application or additional information, contact:

The Rev. Walt Whitehurst
1761 Princess Anne Road
Virginia Beach, VA 23456

For those living within the Southeast Jurisdiction, contact:
59 Ralph McGill Blvd., NE, #305
Atlanta, GA 30308-3353

Because individual volunteers are viewed as missionaries by the host community, they may be asked to pray aloud, speak in public on short notice, or lead Bible studies. When they serve in other countries, fluency in the language is often required. divider______________

On My Own in the Philippines

Story and photos by Bob May

My perspective and attitude will be forever changed by my experience serving as an individual volunteer in the Philippines.

Individual volunteer Bob May at a market, Cabanatuan City, the Philippines.

Individual volunteer Bob May at a market, Cabanatuan City, the Philippines.

Previously, I had spent a few weeks on mission-team projects in a mountain village in Mexico and on an Indian reservation in South Dakota. A cross-cultural mission team is a small miracle in action. It's great to be a part of a group of strangers working together with a common purpose.

But there were many new things I learned by being an individual volunteer. Without the local support of a group from the United States to ease my transition into the culture, I had to become totally dependent on the assistance and kindness of my hosts. This meant I had to grow immeasurably in faith. As usual, God surprised me. My hosts in Cabanatuan City provided everything necessary for my stay: room, food, guides, even my own personal computer.

God opened my eyes in other ways too. Now I have a much better understanding of how much work it is to offer oneself in mission service. My duty at Wesleyan University meant much more than just showing up in a classroom several times a week to teach computer science. It was a full-time job.

Even so, away from the distractions of busy American life, I had the time necessary for proper spiritual reflection and meditation. For our daily devotional in the dorm, someone would write a verse on the board and someone else would illustrate it. Some of the drawings were really impressive. A few students had questions, and I did my best to answer them. In turn, I asked questions too.

Children of the Bakod Bayon community in Cabanatuan City, the Philippines, attend daily vacation church school under a big tree.

Children of the Bakod Bayon community in Cabanatuan City, the Philippines, attend daily vacation church school under a tree.

My time in the Philippines brought other special benefits. I loved the laughing children of the Bakod Bayon community who were attending their first daily vacation church school. I had volunteered to teach the 10- to 12-year-olds. They screamed with delight when we teachers arrived each morning. Being responsible for visual aids, I drew lots of pictures. I held up signs and carried chairs. I sang songs and danced in circles. I jumped up and down and made airplane noises. I couldn't communicate very well in words, for none of the kids spoke English. But I noticed that a smile and a few simple words of Tagalog let people know you are making an effort to understand and be understood.

At vacation church school, we didn't have a room to meet in, so we met under a big tree beside the rice field. Whenever we needed a chalkboard, we taped paper to the tree. Seeing the enthusiasm of these children as they attentively listened to Gospel stories and joyously sang praises and hymns for the Lord made my entire trip worthwhile.

Soon after my arrival, I discovered how seriously the Filipinos value family and interpersonal relationships. During discussions in Bible study, it became obvious how important they consider other people and how highly they value their friends. For example, their word pasalubong means the gift that you bring back to your family or friends whenever you go somewhere. As someone who didn't always regard my family and friends with the proper love, I think God wanted me to hear this message.

One surprising benefit of my stay in the Philippines was that I became closer to the people I left behind. When I left for Cabanatuan City, I thought I was leaving my friends and family, but I was wrong. They made sure that we went through all of my adventures together. Although I was far from home and distant from them, I felt their care and concern. I read their words of encouragement. I opened their care packages. Most of all, I benefited from their prayers. I knew that, no matter what happened, I had many voices uplifting my service. I was an individual volunteer, but I was working with a great deal of support.

Bob May is an individual volunteer from Bergton, Virginia, who served at Wesleyan University in the Philippines. divider______________

Books Are Like Gold in Zimbabwe

by Ann and Morris Taber

In early January 1999, looking for adventure and wanting to use our skills as educators to help others, we left our home in Ann Arbor, Michigan, for a five-month stay in Mutare, Zimbabwe. We became a part of the United Methodist Volunteers In Mission (UMVIM) program, as self-supporting individual volunteers. Morris, who had taught history at Henry Ford Community College in Dearborn for almost three decades, was to teach American history at United Methodism's Africa University (AU). Ann, a retired school librarian and elementary reading teacher, offered her professional services to the Hartzell Primary School for ages 5-12.

When Ann first offered to help with the library at the 900-student Methodist mission school, the headmaster wrote back that Hartzell did not have a library because of "a lack of appropriate books." Similarly, Morris learned that most of his students could not afford to buy textbooks, relying instead on AU library texts or on photocopied sections. These realities reminded us of what a Zimbabwean friend had told us: "Books are like gold in Zimbabwe."

Ann Taber shares a book with children at Hartzell Primary School, Mutare, Zimbabwe.  Courtesy Morris Taber.

Ann Taber shares a book with children at Hartzell Primary School, Mutare, Zimbabwe. Photo by Morris Taber.

The scarcity of books in Zimbabwe inspired us to undertake a "Books Are Like Gold" project. We bought new books, collected and sorted used ones, and sought monetary donations to buy more and to cover shipping costs. Since Morris's AU students would be going back to teaching in high schools, he told would-be donors that, for just $29, "YOU can significantly influence what thousands of African students know and understand about America by providing an American history book!" Ann's appeal called for funds to buy appropriate books in the United States and to purchase books in Africa specifically designed for Zimbabwean pupils.

Our few modest appeals created an unanticipated chain reaction of support. Family and friends spread the effort to other churches, and a United Methodist retirement home contributed a month's chapel collection. A Detroit News reporter heard about our efforts, which brought another outpouring of donations.

By February, which is midsummer in Zimbabwe, Ann was either reading stories to the children in their classrooms or processing books in the teachers' tearoom, while the children peeked in, smiled, and waved. Meanwhile, the headmaster had a damaged classroom refurbished to be used for the library. By March, our 15 mailbags of books had all arrived as well as a number of books contributed by United Methodist churches in Michigan, Illinois, and Minnesota. Ann hired two unemployed high school graduates to help her process the books. A carpenter made the library shelves and furniture.

In March, the school staff had a weeklong reading-emphasis program, with posters, poems, storytellers, and time-outs for reading. By April, 4000 more books were on their way from a book-collecting effort by the Hartland, Michigan, elementary schools honoring "March Is Reading Month." They were soon joined by 27 bags of books from Greenhills School in Ann Arbor. A visiting UMVIM team from California and Florida not only brought money and books but also volunteered time to help in the library. A Catholic friend paid the fees that enabled 131 more children to begin school in the May term.

Finally, on May 21 (late autumn), the "Taber Library" had its grand opening. For the first time, the children had access to books, ones they could check out and read, especially ones with interesting stories instead of textbook exercises. Reading had become fun! On June 4, we headed back to the United States, secure in the knowledge that 900 children now have a library of 8000 books and that a group of secondary teachers have returned to their African classrooms armed with a better understanding of American history. Our "little adventure" had inspired hundreds of people to give and to help. This outcome so excited and energized us that we are returning for another five-month term in January.

Morris and Ann Taber are members of Ypsilanti First United Methodist Church in Ypsilanti, Michigan, near Ann Arbor. divider______________

Volunteering in the United States

by Leon and Doris Graham

In early May 1997, we were working full time in our management-services company in Florida's Tampa Bay area. We were living in a nice retirement community with a comfortable income and a wonderful circle of friends and were well-respected in the business community. But the sense of fulfillment we once gleaned from personal and business activities was no longer there.

Then one day, at the same time, we each felt a calling to go out and do the Lord's work. After a month's cooling-off period, our belief had become a conviction. So, over the next two months, we notified our clients, closed our business, and enrolled with United Methodist Volunteers In Mission (UMVIM).

Individual volunteering gave us the flexibility of choosing the season, geographic location, and length of our mission. We could select a variety of work experiences in various cultures. We also elected to serve on missions of one to six months to give us an opportunity to develop personal relationships at the place of service.

After earlier assignments at the Southwest Indian School in Peoria, Arizona, and at Chugiak United Methodist Church in Alaska, we reported to work at Lake Junaluska Methodist Assembly in western North Carolina. We arrived on New Year's Day 1999 and remained through August. We generally travel and live in our 26-foot travel trailer, but at Junaluska, nice housing was provided.

Doris and Leon Graham.

Doris and Leon Graham. Photo courtesy of Leon Graham.

Our basic mission was to recruit, supervise, and provide support for work teams that were needed to make extensive renovations and repairs to several assembly buildings. We went to work immediately, with Doris doing administrative work while Leon worked in planning, recruiting, and implementing the "Missions at the Lake" project.

Few people are attracted to volunteer work in the North Carolina mountains in winter. On a typical day, Leon (who moved to Florida in 1981 to escape the cold) was out at 6:30 A.M., in fierce cold winds accompanied by sleet, rain, or snow, starting a 12-hour workday in buildings with no heat or water. Even so, with some creative recruiting, we had a nominal work force through March and an abundance of teams in April and May. One day before our May 28 deadline, all targeted projects were complete.

Volunteers working at Lake Junaluska Methodist Assembly in winter install one of 97 vanity sinks that replaced old cast-iron sinks.  Courtesy Leon Graham.
Volunteers working at Lake Junaluska Methodist Assembly in winter install one of 97 vanity sinks that replaced old cast-iron sinks. Photo by Leon Graham.

After Leon's role reverted to more routine work, Doris was still working a 10- to 14-hour day directing the summer day-camp program, night nursery, and Sunday nursery at church.

The spiritual aspect of individual volunteer work is difficult to describe, but imagine this. You wake up one morning and the whole world seems warm, sunny, and bright. There's a happiness inside you just bursting at the seams to come out. You radiate a feeling of love for everyone you meet. There are no negative thoughts to be found anywhere.

We cannot better describe having had a spiritual experience with our Lord Jesus than by describing the experience of serving him through volunteer services to others. This was his mandate given to us in so many of his teachings, and this is the greatest of all rewards for us as individual volunteers.

Leon and Doris Graham have served as United Methodist Volunteers In Mission in Arizona, Alaska, and North Carolina. See the Bulletin Inserts in this issue for more of their story. divider______________

Text and photographs copyright 1999 by New World Outlook: The Mission Magazine of The United Methodist Church. Used by Permission. Visit New World Outlook Online at

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