by Patrick Friday
Once upon a time, members of a United Methodist church in the United States started working in a distant land, doing a lot of wonderful outreach. The members of this mission focused on needs that they could see in the community. Over time, the funding began to decline and sponsors wanted to pull back and let the local church take over. But they found that, when they tried to do this, their ministries stopped functioning. This unintended result is one we encounter again and again when vision and passion for outreach ministry comes from the outside.
In some cases, workers in congregation-sponsored missions come to realize what went wrong. In hindsight, they see that their focus had been on what they wanted to do, not on helping their partners realize their own vision and sustain their own outreach ministries. The visitors had been wrong in assuming that they could find and solve a problem in a week or two, take pictures, and come home claiming victory. Church starts don’t work that way. We know that, through the Holy Spirit, all things are possible; but church planting and congregational development are long, complicated processes.
Funding Mission Initiatives
United Methodist Mission Initiatives are new church start-ups in new places outside the United States, planted through the work of the General Board of Global Ministries. Since the first initiative in Russia was started 20 years ago, our strategy has been getting people involved in a hands-on type of mission. There has been very little funding allocated in the Global Ministries’ budget for the Mission Initiatives. Instead, this mission movement has been funded by networking—finding people of vision, getting these dedicated people involved, and trusting that the mo
ney to realize the vision will come later.
Nine partnership coordinators are currently in place, each connected to Mission Initiatives in different regions of the world. A coordinator’s job is to facilitate relationships between US congregations, districts, and conferences and emerging Mission Initiative congregations, districts, and conferences, connecting these Christians in a healthy, balanced way. In the past, the largest contributor at the table called the shots, but now we’re more intentional about partnership balance. The 50/50 partnership covenant builds local capacity and focuses on long-term development. We know all partners have a role to play and unique gifts and graces to contribute.
For example, as many people know, the Red Bird Missionary Conference in Appalachia has been on the receiving end of aid from generations of Methodists, going back a century. I’ve visited some amazing Red Bird churches, each one having about 20 to 30 regular worshipers. While there, I was invited to share about a camp ministry in Europe’s Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, formerly part of the USSR). The Latvian UMC was trying to build this ministry for their young people. Seeing the excited interest shown by members of the Red Bird Missionary Conference, I said, “We really want you to support this.”
“You want us to support the church in Latvia?” they asked.
“Why not?” I responded.
“Nobody has ever asked us,” they said. “We have been on the receiving end of mission for so long that no one thought we had anything to contribute!”
The youth camp project in Latvia was being supported by a number of big US churches. They sent volunteer teams to build and also provided funding. But the most significant connection was between the little churches in Appalachia and the little churches in Latvia. Both were struggling and both were on the receiving end of aid, yet both had gifts to share. So the Red Bird Missionary Conference made handicrafts and sold them, raising $30,000 over two years for the camp in Latvia!
The Red Bird congregations were energized and transformed by this partnership—as were the congregations in Latvia. The real moment of truth came when we were cleaning up the Camp Wesley property for the first time and came upon a dying apple orchard. No one knew exactly what to do with it. It was a Red Bird missionary who was on the visiting team, Tim Crawford, who said, “Give me the clippers. Let’s bring these trees back to life!” The trees began to produce again and soon a secret recipe for apple butter made its way from Appalachia to Latvia, energizing the Latvian mission project and helping to fund it through apple butter sales.
Mission fundraising involves tapping networks that extend from anywhere to everywhere else—a realization causing church leaders in the United States to change our way of thinking. No longer can we equate global mission support with the United States’ providing funds and missionaries while other places in the world simply receive them without giving back. There is so much more to be offered by both partners.
Bringing Churches Together
In Mission Together tries to encourage all kinds of partnerships, but we find a special connection between new church plants here in the United States and emerging churches in the Mission Initiative areas. Some US congregations will even send volunteers to work overseas with their partner churches—for a few months or a few years. Some set aside time to meet weekly with their partners via skype (Skype is an internet company that provides internet calling service as well as video via the web, allowing people to see and hear each other if their computers are equipped with an internet camera.) You can find this kind of synergy in new church plants around the world, especially among young people.
Through its Mission Volunteer office, Global Ministries can place individual volunteers—one person, a couple, or a family. Older, retired people who have the freedom to travel now make up 90 percent of our volunteers. But it’s also fabulous when we can get a young couple with kids to volunteer. We want to encourage a lot more of that.
The Connection in Action
People place the highest value on the United Methodist connection when they see it in action. US churches sometimes consider the connection a roadblock, thinking, “You’re trying to slow us down,” or “You’re trying to ‘committee’ our project to death.” But observing the connection at work—with faith communities multiplying their efforts through partnerships—people see mission momentum build.
Highland Park UMC in Dallas planted St. Andrew UMC in Plano, Texas. Then St. Andrew in Plano planted a UMC in Frisco, Texas. These churches are following a multiplying, mother-church model. Then Global Ministries brought St. Andrew in Frisco together with a church planted in the Czech Republic. Since these two new churches are on the same page, there is tremendous synergy in their partnership. Both their pastors and their youth ministers mentor one another. They even had a Thanksgiving service together via webcast, so they are learning about one another’s holidays. It is fascinating to see how both churches have been energized by the bridge that connects them.
We also have a church in Bulgaria partnering with New Hope Church in De Pere, Wisconsin. All they can talk about at New Hope UMC is the Bulgarian congregation. This partnership has been written up in New Hope’s local newspaper, giving the church a little visibility in their Wisconsin community. Recently, I was at a newly planted church in Birmingham, Alabama, called Liberty Crossings. They asked for my thoughts on celebrating World Communion Sunday. I proposed having a joint worship service with a church in Vietnam via skype. A young church planter in Vietnam named Ma Linh was one of our first pastors in that country.
They said, “Will that really work?”
I said, “There is only one way to find out. Are you willing to try?”
They responded, “Yes. We will do it!”
Ma Linh was originally from Ho Chi Minh City, where she pursued a promising career as a professor of English and linguistics. It was a sacrificial move for her to become a pastor, but she strongly felt the call to serve. So she traveled to the tribal areas in Vietnam’s mountains to share the gospel and plant new churches there.
Ma Linh is very creative. She’ll use Christian holidays to emphasize the witness of the church. She’s been raising ducks and chickens under her house to support her ministry.
She’s also developed many cell groups, mentoring people as she goes along by having them come with her to the next village.
She has inspired so many that I suggested to the Liberty Crossing leaders that we skype her in from Vietnam. Hearing Ma Linh’s story, the US congregation wanted to connect with her but was uncertain about how to make that possible. They had never used skype. “Can we do that in worship?” they wondered.
Ma Linh needed a laptop and a cell phone to make a connection with a US church. Technology can be an obstacle in the developing world, but Ma Linh figured out how to get the resources she needed. Her mother sold a water buffalo for enough money to buy Ma Linh a laptop. Then Ma Linh had to get a mobile card and connect the laptop to her cellphone. Next she went outside to find a good signal and gathered a group of church members to be present during the call. The Vietnamese accomplished all of this on their end; they really wanted to connect with the global church.
The founding members of new church starts share a bond, no matter where they are. But the growing edge in this partnership was not with Ma Linh up in the mountains of Vietnam. She wanted to connect with the global church and figured out how to get the resources she needed. The growing edge was actually with Liberty Crossings. Despite having the technical resources necessary, the US congregation members were uncertain about the setup.
The assets that our international partners bring to the table are from their own experience as participants in a dynamic movement of the church without all the burdens we bear in the United States from being a part of an institution. These growing, nimble churches are made up of cell groups or Wesleyan class meetings that are flexible and adaptable to any situation. And we tend to think that we are the ones with the cutting edge know-how, but we are often slow to change. As US churches connect the dots and get in touch with sister churches that are growing under difficult circumstances with very few resources, they find faith communities with risk-taking expertise and no time constraints—that’s a very powerful God-given experience.
Ma Linh made that connection. She said to Liberty Crossings: “We love you, and we’re praying for you, and your prayers for us are sustaining us.” There wasn’t a person at Liberty Crossings who wasn’t touched by what she said. Most members of that congregation will never travel to Vietnam, but using skype and a web connection, they were there with Ma Linh, sharing in the source of strength she and her churches find in the United Methodist connection.
Patrick Friday is the director of Global Ministries’ In Mission Together and the 50/50 partnership programs.
Members of the congregation of Los Angeles Korean UMC worship with members of Bishkek UMC in Kyrgystan via skype. Photo: Patrick Friday
Latvian children helped in the harvest of the apples from the orchard at Camp Wesley in Latvia. The apples will be made into apple butter to sell using a recipe from the Red Bird Missionary Conference. Photo: Patrick Friday
Vietnam Pastor Ma Linh (back row middle) raises ducks under her house in order to sustain her family and her ministry in the mountain communities of Vietnam. Pastor Ma Linh in Vietnam with members from her cell groups. UMC missionaries in Vietnam are Karen Vo To (front row, sitting) and Ut To (back row, next to Ma Linh). Photos: Patrick Friday
In Mission Together Partnership Coordinators
In Mission Together Director
The Rev. Patrick Friday
Country Initiatives can be found on the In Mission together website:
Cameroon and Guinea
Ms. Patti Bacher Clifford
Central Asia (Kazakhstan,
Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan)
Ms. Mi Rhang Baek
Eastern Europe & Balkans
Mr. Dick Arnold
Mr. David McLaurin
Mr. Greg Gelzinnis
Mr. Joel Rabb
Ms. Jeanie Reimer
Rev. Cacye Stapp
The Rev. Tony Fuller
Ms. Karen Weiss