Volunteer In Mission Team Exchange: Czech Republic and Johnson City District
A United Methodist Volunteer in MissionTeam representing five churches in the Czech Republic spent a week with their 50/50 In Mission Together Partners, the Johnson City District in Tennessee, working on district level projects and worshipping with different congregations.
Courtesy Sam Barnett, UMVIM Team Coordinator, Johnson City District
By Sandra Brands
April 9, 2013—When a dozen or so United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM) from the Johnson City District in Tennessee travel to the Czech Republic each year, they assist with projects to support the ministry and mission of local congregations there. Teams from the Czech Republic enthusiastically reciprocate with occasional visits to Tennessee to support outreach by churches in the district.
As the UMVIM teams build churches together and staff English and sports camps in the Czech Republic or assist with outreach in East Tennessee, they also develop deep relationships – the heart of the 50/50 In Mission Together Partnership that links United Methodists on both sides of the Atlantic.
That connection is particularly important for United Methodists in the Czech Republic, said the Rev. Jana Krizova, pastor of the Brno United Methodist Church and UMVIM team coordinator for In Mission Together in the Czech Republic. For people living in a predominately atheistic country where the small Christian population is primarily Catholic, it is important and encouraging to be part of a larger connection.
“For us, it gives us a good solid background,” Krizova said. “We very much appreciate the connection. We learn a lot from you because you have always been an active church.”
“We belong to each other,” she said. We are part of one family.”
Strengthening those relationships in October 2012 were the Czech UMVIM team members who spent more than a week with their Johnson City district partners. Representing churches in Brno, Plzen-Maranatha, Praha-Jecna, Protivin and Techov, the team had planned to work at the Holston Annual Conference’s Buffalo Mountain Camp. Those plans changed when Ramsey Creek flooded shortly before the team’s arrival, making work at the camp too dangerous.
Instead, the team toured Buffalo Mountain and then spent most of its time at outreach projects and programs offered by congregations in the district. They learned about the district’s Coalition for Kids, an afterschool program designed to reach at-risk children in the community; worked at the district-supported Good Samaritan Ministries thrift shop; toured United Methodist churches in Cherokee and Piney Flats, N.C.; shared Communion with clergy of the district; and worshipped with people at the Wesley Foundation at Eastern Tennessee State University as well as congregations of four different churches.
Guests and hosts alike, though, agreed the best part was the chance to renew friendships and celebrate the In Mission Together Partnership between the district and the United Methodists in the Czech Republic, Krizova said.
“VIM trips are good because you meet real people, you don’t stay in a hotel,” she explained. “When you work with someone, you meet someone very closely. You see real life. For the team members it was surprising how alike we are, sending our children to school or doing sports with them, going on trips with children, worshipping together, studying the Bible together. Everything that we experience at home, we found there.
The Rev. Sam Barnett agrees. He is the Johnson City District UMVIM team coordinator.
“When you boil everything down, you find out that even though there’s a lot of cultural differences, there are a lot of similarities between people,” Barnett said. “Children in the Czech Republic felt that Christians were know-it-alls and judgmental. That attitude is often shared by American kids. And when you talk to the kids one-on-one, they share similar problems – and that helps you understand that the world is a small place.”
“When our people come back, they bring new enthusiasm to their churches,” Krizova said. “The exchange brings a lot of hope to the church in Czech Republic.”
She also finds American churches learning from Czech United Methodists.
“One pastor said it was interesting to see how much you can accomplish with limited resources,” she said. “You don’t need a big budget and a large staff and vast resources. You can start with what you have instead of waiting until conditions are perfect.”
“Partnership means support and relationship and that relationship goes very deep,” Barnett added. “We’re (in the Czech Republic) once a year – we’re a support mechanism. Our purpose there isn’t to save the world but to support them in their efforts to evangelize.”
Enhancing the partnership between UMVIM team visits is regular contact through Facebook and by worshipping together via Skype.
The partnership is about relationships and it truly works two ways,” Barnett said.
“We are glad we belong to each other,” Krizova said.
Learn more about the work of the General Board of Global Ministries, its ministry with the poor and opportunities to partner in mission with a global church.
Contact: Melissa Hinnen, public information officer, 212-870-3833, MHinnen@umcmission.org