Global Ministries

The United Methodist Church

Connecting the Church in Mission

A New Handbook for Mission Volunteers is Published

A new handbook for short-term mission volunteers was introduced at the semi-annual meeting of Global Ministries directors.
A Mission Journey encourages short-term mission volunteers to reflect on the reasons why they engage in mission and how they plan and prepare to be more intentional, enhancing their personal and spiritual journeys.

By Elliott Wright*

A new handbook for short-term mission volunteers was introduced at the semi-annual meeting of directors of the General Board of Global Ministries, the mission agency of The United Methodist Church.

Entitled “A Mission Journey” the 173-page publication is not so much a guide on mission organizing as a comprehensive exploration of motivations, results, and theological and social implications of a movement that has significantly escalated in recent years.

Tens of thousands of United Methodists serve each year as short-term mission volunteers around the world. Most go in teams organized by congregations or regional church organizations. Teams typically go to economically marginal parts of the world. Projects include church facility construction and educational programs but some offer medical, dental or technical services. Individuals may also become mission volunteers for two months to two years.

Volunteers are also pivotal in some aspects of disaster relief and rehabilitation. United Methodist relief teams and individuals in the United States usually work in concert with annual (regional) conference disaster coordinators linked to United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR).

Estimates set at 6 million the number of persons from the United States who engaged annually in short-term mission trip. In recent years, such recent books as “When Helping Hurts” have raised questions about the value to the receivers of some well-intended mission volunteers.  “A Mission Journey” is aimed at assuring that United Methodist volunteers genuinely respect and work with their hosts. The handbook is designed in part as a training tool for both those going on mission volunteer trips and those hosting them.

Partnerships and Relationships

The volunteer movement has structure. United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM) provides a formal network for training and information sharing. The church’s geographical U.S. jurisdictions offer coordination, and the mission agency facilitates the movement through the review, approval and posting of volunteer opportunities.    

“Partnerships and relationship building are essential in successful volunteer experience,” said Una Jones, the Global Ministries executive for mission volunteers and the person most responsible for the new handbook. “It means partnership with God and with others,” she told agency directors in presenting them with copies of the handbook.

The resource looks at the volunteer experience — the journey — from perspectives of both volunteers and hosts and discusses the need for training for those who will be encountering cultures that are different from their own — either as volunteers or hosts.

Jones emphasized the handbook’s equal focus on theology, cultural awareness, spiritual transformation and social justice as components of short-term mission service before, during and after trips.  The four topics provide the basic handbook outline and interactive exercises deal with each.

“A Mission Journey” was planned and written by a team of mission professionals and UMVIM participants and leaders. It includes suggestions for Bible study as well as helpful guidance on respectful encounter among diverse cultures. An appendix contains additional resources including best practices for sending and receiving volunteers.

The handbook was printed and is being distributed in collaboration with The Upper Room, the daily devotional guide through its Discipleship Resources imprint. The Upper Room is a unit of the United Methodist General Board of Discipleship. Printed copies of the book can be ordered from The Upper Room online at www.discipleshipresources.org and electronic copies can be downloaded from both Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com.

*Elliott Wright is an information consultant working with The General Board of Global Ministries.