Missionaries in the 21st Century: Diversity, New Vistas, and Challenges
By Thomas Kemper*
In August 2017, the General Board of Global Ministries commissioned (sent) a total of 63 new Global Mission Fellows—young adult missionaries who serve two-year terms, mostly in justice ministries. They were from 22 countries and are working in 32 countries.
Compare those numbers and the diversity they represent to 2005, when16 young adult missionaries were commissioned—eight as US-2s and eight as mission interns, the latter who served half of a three-year term in an international placement and half in the United States. The 2005 class members were all US citizens and they were almost all white. There was no possibility at that time for young adults from outside the United States to serve in short-term United Methodist mission programs even if they had been members of United Methodist churches all their lives.
Mercy Chikhosi (right foreground) dances with women in Njenjete, Malawi. It’s important to understand cultural practices in different contexts in mission work. PHOTO: MIKE DUBOSE, UMNS
In 2014, the young adult mission programs were restructured, with the US-2 and mission intern components combined into Generation Transformation, an umbrella for US-2 and international tracks of Global Mission Fellows. Candidates are accepted from and serve in many different countries in keeping with the “from everywhere to everywhere” philosophy of United Methodist global missionary recruitment and placement.
Mission Diversity and Partnership
The concept of missionaries from everywhere to everywhere developed over time from the affirmation of mission “partnership in obedience to God”—the partnership between younger, mission-founded churches and the older, mission-sending denominations. The post-World War II mission movement learned that missionaries could no longer be only Americans and Europeans—mostly white—sent to poorer, underdeveloped parts of the world. The younger churches in the Global South and East made it clear that they not only would have a say in who came to them as missionaries, they would also provide missionaries for the worldwide church.
Global Ministries Global Mission Fellows, class of 2017-2019, trained at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. PHOTO: CYNTHIA MACK
Today, about half of Global Ministries’ 180 global missionaries and at least three-quarters of the 119 Global Mission Fellows come from outside the United States. It is not only from the older of the mission-founded churches, such as those in central and West Africa and Latin America, that we draw mission personnel, but also from some newer mission initiatives. This issue of New World Outlook includes a profile of Tsetsegdari Munkhbaatar, our first Global Mission Fellow from the United Methodist Mission in Mongolia. She is serving on the island of Grenada in the West Indies.
This expanding diversity bears out the mandate of Jesus to disciples in the Acts of the Apostles to take the gospel to everywhere, a mandate followed up at Pentecost with people from many places hearing the good news of Jesus in their own languages, a reminder that God’s love can be conveyed through any tongue.
Diversity within the missionary community expands service opportunities—presents new vistas—but it is not without a range of challenges. Three such challenges follow:
1. Restrictions on movement. A philosophy of “from everywhere to everywhere,” ready personnel, and the availability of worldwide air travel does not mean placing missionaries everywhere is easy. Some governments, notably in the Middle East and Central and East Asia, do not permit the entry of missionaries. To attempt to place them under disguise would endanger their lives. In a few countries where Global Ministries has personnel, we cannot publicly acknowledge the fact for fear of jeopardizing not only the missionaries but also the local Christians they serve. Extreme nationalism, xenophobia, or religious partiality often play major roles in such exclusions. Frequent or sporadic civil and political unrest also can mitigate against missionary placement or require plans for quick and easy evacuation when conflicts break out.
Government immigration restrictions can also hamper the smooth operation of an “everywhere to everywhere” missionary policy. For example, the United States does not allow Global Mission Fellows from outside the country to enter this country for two years of service, and it often blocks non-US young adults from entering for their three weeks of training. In August 2017, 45 of our GMF class, a majority of which were from outside the United States, were trained in Atlanta while 18 did their training in South Korea, primarily because they were refused entry into the United States. We also had a situation once in which a global missionary candidate from Africa missed training in South America because he was refused a transit visa to cross the terminal in a major European airport. Going into all the world can be a difficult assignment.
2. Financial Factors. Economics play a big part in the contemporary United Methodist mission story of everywhere to everywhere. Each global missionary costs an average of between $50,000 and $55,000 per year. The Global Mission Fellows program for 2017 through 2019 is budgeted at around $3 million. Global Ministries shares costs of US-2 fellows with placement sites but bears the full cost of international placements. The costs of Church and Community Worker missionaries and those of the ethnic plans in the United States are shared between Global Ministries and placement sponsors. The agency’s current total annual outlay for missionary services is $20.5 million in budget plus $4.1 million for actuarial contribution for a defined benefit pension plan.
Helen Sheperd helped to establish the United Methodist Church in Mongolia by founding a ministry for hospice care. PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER HECKERT
Funding for missionaries comes from two primary sources. The majority is from World Service apportionments from local congregations, passed through the annual conferences and the General Council of Finance and Administration to Global Ministries. For 2017, a total of $25 million in World Service Funds is allocated to Global Ministries, about 90 percent of which will be received.
Supplemental missionary support comes through The Advance, the United Methodist designated mission giving channel. In 2016, some $3.7 million in missionary support was realized through The Advance, much of that through Covenant Relationships between particular missionaries and specific congregations (See http://www.umcmission.org/Get-Involved/Partnerships/Covenant-Relationships/Covenant-Relationships).
Despite increasing mission service opportunities, the numbers of missionaries cannot increase beyond current levels without a corresponding increase in income, and this is a challenge on multiple fronts. One reality is the unequal economic capacity of the church membership based on geography. The greatest capacity remains in the United States, which has a declining percentage—presently some 59 percent—of the current 12.5 million United Methodist members, compared to 41 percent in the conferences in Africa, the Philippines, and continental Eurasia, with growth most notably in Africa. Virtually all of World Service apportionments and Advance gifts come from the United States, although the small conferences in continental Western Europe contribute beyond what is apportioned to World Service and other conferences outside the United States are now expected to give to that fund.
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