By ALICE SMITH
Mission in the United Methodist Church takes many forms, and in every avenue there are people and resources available to help.
That point was hammered home at a training event July 14 at the United Methodist Center at Simpsonwood, attended by 35 pastors who are newly appointed to their churches, along with their lay mission leaders.
The “Mission Education for Pastors Plus” was part of the “Great Start” programs being offered by Connectional Ministries.
Mission work, counseled North Georgia Bishop Mike Watson, is not neat and orderly and can even be “messy. If you are trying to involve yourself, it is helpful to be engaged with people who have been there … who understand and are sensitive to the realities [of mission involvement].”
Such mission-minded, willing-to-help persons are plentiful in the conference. Several made presentations at the mission training event.
They talked about mission opportunities in local communities; the work of the General Board of Global Ministries; United Methodist Women and its historic ties to mission; conference-wide initiatives; and the hands-on involvement of United Methodist Volunteers in Mission.
Throughout the nine states in the Southeastern Jurisdiction, about 30,000 people go on volunteer mission trips each year, about two-thirds of them traveling out of the country and the others working within the U.S., said the Rev. Dalton Rushing, a staff member at Johns Creek UMC in Duluth.
He emphasized that the jurisdictional UMVIM office is ready to assist people in answering such basic questions as where to go, how to get there, and what do once they reach their destination. But “mission is not just about work,” he said. “It’s an investment in people.”
Sending money may be more efficient, but it is not as transformational as Christians reach across cultural and national boundaries. “You won’t be the same when you get back. You think about church and faith in new ways,” Rushing said.
The Rev. Will Zant outlined a new initiative of the North Georgia Conference called “Bridges” which will be establishing mission relationships with a number of countries around the world over a period of years. The first thrust is taking place in Uganda, where a group from North Georgia traveled earlier this year to learn how the conference can be of assistance.
“We had the best time developing relationships,” Zant said. He emphasized that the conference’s work in other countries will be “sustainable” so that once North Georgians leave, the projects will go on.
First efforts in Uganda include several projects at Humble Place School, which was built through the efforts of South Georgia United Methodists, when Watson was bishop there, and other conferences in the UMC. In addition, North Georgia hopes to purchase property for an East Africa episcopal office, offer pastor and laity training, and help establish sustainable farming methods.
As part of the Bridges program, St. James UMC in Atlanta will be leading a group of its members skilled in Scouting to work with the Scouting program in Uganda over the New Year’s holiday. Uganda, said the Rev. Jonathan Holston, the church’s pastor who presided at the mission training event, has the second largest Scouting program in Africa.
Susie Canafax, GBGM Mission Interpreter in Residence for the Southeastern Jurisdiction, spoke about professional opportunities available to those who might want to make mission their life’s work. She also discussed resources available from the GBGM office to foster work in mission, including a Covenant Relationship program whereby a church can partner with a specific missionary, support the missionary financially, and develop a close personal relationship with him/her.
Jeff Jernigan and the Rev. Donna Goff from McEachern Memorial UMC discussed how local churches can create a mindset for mission. It begins in the local community, they said, and spreads outward from there.
“There’s no way to be missional unless you address the needs where you’re living,” said Jernigan, chair of the North Georgia Conference mission committee. Goff, minister of missions at McEachern, advised creating some easy entry points where people can get a taste for mission, such as a “Day of Service,” or making flood buckets or health kits for UMCOR.
The day after the pastors’ training, another mission education event took place at Simpsonwood, the annual Cooperative Christian Mission Education Event co-sponsored by United Methodist Women and the conference’s mission committee. More than 200 people participated in study groups looking at the crisis in Sudan, mission and evangelism in the 21st century, and a spiritual growth study on the Epistles of John.
For more information: United Methodist Volunteers in Mission, Southeastern Jurisdiction: www.umvim.org; North Georgia Conference Connectional Ministries and the Bridges initiative: www.ngumc.org; General Board of Global Ministries: www.gbgm-umc.org; United Methodist Women: www.ngumw.org and www.gbgm-umc.org/umw.
This article recently ran in the North Georgia Advocate, the official print source of the North Georgia United Methodist Conference. For more information about the North Georgia Advocate, or to subscribe, please visit www.ngumc.org/advocate or call 678.533.1376.