The Rev. Patrick Friday, a North Alabama Conference Elder, is the director of In Mission Together in the Communication and Development unit of the General Board of Global Ministries. This article appeared in the March - April 2011 issue of Issue of New World Outlook. It is reposted here with the permission of Rev. Friday.
The Mission Initiatives of the General Board of Global Ministries have captured the imagination of United Methodists across the connection, sparking a passionate response from local churches and mission volunteers. From annual conferences to individual members, the call of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) has led many to give generously toward the establishment of new churches and new outreach ministries in unserved areas around the world.
A vital network of partnerships has blossomed through the "In Mission Together" program. Led by a team of partnership coordinators, this program oversees the annual consultations and training events through which Mission Initiatives are developed. An unprecedented number of people and resources have been mobilized for this spiritual endeavor, affirming the famous words of John Wesley to his followers: "I look on all the world as my parish."
It is a transformational experience to form a partnership with a new church in a different culture. In many cases, after years of prayer and support, members of a partner congregation will visit the country in which their partner Mission Initiative has been established. Each such trip brings with it the great joy of personal contact, as both sides of the partnership work and worship together. Developed over time, the bond formed between the partners transcends culture and language, bringing both sides of the partnership together as the body of Christ.
As a program, In Mission Together emphasizes the need for an open and balanced approach to partnership--one that respects and utilizes the gifts and graces of everyone involved. Partners thoughtfully address any issues that might create dependency. By requiring a "50/50 Partner Church Covenant," the General Board of Global Ministries is actively fostering mutuality and accountability between the partners.
Now a new day has begun for the United Methodist Mission Initiatives. With the aid of new technology, partners can interact with one another face-to-face, building a strong partnership without the necessity or expense of travel. This means of meeting requires only that both partners be open to using web-based communication tools that are readily available. Partners must also allocate enough time for the long-distance encounters to be meaningful and filled with the Holy Spirit.
For example, using a computer, the internet, and a video projector, the pastor of a new church in Vietnam can give a live video update on the progress of the mission to a partner congregation in the United States. Using the same kind of equipment, a US church can receive the update. This kind of interaction can even be woven into the context of a worship service. Live interactions help to inform people of the current news and immediate needs of their partners, bridging the time-and-space gap between participants in different parts of the globe.
Instantaneous communication between local churches and faraway ministries will become much more frequent as the web becomes more accessible around the world and as smart phones become more readily available. Before, this kind of linkage was unimaginable in less developed countries. Now, text messaging, social networking, and video calling are just a few of the communication tools available to physically separated partners in ministry. Specifically "Facebook"--a social networking site--and "Skype"--technology that transmits voice and video via the internet--are online services provided virtually free of charge. One need only register to use them. With a laptop computer and a webcam at either end of the conversation, distant participants can take part in virtual Wesleyan class meetings or modern roundtable discussions--drawing closer together in partnership as they do.
In Mission Together has hosted larger partner consultations featuring live webcasts, with interactive video and simultaneous chat boxes--viewing windows that pop up on the screen for internet viewers to use in sending in their questions and answers. Such innovations can engage all participants, whether they are present at the event or watching online from their homes or offices in another time zone. This new way of communicating is transforming our understanding of partnership, shifting the emphasis from a mainly financial commitment to a spiritual sharing. Collective prayers, Bible study, and hymn singing are made possible over the internet. More and more partners are embracing this high-tech solution to building a stronger connection in faith. For an example of a video webcast, go to www.10-fold.org and click the "Past Webcasts" button.
For more than 20 years, United Methodist Mission Initiatives have continued to grow in number and scope, becoming increasingly vital conduits for the church's engagement in mission around the world. They bring to new converts the kind of holistic ministries embraced by the Wesleyan movement--ministries that pair personal and social holiness, knowledge and vital piety--while adapting mission methodology to a vast array of cultural settings. Through these Mission Initiatives, a multitude of new churches are being planted in new places, thanks to partnerships with existing congregations that seek to change lives by sharing the story of faith. In fact, networks of conferences, districts, congregations, and individuals are now joining hands with new Methodist fellowships to spread the gospel and to alleviate suffering among the least, the last, and the lost.
The United Methodist Mission Initiatives are growing because they are flexible and adaptable. They are a means of living out a strong biblical and disciplinary mandate to make disciples of all nations, linking Christian communities together through a connectional system. These communities are bringing faith, hope, and love to people in places that, before their arrival, were often unfamiliar with Christianity and The United Methodist Church.
The rebirth and growth of The United Methodist Church in Eurasia began in 1991 with the Russia Initiative. Methodist churches established in the late 1800s and early 1900s were closed by the Soviet government in the early 1920s and in the Baltic States in 1940. The reestablishment of a Wesleyan presence has led to ever-increasing membership in Eurasian countries, as new sanctuaries are built; health clinics, established; seminaries, opened; and outreach programs, begun.
Currently, Southeast Asia has been experiencing a rebirth of the Spirit. Helping to bring this about are many new United Methodists who converted to Christianity after leaving their Asian homelands. Now they are returning to their home countries to spread the good news of Christ's presence in the world. Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos were places where this "from everywhere to everywhere" movement of people began in the late 1990s.
New places continue to be designated as Mission Initiatives around the world. Like the Malawi initiative, which began in southern Africa in 2009, each one has its own unique context and pattern of development. The Cameroon and Senegal initiatives in western Africa have placed special emphasis on self-sustaining ministries in agriculture and microcredit. Development in Honduras, the only Mission Initiative in Latin America, accelerated in 1998, alongside UMCOR's emergency response in the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch. This initiative continues to serve Hondurans seeking relief from poverty.
Thomas Kemper, the General Secretary of Global Ministries, sees the Mission Initiatives as "front-line efforts in making new disciples, planting new congregations, training church leaders, and laying foundations for health and social ministries." The fruit of the initiatives is evidenced by the planting of more than 250 new churches since 2009, surpassing the halfway point in the quadrennial goal of 400 new churches by 2012. Eventually, some of these congregations may join together, forming United Methodist annual or central conferences or an autonomous church in a specific country or region.