Together we pray and build the church

J-3s” learn how to use chopsticks, 1948. Cultural training in small-group settings, first class of young adult Japan three-year missionaries.
J-3s” learn how to use chopsticks, 1948. Cultural training in small-group settings, first class of young adult Japan three-year missionaries.

Michael (not his real name) thinks about cinder blocks and corrugated tin roofing when he prays.

In the early 1970s, Michael's pastor invited him to join a team traveling to Panama from their church in western North Carolina. They worked with a group of indigenous people to build a church in Bocas del Toro. When they arrived, they discovered that the cinder blocks the church ordered had not arrived. With only three dugout canoes for transportation, Michael's team and the church members could not transport the required number of cinder blocks. A government official who had met the team on the plane arranged transport for the cinder blocks to the work site, and together the church and the volunteers were able to complete their task.

Michael's experience was unusual at the time. Today, thousands of United Methodists are familiar with the experience known as a "short-term mission trip" or UMVIM (United Methodist Volunteers in Mission). Before then, the idea of volunteers working on a mission project for a short period of time was not a common part of Methodist mission practice. UMVIM can trace its roots back to the late 1940s.

The work of volunteers in mission can be supported in a variety of ways—through jurisdictional United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM), conference volunteer-in-mission programs and local church teams. Advance giving can also be directed toward Support for International Volunteer Coordinators, #3020761.

In 1948, the Board of Missions and Church Extension sought innovative ways to respond to the needs of the world in the aftermath of World War II.1 The "3s" program was designed as a way for young adults to meet urgent needs through a limited term of service. Single college graduates, ages 21 to 28, were given six weeks of training and sent to work alongside seasoned missionaries.

In 1988, General Conference approved Volunteers in Mission as an official program. Now in its third decade of practice, jurisdictional coordinators provide training events for volunteer and disaster response teams. Over a million people leave the United States each year to participate in mission trips, and thousands volunteer within the United States.

As Michael reflected on his volunteer mission work in the 1970s, he recalled working with a church in Haiti. The church construction project was high on a hill. Women of the church carried cement blocks on their heads up the hill all day. In the evening, they helped to lead worship. On the last work day, the pastor found three sections of corrugated tin to finish the roof. Women knelt on the floor, saying "thank you Lord, now when we kneel to pray we don't have to be in the mud." Michael said that has stuck with him over the years, and he realized that the Lord has given him enough, more than he needed. Michael led a dozen teams himself and all four of his children participated on mission teams when they were teens. He was marked by the blessing of working and worshiping with Christians in other countries. This he remembers every time he prays.

Lisa Beth White, mission consultant and founder of Sister of Hope Ministries.

The Advance is the accountable, designated-giving arm of The United Methodist Church. The Advance invites contributors to designate support for projects related to the General Board of Global Ministries. Individuals, local churches, organizations, districts and annual conferences may donate to The Advance. One hundred percent of every gift to The Advance goes to the project selected by the giver. Gifts to missionaries support the entire missionary community.

Copyright New World Outlook magazine, Fall 2018 issue. Used by permission.