By Shannon Baxter
John Jones went on his first mission experience this past summer. He loved it so much he wondered what it would be like to do this for longer than a week or two. He didn’t feel called to do this full-time but did feel like he could give a couple months to serving others. He started asking around, but no one knew how to go about doing that. He just knew there had to be a way. If it did exist, it’s got to be the best kept secret out there! He was ready to graduate from a trip to a journey…
Many of us have been on mission trips before. Trips where we spend a week or two living with people we don’t know, using our gifts and talents to help provide some service or support, and sharing the love of Christ with people we just met and may never see again. These experiences can be life changing and eye opening!
That’s how it was for me in college when I went on my first Spring Break Mission Trip with the Auburn Wesley Foundation. In the midst of trying to figure out who I was, God opened my eyes to those I was being called to serve. It is a lesson I will never forget and one that changed my trajectory forever. I went on the trip because I thought it would be a neat thing to do with people I was just getting to know. Little did I know that it wasn’t just a trip but the beginning of a journey of service, all in response to the lavish love that God had and continues to pour into me.
A number of years ago, the General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM) and the United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM) sought to change how we viewed these types of opportunities. “Mission Trip” sounded too touristy and vacation like. Sure, what people were doing was going on a trip, but it didn’t describe what they knew God was doing in the lives of those who participated. The decision was made to encourage the use of the phrase Mission Journey instead of trip.
The change wasn’t just semantics. It was meant to express reality. Rarely would someone go on such an experience and not be changed in some way. That change didn’t end when they got home, laid in their own bed, and got back to daily living. It stirred up in them a fire to connect with God on a deeper level. It caused hearts to burn for the needs of the world around them. They couldn’t see their surroundings in the same way. They had started traveling a new road, a new journey.
That’s exactly what brought six individuals to Dallas, TX, on November 30 for four days.
The journey had actually begun some time ago. Their hearts had been pricked, and they couldn’t turn back. They had time to give to the intentional work of sharing their faith by serving others and wanted to be obedient to that call.
So they applied for the Mission Volunteers Program that is overseen by the GBGM. The program is designed for individuals or couples 18 and over to serve anywhere in the world for as little as two months or for as much as two years. The participants commit to funding themselves, either through their own means or by raising support from family, friends, or their home churches.
For those four days, the six Mission Volunteer applicants engaged in Bible study and group discussion to prepare them for their time of service. They discussed the challenges of serving outside their typical support structure, working through cultural differences, how to budget their resources, how to connect with the people they would be serving, and how to set boundaries so as not to burn out. Each person arrived there on a deeply personal journey, and each would leave with an assignment that fit their personality and their individuals giftings. From Henderson Settlement, KY and Las Cruces, NM; to Ecuador, Costa Rica, Japan, and Prague! Every location vastly different from the other, but all are founded on the goal of being a Christ-like presence with people who need tangible evidence of the love and grace of God.
So, if you have wondered what it would be like to serve long-term in another state or anywhere in the world, please consider the Mission Volunteer Program. At any given time, there are up to 100 people serving with United Methodist organizations and missionaries, providing support for ongoing ministry. Each location goes through a vetting process and each Mission Volunteer is supported by GBGM staff specifically focused on their work.
For more information, visit www.umcmission.org/mission-volunteers. There will be three trainings spread throughout 2023 in three different locations: Pennsylvania, California, and Florida. Applications are available year-round. If you have specific questions about the program and would like to talk with someone in the Mission Volunteers office, you can email Una Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our participation in mission activities are more than trips or one-off activities. They are part of the journey of becoming like Christ and expressing the love we have been given to the world. Consider how you can live that out beyond special events. Let God guide you to a life of service so the world can see in you the transforming power of God’s love.
Rev. Shannon Baxter serves as the South Georgia Conference United Methodist Volunteer in Mission Coordinator.