UM & Global | Tammy Kuntz: A Brief History of United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM)

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Today’s post is by Rev. Tammy Kuntz. Rev. Kuntz is the UMVIM Coordinator for the North Central Jurisdiction. This post is the first in a series about short-term mission in The United Methodist Church.

My job, and the jobs of the other UMVIM jurisdictional coordinators, includes encouraging and empowering individuals, teams, team leaders, churches, district, conferences, and projects in all things mission by providing resources and training opportunities. We maintain the US project list and the international project list. We work with Una Jones of Global Ministries to recruit and train Mission Volunteers and promote Primetimers journeys.

My fellow UMVIM coordinators and I will be sharing more about the UMVIM program in this and a series of posts to follow. I will begin by telling a bit about the history of UMVIM, drawing on the book From the Grassroots: A History of the United Methodist Volunteers in Mission by Thomas L. Curtis.

UMVIM began as a grassroots effort led by laity in the Southeast Jurisdiction. The idea of Christian love in action which motivated its development came from 1 John 3:18: “Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.”

By 1972, a steering committee was formed and, two year later, Rev. David and Sue Lowry were named the first Southeast Jurisdiction coordinators. They encouraged cooperative relationships as teams served and the locations and types of service expanded. They established the cooperative nature of mission, that the request should come from the mission field rather than the sending church, and that volunteers should experience training prior to serving.

In 1976, The Lowrys returned to the mission field in what was then Rhodesia, and Tom and Margaret Curtis succeeded them as UMVIM coordinators. That same year, UMVIM became part of the Fellowship of Conference Mission Secretaries of the SEJ.

Good things were happening in the mission field with these amateur missionaries. They were sharing skills and teaching sewing classes and Vacation Bible School, helping with agriculture projects, reroofing houses and building school desks, providing medical and dental care and digging wells. Missioners were having life-changing experiences as they completed tasks and connected with the families with whom they served.

In 1980, a petition was passed at General Conference that admitted UMVIM as part of the structure of the global church. The legislation stated, “To affirm the concept of volunteers in mission (short-term) as an authentic form of personal missionary involvement, and to devise appropriate structures to interpret and implement such opportunities for short term volunteers in the global community.”

Yet there were still many concerns with the idea of amateur missionaries. There was not a lot of confidence in what they were doing nor how they were doing it. There was no funding made available for the program.

Through the early 80’s, each jurisdiction named an UMVIM coordinator to connect with and resource annual conferences. Coordinators’ responsibilities expanded to include travel beyond the US to “explain our program and outline operational styles so that those overseas could understand this new tool for our working together.” Remember, at this point, there was still no support from the General Board of Global Ministries.

Bill Rollins was appointed by Global Ministries to head up a new Mission Volunteer unit with a VIM office and a couple field representatives to facilitate engagement of conferences in this mission movement. This lasted just a few years before Global Ministries discontinued this support. Basically, information about the needs of projects and finding mission teams to serve was too slow or not provided to VIM coordinators.  The promise of “an abundance of opportunities” just didn’t happen.

The Board still considered missionary service to be something for professionals. The challenge for local churches became finding a way to engage “the church’s divine mandate to be engaged in mission.” With no funding from GBGM, local churches sought ways to be in mission and were making their own connections with projects domestically and internationally.

The SEJ and Global Ministries struggled for control of UMVIM. General Conference provided GBGM “support” for VIM, yet there was a clear attempt to take over. This struggle for leadership by the bureaucracy of the church caused great conflict and hindered expansion of the movement.

By the mid-1980’s, thousands of people in the SEJ were sharing in mission opportunities. Yet there was recognition of the exclusion of youth in the data. In 1985, Beverly Nolte, the North Central Jurisdiction coordinator, created Mission Discovery, a program specifically for teens and young adults.

In 1988, General Conference suggested that every conference have an UMVIM coordinator to work cooperatively with the General Board of Global Ministries and the jurisdictional UMVIM offices. These collaborations between conferences and jurisdictions were very important.

It was not until 1996 that the Mission Volunteers Program Area became an official part of Global Ministries. This program area was ordered “to enable the participation of Methodists from throughout the world in global mission volunteer programs so that affirming, empowering, and trusting relationships would be established.”

Financial support for jurisdiction UMVIM coordinators became a line item in 2000, and the reporting of teams as data collected on annual reports began in 2004. This important data became a way to reflect the strength of the VIM program, the diversity of missioners in the field, and the variety of the places where they serve.

Finally, in 2016, General Conference approved UMVIM Awareness Sunday to be observed annually on a date determined by each annual conference. The phrase “there may be a jurisdictional volunteer-in-mission (UMVIM) coordinator” was added to the tasks described in the Jurisdictional Conference section. Both these pieces are now part of the Book of Discipline.

And that’s how we got to this point in time. As the jurisdictional coordinators, our work continues. We collaborate on trainings, projects, and programs as we work to resource the church in all aspects of mission service.

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