If you are a member of the United Methodist Church, you are likely already aware of the conflicts and divisions within the denomination. If not, a quick internet search may lead to you to blogs, articles, news reports and Twitter feeds about our wrestling with how to be a single denomination while holding differing views on human sexuality. I am a United Methodist clergyperson, so I’ve been paying attention to these developments.
One of my preferred sources for reading is the blog UM & Global, which is written by staff of our mission agency, the General Board of Global Ministries, and members of United Methodist Professors of Mission. These two groups have an intentional relationship to deepen conversations around issues in the practice of mission and in the United Methodist Church. By reading this blog, I am challenged to think about my denomination and its work in mission, and turn my focus away from division and toward unity in mission. This heartens my soul because one of my favorite scripture passages is John 13:34-35: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
The UM & Global blog has a new series of posts titled #MyHope4Methodism. Authors share their perspectives on the future of the global United Methodist Church and other Methodist churches around the world. Last week, Dr. Robert Hunt wrote that his hope for Methodism requires an understanding of the church as inter-cultural rather than international. He asserts that the mission of the United Methodist Church must include “the cultivation of a pragmatic inter-cultural dialogue on the meaning of the claim that Jesus is the Christ in relation to God’s Reign.”
Cross-Cultural Without Leaving the Country
One comment I’ve heard many times from United Methodist volunteers is that the mission trip isn’t really about the work. The work is always helpful to those in need, but volunteers in mission recognize that what is most important is being present with those who are suffering after a natural disaster or who are struggling in an economically depressed region. What is most important is listening to the other person. What is most important is living into the new commandment of Christ – loving one another as Christ loved us.
Volunteers in mission also point out that loving one another in the context of mission isn’t always easy. Some groups have excellent training before their trip and are equipped when faced with the different cultures across the U.S. Some groups are challenged when faced with people who live in ways that seem “wrong” or may struggle to quiet the voices of judgment in their minds. There are cultural differences within the United States, and when we plan a short-term mission trip it is important to prepare our hearts and minds for the encounter. Dr. Hunt’s assertion that we “cultivate a pragmatic inter-cultural dialogue” means for short-term mission that we are intentional about the cultural differences, that we learn about ourselves and our fellow disciples we go to serve SO THAT we can learn together more deeply about the love of God through Jesus Christ.
Read more about #MyHope4Methodism here: http://www.umglobal.org/