Next year, United Methodist Women will celebrate their 150th anniversary of women organized for mission. In 1869, Methodists had been training and sending missionaries for nearly 50 years, but women were only allowed to participate as missionary wives. The Mission Board did not financially support mission training for women, nor did they see the need for women as missionaries themselves. Missionary wives returned to the United States and shared their experience with other women and knew there was a need for women to be trained, financially supported and sent in mission. A female doctor and a female educator were the first to be supported and send by Methodist Women to minister to women in other countries.
Today the United Methodist Church sends missionaries from everywhere to everywhere. Missionaries are male and female, they are young and old, they speak many languages, they have many skills. As a church, we have learned from our history – where we have done well and where we have stumbled. We have reflected on our work and made improvements so that we can be as faithful as possible as we respond in mission to the needs of the world.
Short-term mission can be viewed as part of the church’s ongoing history of mission work. In 1869 the women did not consider mission to be something “short term” but rather a long commitment to people in a certain place. Just after World War II, people considered “short” to be around three years – certainly not two weeks or less!
But circumstances change, and our response as a church changes to meet the needs. For those of us who go on short-term mission trips, we often don’t realize that our work fits into the long history of the church’s mission work. It can be helpful to learn about the history of mission in the United Methodist Church so that we can put our work into context. What might we be doing wrong that we don’t even see? I’m sure the men who served on the Methodist Board of Missions in the 1860s didn’t think they were doing anything wrong to deny women a missionary placement.
What might we see in short-term mission that needs improvement or revising if we take the time to look back at our work? What might we find as inspiration for new work as we consider the missionaries who served before us? What new ideas might come from learning about the past? How might we look differently at our work when we see it as part of a larger mission of the church?
Getting a look at the big picture of mission, digging in and examining your church’s work in mission, and making plans for renewed engagement in mission is what I love to do with folks. If your church or your mission team is ready for a time of learning that will energize you for the work ahead, contact me today! I’d love to hear your church’s history of mission work and help you create a plan for what lies ahead.