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October 2, 2008
In reading and hearing the history – from 200 years ago, from 100 years ago, from fifteen years ago – it is clear that much has changed – but a phrase that I learned when I served on the staff of the American Church in Paris so many years ago kept coming to me: "Le plus ca change, le plus c'est la meme chose!" It's really true to me - the more it's changed, the more it's stayed the same! The passion and fervor for sharing the abundant love of God known to us through Jesus Christ, the passion for sharing that love with God's children all around this world which is "so-loved" by God, this world which belongs to God, that passion for the mission has never changed. The methods have certainly changed; the way we define "sharing the good news" may have changed over time – as we long ago have moved from "sharing God's love primarily in word" to sharing God's love in word and in DEED, sometimes emphasizing one more than the other.
Actually, as you certainly know, even the hopes and dreams of those very earliest missionaries and mission board leaders changed – their earliest intention, of course, was to convert people to Christianity, but it didn't take long for our missionaries to realize that they had much more success with long-term education and health care ministries than in converting large numbers of people in the short term.
We've continued to change as you well know, from conversion to dialogue, from being the "mother church" or "founding church" to being honest-to-goodness mutual partners in mission. That understanding of "partnership" and "mutuality" that many of you helped to articulate was part of one of the most profound shifts in mission history. There were other changes as well. Over the years the board changed from appointing only men or only married men early on to appointing single or married women as well. We've changed from expecting people to go out to serve overseas for the rest of their lives (many to die on the mission field) to now defining "long-term" appointments as three or more likely four years long, with the possibility of reappointment. And, because of the changing nature of the requests from partners as well as the changing interests of people wanting to serve, and, of course, budget considerations, we are hoping to send more and more persons with particular skills requested by partners to serve either as young adults or as recent "younger" retirees to share life in Christ.
The support for "mission" (or as it was called for so long, "missions") has changed as well. Today we are grateful for the work done twenty years ago or so to popularize the articulation that it is always "God's mission", not the church's mission or the board's mission, my mission or your mission, or the "missions" that local church members used to support. Our task is to discern where God is calling us to participate in God's global mission of love and justice. The fervor for conversion and evangelism that drove the amazing numbers of people in local churches to join those early mission societies in the 1800's and the excitement of people in the pews about taking American faith and "civilization" to the far corners of the earth in the late 1800's and early 1900's, often following the American military presence, is matched today by a real skepticism about the word "missionary" in our churches and the wider public. One of our biggest challenges today is to interpret God's global mission to people in our churches who are either apathetic, ignorant about our work, or downright negative based on what they think we mean by "missionaries"– so our mission interpretation and financial development work is really cut out for us as never before. The good news is that when people actually learn the stories of mission – past and present – they do get excited. So, we ask your continued help in getting the story out, in sharing first-hand experiences, in encouraging folks in local churches to use our web site, show our videos, reprint letters from missionaries.
Another big challenge is financial. My colleague David Vargas talks about "the good old days" when, as the area executive for Latin America/
Caribbean he would come back from just one trip to the region where he had visited partners in several different countries with requests for missionaries in at least four or five settings, and he could be sure that we would be able to meet those requests, that lack of money would not stop such appointments. Today funding mission personnel is very challenging – OCWM is way down, people are much less likely to give "unrestricted gifts" to support the work of the board than ever before – they want to give to particular institutions or projects, often ones where they can have a personal experience, hands-on opportunities. And while we are deeply grateful for the amazing amount of endowment money we do have, thanks to the generosity of people in the 19th and earlier 20th centuries, the amount that we are funded from our endowments today is not nearly as large as it used to be. Now it is our time to be as generous as the people who went before us - to be sure that this work is included in our wills, perhaps to encourage others to consider the wonderful vehicle of gift annuities which can provide income for the donor in his/her/OUR lifetime and then leave a significant gift to this work at their death.
Le plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose!! We have new and different persons on staff now – but they are equally gifted, committed, and passionate - - all five of our area executives either grew up in a country in the area they serve or served as mission personnel there for many years! Let me tell you a bit about each area executive - -I encourage you to talk with each of them this weekend – ask Xiaoling about his time as a young many during the Cultural Revolution – or ask him about his father, who was President of a seminary in China for many years. Ask Peter about getting in touch with his father's country, Egypt, learning Arabic, and then his years serving with the Middle East Council of Churches. Peter' PhD dissertation was published by Syracuse University as a book entitled something pretty close to the following: "Conflict and Cooperation between Christians and Muslims in Egypt." Ask Sandra about having been a missionary in Zimbabwe, the Congo, and Haiti for many years. Ask Vijay about growing up in a long-time Christian family and how his doctor father saw patients in his own home. Ask Felix who grew up in the church in Puerto Rico about what it was like to be a missionary couple with two kids during the dictator days in Paraguay.
And I'm eager for you to meet and get to know all the rest of our staff who are passionate about getting the word out to the churches - - and about keeping careful track of the complicated finances. You can learn about how our Child Sponsorship program has grown … and the People-to-People Pilgrimage programs.
Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose! We are still all about "the same thing".
Something else that has changed: Fund-raising for sending new missionaries - - in our regular budget, mission personnel are a real priority. The Global Ministries board voted that at least 30% of the budget will go to support mission personnel. And that's still not enough – so we are seeking new ways to finance mission personnel - - for example – the Angola partnership with the Illinois Conference has led to creative fund-raising for a missionary from Illinois to go to Angola, partly funded by the conference, part by Global Ministries, and part by her friends and family! We also were thrilled to receive a very large donation from one donor to support the new missionary in Columbia for 3 years.
In this year's budget and next, we have had to cut dramatically the money to support partners' priority projects, "critical presence grants", etc So, we are attempting to raise the difference outside the budget. We can only promise the partner 50% of the amount we gave in 2007, and then we try very hard to raise the other 50%, so far it appears we're about half way there on that goal.
Another change: What local churches now want from us has changed dramatically in very recent years – and our way of responding has to change dramatically too. They now want us to support their own self-developed partnerships and projects - - they look to us for funding, instead of the other way around… it's like they think we are a grant-making institution for them to ask money from for their local church global mission. They look to US to help THEM to "do" mission overseas. We may not be able to provide the funding they dream of but we are wanting to share what we do have to offer - - "best practices" learned from 200 years of experience, mistakes and successes – and connections to partners - - history and cultural sensitivities - - ability to network them with others doing similar work or who are passionate about similar issues (for ex – advocacy on behalf of those who have been assassinated or "disappeared" in the Philippines).
Note: after the presentation above, I also made other comments relating to topics raised by participants earlier or answers to questions in a Q and A session. Such topics and answers included:
- Our up-coming event for Conference Ministers and others in November;
- Our continuing belief that OCWM will increase if we can only get our story out to the churches – that's why FOCUS, MissionWorks, and MMI training is so important;
- The significant work done by "WCM discrete staff" (not organically part of Global Ministries but very connected) such as our staff who work on refugee resettlement, volunteer ministries, national and international disaster relief, and health and human wholeness;
- Comments about the perceived "disconnect" between national staff and the persons in the pews;
- Deep appreciation for those persons who helped dream up "Missionworks" including Ed Evans and Jennifer Russell and to the Doles for the idea and support of Ministries and Mission Interpreters.