Sunday, Jan. 10, will be Volunteers in Mission (VIM) Awareness Sunday in Western PA United Methodist congregations. It’s a day to recognize participants on VIM teams, let the congregation know about VIM opportunities and receive a special offering. The offerings help to fund “VIMships” for participants who need help to pay expenses for their VIM experience.
“Volunteers in Mission are not paid to do the work they do. It’s costly to take a week off work, get to a mission location, and pay for a place to sleep and the food necessary to keep up your energy,” notes Mission/Volunteers in Mission Director Diane Miller. “Transportation costs for international trips are a huge expense.”
After Miller sent an e-mail seeking creative ideas for mission trip fundraising, she received a reply with a comment she has heard from time to time. Her response is printed here. It may clarify the reason many congregations support Volunteers in Mission work.
Q - I always wonder whether it isn’t better to send the money one would spend on the transportation to the needy and just stay home,” a local church member wrote. “I’m sure it is beneficial to all involved to actually be there, but still I wonder!
A - That’s a good question. I used to wonder it myself. I’ve become a convert to sending volunteers AND money. I was a member of a church (Mt. Lebanon UMC) where I heard the same question and had to figure out what I really thought. The team from that church that went to Lithuania involved people (teens and adults) whose lives were dramatically changed by the experience. The money they raised to go on that trip was over and above what they normally gave to the church. I doubt very much if they would have given that money to mission. They were looking for a way to connect with Christians from another culture and to answer God’s call to be involved.
My experience as a Mission Ambassador to India and Pakistan five years ago supports this need to send volunteers. In many countries of the world, missionaries are no longer given visas. Sixty years ago we had 700 Methodist missionaries in India. Today you can count the number of United Methodist missionaries in India on the fingers of one hand. Neither India nor Pakistan gives visas to missionaries. They do give visas to tourists. Those tourists can connect with Methodists in churches and projects and work side by side, or learn by listening. They can build relationships and help their Christian brothers and sisters to know they care. Benefit: Christians there feel our support, experience our solidarity in supporting what they are doing.
An additional benefit addresses the problem of communication. Decades ago, when those hundreds of missionaries came home on furlough and itinerated across the U.S., they told the story of ministry and mission in India. They helped folks feel connected. They inspired people to give so that churches, hospitals, and schools could be built in India. They created an infrastructure that enabled the Christian church in India to continue preaching and serving when the missionary movement stopped. But – when the missionary movement stopped, the witnessing and storytelling in the U.S. stopped. Who now tells stories and witnesses to what is happening with Methodists in India? Volunteers who go and learn – or go and serve – and then return to tell their stories.
Think about the disasters that have happened in the U.S. in the past five years – hurricanes, tornados, floods, regional fires. When Volunteers in Mission respond to an invitation to assist in recovery from those disasters, they are offering a plethora of skills. They car pool and use their own money to get to disaster sites; they raise money and take it along to purchase materials; they sleep on church floors and do their own cooking. Early response volunteer teams make sites safe, sanitary and secure. Long term recovery volunteer teams muck out, tear down ruined portions, and rebuild. FEMA notwithstanding, there is never enough money or enough skilled workers to get the job done after a disaster. Without the skill sets of volunteers the job would not get done – too many people would fall through the cracks.
For more information and resources for VIM Awareness Sunday, go to www.wpaumc.org and click the link in the Events box in the lower left.