United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM) emerged out of a tradition of lay ministry epitomized by campground meetings, church raisings, youth caravans and lay-witness missions. UMVIM is a grassroots movement that officially organized in 1976. Each jurisdiction of The UMC now has a Volunteers-in-Mission office.
The current challenge for the UMVIM network is to remain a grassroots movement while, at the same time, offering guidance and training for more than 125,000 volunteers serving the poor, building churches and assisting in disaster response, community health and leadership training each year.
The number of people participating in UMVIM has increased from just under 20,000 in 1992 to more than 124,000 in 2007. As the numbers have grown, the need to understand the movement has grown. Research on short-term missions was the topic of a special section of the October 2006 edition of Missiology-An International Review.
Edited by Robert J. Priest, professor of Mission and Intercultural Studies at Trinity Evangelical Seminary, it presented some of the first available academic research on the short-term mission movement. While generally supportive of short-term mission, the research suggests the need for growth in a number of areas.
Some of the research suggests that short-term mission trips can contribute to the strengthening of cultural stereotypes rather than the hoped-for softening of stereotypes.
For short-term missions to bear fruit, there must be true partnership. This requires time to achieve deep conversations across language and cultural barriers. It requires a large investment in community building and consultation. Too often, the efforts of a UMVIM team are so focused on its work project that there is little time and space for building relationships into partnerships.
The need for collaboration also calls for volunteer coordinators at mission sites to go beyond the traditional role of work project management and become more adept at leading discussions on mission development and team-building.
Short-term mission can be powerful when volunteer teams are engaged in critical areas of God's mission. While at the same time offering a wide array of UMVIM opportunities, the church is calling all of us to be more strategic in the mission work that we do. As we go forward over the coming quadrennium, it will be important to focus on strategic areas of ministry that are at the heart of The UMC.
Young adults can develop their leadership skills, explore the meaning of mission, and build relationships with other communities through the Global Justice Volunteers program. Mission Volunteers also offers young adults individual volunteer opportunities.
Volunteers have been placed in an amazing array of assignments in a variety of places. These include developing microcredit business opportunities for women living with HIV & AIDS at the West Africa Aids Foundation in Accra, Ghana; assisting migrant workers at Bethune House in Hong Kong with court proceedings; and providing support for people still struggling to recover from Katrina.
These cross-cultural experiences are grounded in biblical principles of service, justice, and advocacy. They provide the framework for developing new leaders with a life-long commitment to God's mission.