"Missionaries feel they are in mission with local churches rather than for churches," says the Rev. Lynn DeMoss of the West Michigan United Methodist Conference.

"I've been a missionary, and Covenant Relationships let the missionaries know that the local church feels the same way," he adds, recalling his days of mission service in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Covenant Relationships build partnerships between United Methodist congregations and particular missionaries, and an expanding number of such partnerships are needed to spiritually and financially sustain the church's missionary community.

The General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM) is challenging the annual conferences in the United States to increase the number of their covenants by 10 this year. Most conference secretaries of Global Ministries, such as DeMoss are saying, "Yes."

Covenants strengthen

"Covenants between congregations and missionaries strengthen the whole church as we go about God's mission," says Rachael Barnett, a Global Ministries' staff member with The Advance, the denomination's designated mission-giving channel. "Covenants involve prayer and personal contacts, as well as economic support. Covenants help to make disciples of Jesus Christ, build up the church and respond to human needs.

"Without the support of the congregations, we could not carry out our ministries that reach out to the poor and others who need new hope in life through the Gospel," agrees the Rev. Emmanuel Barte, a missionary in Cambodia. He and his wife, Beverly, are among the 300 United Methodist missionaries in 60 countries available for Covenant Relationships.

At present, five percent of all United Methodist congregations have Covenant Relationships with missionaries through GBGM. In 2008, the California-Pacific conference had the highest percentage of churches that participated in a Covenant Relationship more than 10 percent. The Virginia conference contributed the largest dollar total, or $509,429. One hundred percent of all gifts through The Advance go to the designated ministry. The annual financial contribution for a covenant is five dollars per church member.

Some of the congregations in covenant relationship in Indiana with General Board of Global Ministries missionaries include:

  • Castleton UMC with Muriel Henderson in Mexico, Oscar Ramos-Gallardo and his wife, Juanita, with the National Plan for Hispanic/Latino Ministries; Mary Longstreth, a Church and Community Worker in Indianapolis working in prison ministries; and Gary and Vicki Stephenson at the Red Bird Missionary Conference at Henderson Settlement in Frakes, Ky.;
  • Baker Chapel UMC in DeGonia Springs with Michael Morrissey in Thailand;

  • Bethany UMC in Fort Wayne with Robert Newnum in Brazil;

  • Maple Grove St. Joe UMC in South Bend with Helen Dwyer, a missionary in residence at GBGM in New York City; and

  • First UMC in West Lafayette with Maria Humbane in Zimbabwe.

These particular covenant relationships range from $500 to $2,500 per year.

According to Barnett, in 2008, North Indiana gave $124,303 toward missionary support while South Indiana gave $67,035. Nationwide only about 5 to 6 percent of churches are in a Covenant Relationship, and only about 10 percent of United Methodist congregations actually give to missionary support. North Indiana had about 10 percent of churches in a Covenant in 2008 and South Indiana had about 2 percent of churches.

Supportive Relationships

The Morriseys

A UMNS photo by Cassandra Heller.
The Revs. Michael W. Morrissey Jr., and Sherri Tabaka-Morrissey are the first United Methodist missionaries assigned to Thailand. This missionary couple is in a covenant relationship with members of the Baker Chapel UMC in DeGonia Springs, Ind.
"On the hardest days, we fight the temptation to believe that we are all alone," write missionaries Ardell and Gordon Graner of Bolivia. "Then we receive glimpses of God's unending faithfulness through an e-mail from a conference mission secretary or a letter that has taken a month to come from a member of a covenant church."

Covenant Relationships underscore the advantages of the United Methodist connection in accomplishing the goals of mission. The relationship allows congregations and conferences to "meet and be in contact with real live missionaries," according to Katie Peterson, a church and community worker, a category of missionary in the U.S. They also give the missionaries a "wonderful opportunity to be with and in mission with people from all over the world," she adds, noting that the sense of connection helps her to share "how God's love is at work through the United Methodist Church."

The Rev. Edward Paup, GBGM general secretary, says "Missionaries are part of the lifeblood of the church, and the board has dedicated a considerable part of its investment income over the decades to missionary costs, pensions and benefits." "Investment income has virtually dried up in this time of economic downturn.

"We are increasingly dependent on World Service, the basic benevolence fund of our church, and designated giving through The Advance to maintain and increase the missionary community. Covenant Relationships are a viable means for a congregation or individual to supplement their World Service giving."

Broadening vision

The Advance recently announced the opportunity for individuals to make covenants with missionaries at the level of $500 per year. It is also encouraging United Methodist youth groups and young adult groups to forge relationships with short-term young adult missionaries, such as US-2s, who serve two-year terms and mission interns, who spend 15 months in an international placement and an equal time in a U.S. setting.

Missionaries connect personally with their covenant congregations through a program of itineration. "Itineration is not simply visitation; it is, even more, invitation," says Fred Price, who heads the Office of Missionary Itineration at Global Ministries. "It is an invitation to take a bigger role in God's story of life in Jesus Christ."

Covenant Relationships bring a sense of real engagement in mission by forging partnerships that enrich the congregations and benefit the work of missionaries. In a covenant, both congregation and missionary share the journey in God's mission.

Information on Covenant Relationships is also available online at www.advancinghope.org or by calling The Advance at 212-870-3718.

Elliott Wright serves as the information officer of the General Board of Global Ministries.