Monday, May 14, 2018

From the Director's Desk: Empowering Local Communities

I received an email last week that raised some great questions:

Rev. Matt Lacey
UMVIM, SEJ Executive Director
Dear Rev. Lacey,
I live in North Carolina and attend Wesleyan Chapel UMC.  Our church is starting to think about a foreign volunteer opportunity.  The organization we were working with in Honduras is changing their focus.  They are realizing that by saving projects for volunteer groups to do, many capable people from the local area went without work.  They are moving more toward hiring local people to do the work – while donations continue to come from donors in the USA and Canada.

My question is this: How does UMVIM work with the local people?  When volunteer groups go into countries to start or to complete projects, how are the local people included?  If we go to do a project, are we taking work away from those who desperately need work? If local residents are involved, are they considered the experts in building practices in their country, or are we Americans seen as the experts and things are done our American way?

Many times we go to serve with great love and a desire to serve. We want to do good things. But in our desire to help, we can end up crippling the very people we desire to serve. I would never want to do that.

Valerie Moon


These are important questions that any short-term missioner should take into consideration.

First, let’s look at the question of how UMVIM teams are to interact with local people: 

One of my mentors told me about a mission team he led to Chile.  Part of the team’s work was to build a church in a high-altitude hamlet.  As they were pouring the foundation for the church, my friend shrugged off some construction advice from the locals. He assured them he had done this type of work before. By the end of their stay, they completed the work that needed to be done and soon headed home.

A decade later my friend had the privilege of going back to that community and worshipping at the very church he had worked on all those years ago.  It was a beautiful building—aside from one side of the structure which was sagging and uneven.  He realized that was his work, and he recalled the advice he ignored from a local construction coordinator.

When we go out to serve, we do not go to impose our selves, our culture, or Christ.

We go to share our selves: our ideas and experiences of Christ we have discovered in our own lives in hopes of learning something new.

This means that we listen more than we speak, and trust those we are seeking to be in ministry with as the experts. We do not have every answer, nor do we claim our way as the only way.

Next, let’s discuss the importance of UMVIM’s work empowering local communities rather than creating an economic burden: 

Members of the United Methodist Church should be proud that UMVIM, Global Ministries, and UMCOR place a strong emphasis on empowering local communities to take a lead role in developing and promoting volunteer projects.

Often that means hiring local workers, such as construction experts and coordinators for food, transportation, translation, housing, and volunteers to receive and resource mission teams that come to work with them.

I still wrestle and struggle with the efficiency of sending funding to employ local community members rather than for a mission team to spend thousands on airline tickets and other accommodations.  And frankly, some studies have shown that simply giving money can have extremely positive results.

I do know, however, that I would never be in ministry today without being part of a team that went to serve with a community halfway around the world. I would never have been given the opportunity to wrestle with these questions or enrich my understanding of God in the ways I do now.  (See my last post about voluntourism).

Part of our role at UMVIM, SEJ is to wrestle with questions like these with members of United Methodist Churches in the Southeast Jurisdiction.  We may not have the answers to those questions, but I hope together we can explore together what those questions mean for us, God, and all of our sisters and brothers around the world.

Have questions or thoughts about the work of United Methodist Volunteers in Mission? Feel free to email to add your voice to the conversation!

Monday, March 26, 2018

Domestic Insurance is Back!

UMVIM, SEJ exists to provide volunteer teams with all of the resources they need to interact as servants of Christ through short-term mission service. This includes ensuring that volunteers who serve throughout the 50 states have all the coverage they may need in case of an unexpected issue. This new coverage provides an expansive list of benefits for teams traveling throughout the country, such as accident and sickness coverage, emergency medical evacuation, roadside assistance, remote physician consultation through telemedicine, trip interruption and cancellation, and more!

With UMVIM domestic coverage, team members and their families can have a peace of mind knowing that they will not be responsible for medical costs that may incur from a medical decision made by the team leader. For instance, if a team member is taken to the emergency room out of an abundance of caution, family members will not have to worry about incurring costs from the hospital or copay under this plan

Domestic insurance covers additional items that some international plans do not as well as the costs of out-of-network medical care in the United States. Though this results in a slightly higher rate than an UMVIM international plan, it provides substantial protection to mission team members, leaders, churches, and families.

If you are planning on leading a volunteer team to serve in the United States, check out the three domestic coverage options that UMVIM has to offer by clicking here. To order this insurance, contact UMVIM by emailing or by calling 205-453-9480

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

From The Director's Desk: Mission Voluntourism

Mission Voluntourism: Yes, it is Still Worth Going.
Rev. Matt Lacey
UMVIM, SEJ Executive Director

Voluntourism is a word that has been getting some buzz in the last several years. If you
haven’t heard it before, type it into your favorite search engine. Some use it as a pejorative to describe Christians who go on “mission” trips as an excuse to add another stamp in their passport.

I have been guilty of that, as well as thinking that travel makes you a more interesting person. Critics of the term—and some critics of mission trips in general—have rightly pointed out that sometimes the most economically effective way to help a community in need would be to take all that money you pour into a plane ticket, visas, travel adapters, etc. and instead use it to make a long term impact: pay for community based medical staff, make a donation to an already established and trusted NGO, or designate it for training for community members. Economically speaking, they are correct. Most of the time the expense of getting on a plane, getting a visa, and making a mission trip t-shirt with your church’s logo on it pales in comparison to the cost of community-based sustainable aid.

I have led mission teams that seemed more interested in taking photos than serving with those
they came to visit. I’ve seen team members rushed to foreign clinics and given treatment for
dehydration while a pregnant woman who was afraid she would lose her baby continue to wait
in line. We should never prioritize our experience at the expense of another person.
All of us do need to ask: why are we going and what do we hope to get out of it?

My very first international mission trip was when I was 20. My primary motivators were the
romanticism of a foreign country, the great photos I would take, and the cute girls on the team I
wanted to talk to. Oh, and because I wanted to evangelize. I went for almost all the wrong

God took my flawed and arrogant motivations and turned them into something else: a life-
changing experience. Some of us go on mission trips expecting to “save souls,” and in reality the only soul that gets saved is our own. I know from experience.

God really messed up my life because of that trip. I started understanding a little more of what
it meant to serve (I still haven’t fully figured it out). After returning home, I started noticing
needs and opportunities all around me that I hadn’t seen—or that I ignored—before. I started
reading scripture in a different way, and I started to feel God calling me to do more.
Mission trips may not be economically effective, but it was effective in how I started
understanding the message of Jesus. Much like farm land that has to be scorched in order to
set the stage for future growth, God sees right through our misguided intentions and
completely destroys them in order to make way for growth in one’s faith journey.

Yes, mission trips are still worth going on, because no matter where we go or why we go, we
will eventually see God in a new way, and learn that the trip really isn’t about us but instead
about how we see and interact with the rest of God’s children. However, we should not learn
that lesson at the expense of those we are serving with.

To all the friends I have met all over the world during a mission journey: thank you for putting
up with my arrogant intentions and expectations in order to let God work in my life.

May we all go forth and serve one another by listening more than we talk, learning more than
we teach, and seeing God in each and every person we meet.

Monday, January 8, 2018

UMCOR Shares Process for Volunteering in Puerto Rico

Below you will find a letter regarding volunteering in Puerto Rico from Cathy Earl, the Director of Disaster Response and US Partner Relations with the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR)

UMCOR Shares Process for Volunteering for Puerto Rico

Thank you for your interest in volunteering for UMCOR’s efforts to support its partner, the Methodist Church of Puerto Rico, as they work to rebuild after Hurricane Maria.

UMCOR has received a formal invitation from Bishop Hector Ortiz of the Methodist Church of Puerto Rico (MCPR) requesting volunteers to support reconstruction following Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

We know that many have been anxiously awaiting this invitation and we anticipate an outstanding response on the part of volunteers. UMCOR affirms Bishop Ortiz’s request that volunteers refrain from making formal travel plans or deploying without invitation.

At the invitation of UMCOR’s U.S. Disaster Response leadership, UMVIM-NCJ has cooperatively engaged in supporting UMCOR’s partnership with the MCPR to collaborate, establish, and implement a centralized volunteer coordination mechanism for Puerto Rico.

UMVIM-NCJ is pleased to announce that Jason Frazer has stepped into the new position as Puerto Rico Volunteer Coordinator – Mainland. Jason’s expertise in disaster response provides an easy stepping stone for team leaders seeking to serve to Puerto Rico. The uniqueness of the recovery efforts requires an additional awareness of the way God moves through us in the most challenging of places.

Letty Damian, who speaks both English and Spanish, will serve as the Assistant Volunteer Coordinator. Jason and Letty will work collaboratively with UMCOR, UMVIM, and the Methodist Church of Puerto Rico’s (MCPR) Volunteer Coordinator.

If you are interested in scheduling a volunteer team to Puerto Rico to help with their reconstruction efforts, please visit the following link:

(UMCOR Early Response Teams will signal their availability through their conference disaster response coordinators. A list of which can be found by clicking here.)

Thank you again for helping UMCOR and the people of The United Methodist Church support our neighbors in Puerto Rico.

Stay updated as more information comes at UMCOR's Puerto Rico Volunteers page.

Monday, November 27, 2017

#KingdomConnection: International Leaders

Giving Tuesday 2017 is TODAY, and we hope that you will partner with United Methodist Volunteers in Mission, Southeastern Jurisdiction to promote, encourage and enable people to exemplify "Christian Love in Action" through short-term mission service both at home and around the world! Please give generously by clicking here!                                                                                                Our next #KingdomConnection is Wil Bailey, a missionary who works full time with Costa Rica Mission Projects. Bailey is originally from the North Carolina conference. He has been involved in mission work in Costa Rica since participating in an UMVIM trip at 15 years old. As an international leader, Bailey speaks firsthand to the important work that UMVIM teams partake in when committing to building missional relationships around the world.

What motivations do you think are important for mission teams to have?

Wil: We talk a lot about Acts 1:8 which say’s to be Christ’s “witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the Earth.” Jesus chose that as his last words to his disciples before he left the Earth. Considering this, I assume he probably chose those words pretty carefully. After 3 years with the disciples and everything they’ve been through, that is what he wanted to make sure was heard before he left: that the church has to be present wherever we can be! 

Sometimes that means in your back yard or church, like Jerusalem was, or it could mean “to the ends of the Earth,” whether that be Costa Rica, Africa, or Asia or wherever else. I think what’s important about that message is that we can’t choose to overlook Jerusalem because it’s not as exciting as the ends of the earth, but we can’t neglect the ends of the earth because of the more local needs in Jerusalem.  You have to have balance. I hope coming to Costa Rica is a part of a broad spectrum of missions that resembles the call of Acts 1:8. I hope what motivates the people that come here is the undeniable urge to be obedient to the call to be Christ’s witnesses throughout the world. 

What does a good relationship between an UMVIM team and your project look like?

Wil: One of the most important things for this ministry to be successful is the relationship building aspect of missions. We believe that we are one body, one church, and that we’ve been bound to one another through the sacraments. While teams are here, we hope that communion happens in all kinds of ways as well as hopefully being able to celebrate that sacrament with local churches here. That relationship building key goes much deeper when we have churches that make a long term commitment to the Methodist church of Costa Rica.                                                                                                                                                      That doesn’t mean that you can’t experience what’s beautiful about this if you don’t come year after year. There are some churches whose vision for foreign missions is to go somewhere different every year to experience the church in as many different places as possible, and I can see some value in that. There are some churches who do a rotation between a foreign trip, a domestic trip, and a local outreach trip, so we’ll see them once every three years and kids get to come at least once while in high school, and I can see value in that too. 

But I can say that the churches we have the deepest relationships with are the ones that come every year. They get to know, not just me and my family, but the Costa Ricans that work here. Through these relationships, you realize that in spite of all the differences in our lives, what is most important to me is also what is most important to you. The same God that abides in me, abides in you. We all share that.

What do you think it is that makes relationship building so dynamic on a mission trip?

Wil: There are a lot of things in our daily lives that keep us from seeing and serving the people around us in the way that we were created to. When you come on a trip like this and you can leave most of the distractions at home, you really live into it from the moment that you wake up in the morning to when you go to bed at night. It’s overwhelming when you feel the peace of of realizing that THIS is what I was created for- to serve selflessly and also to let myself be served. That’s a super important of the puzzle- when people realize that they’re not coming to just do stuff for everybody else, but rather to serve and be served. The disciples had to get to the point where they allowed Jesus to wash their feet and humble themselves to admit that they needed that in their lives. 

There are things that Costa Ricans have in their life that we, as Americans, need in our lives! It’s a difficult thing for us to admit coming from a “do it yourself” culture. If we can get over that and realize we don’t have all the answers and that we don’t do everything right. There are things that are missing in our lives that our brothers and sisters in other countries have in spades, and LOVE to share with us. 

Long term relationships are reinforced by the ways teams are able to SHARE on a spiritual level with the people of Costa Rica.

Tell us about how teams from Costa Rica have also come to serve in the United States

Wil: I had noticed one Sunday sitting in church in Costa Rica that, for most of their lives, many of the kids in the church had grown up with mission teams coming to work at THEIR church. I realized that if we aren’t careful, then we’ll be leaving a skewed idea of mission being something done AT them. 

There was a team from First United Methodist Church in Blue Springs, Missouri that was here that week. I said to their leaders, "How cool would it be if we could take a group of youth from THIS church and give them an opportunity to GO and serve in the States?"

Well, six months later, Hurricane Katrina hit the United States. 

A few months after that, FUMC Blue Springs sent me an email saying that they would send us a check for as many plane tickets as we could get to meet them in Biloxi. So we took a group of youth from Costa Rica to serve with FUMC Blue Springs in Biloxi for a week doing hurricane relief work and it was amazing. We realized immediately that we HAVE to be doing this more often simply because the call of Acts 1:8 means the exact same thing to Costa Ricans as it does to us. So we have made an effort ever since then to continue bringing teams to the United States from Costa Rica. 

What have the trips the USA revealed about how the two cultures perceive each other?

Wil: After partaking in a worship service in Costa Rica, visiting teams will discuss how even though it was two and a half hours long, it didn’t really seem that long. They talk about how there was a freedom of the Holy Spirit that was different than what they were accustomed to in the United States. 

When we took the Costa Rican team to the States, they said, “That was amazing! They’re so efficient! They got everything into an orderly 55 minute service and knew exactly what to do and where they were supposed to be!” 

Those two impressions show me this: That we are all just doing fine. 

To try and impose what people love about worship in the States on the churches in Costa Rica would be a disaster. Likewise, for mission teams who come to Costa Rica to try and impose what they love about worship in Costa Rica on their home churches, could also be a disaster. There are things that we can glean from both cultures to enhance our worship, but there are some round pegs in square holes too. I hope that the leaders strive to explain what’s good and right about what’s happening on BOTH sides 

#KingdomConnection: Congregants

Giving Tuesday 2017 is on November 28th, and we hope that you will partner with United Methodist Volunteers in Mission, Southeastern Jurisdiction to promote, encourage and enable people to exemplify "Christian Love in Action" through short-term mission service both at home and around the world! Please give generously by clicking here!                                                                                                                    UMVIM's #KingdomConnection enables congregants from local churches to fulfill Christ's call to serve as his witnesses to the ends of the Earth. One congregant who has gotten the chance to serve is SarahBeth Morris of St. Luke's United Methodist Church in Jackson, Mississippi. Alongside her husband Alex, SarahBeth has served on St. Luke's annual trip to Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Through their work in Honduras, they have gotten the chance to make a tangible impact on the local community of Tegucigalpa while also furthering their joint walk with Christ by starting off their new marriage with a dedication to service. Read below for more of what she has to say!

Under the leadership of Team Leader Hunter Upchurch, St. Luke's has partnered in mission with the people of Honduras for more than 8 years doing construction work on churches and community centers, building stoves, running VBS, and partaking in fellowship with hospitalized children. St. Luke's looks forward to returning to Tegucigalpa in the summer of 2018 to continue work on the Methodist Church of Honduras' Central Office. St. Luke's' long-term commitment to the Methodist Church of Honduras exemplifies "Christian Love in Action" that results in effective, relational missions. 

What was the value of partaking in mission work with your local church family?
Members of St. Luke's Working on a Missions Center in Honduras

SarahBeth: The value has been huge for me. Adults that I've grown up seeing in church became my friends on a work site. People in the church that I had not had the chance to interact on a personal level with whether due to age difference or what have you, became my friends. We came from such different backgrounds but we were all working toward a common goal bonding us together. This made seeing them back home at church on Sunday even more special. Having the same experience with my husband, someone I'm already so close to, just really strengthened our bond as well. It truly helped start our marriage off on a great foot. Bonding together to further His kingdom made me fall that much more in love with him.

What was the impact that your team made on the locals of Honduras?
St. Luke's Focuses on Construction to Help Empower the Church in Honduras

SarahBeth: I pray we impacted the locals as much as they impacted us. They are the most generous and kind people. They are so loving and thankful for every little thing we do. I think the greatest impact our group made this past year was when we visited a local children's hospital with care packages for patients. The kids lit up at the gift bags and the parents were truly grateful for the prayers. Tearful, meaningful prayers were had in each room we visited. The families truly believed in the power of prayer and you could tell it meant the world to them.

What's the connection between your church and the project site?

SarahBeth: Our church has been working specifically on the mission team center in Tegucigalpa for multiple years now. Our church has been diligent in furthering the progress on this specific project and the progress has been beautiful over the past couple of years.

How did you see God at work while on your mission?
Members of St. Luke's Have Made a Long-Term Commitment to Honduras

SarahBeth: You can see God at work through the smiles on the people's faces, on the progress of a building meant to further His kingdom, in the heartfelt hugs you get coming and going. Specifically the hospital visit for me and the prayer with the patients and their families. God is moving in big ways through the Honduran people and through our church. No matter the nationality you can feel truth in the fact that we are all his children united in the bond of Christ.

Tell us about how the leadership of your trained Team Leader (Hunter Upchurch) impacted your team's ability to serve?

SarahBeth: Hunter is an amazing leader. He is well experienced with this trip and his organizational skills keep us all at ease. We always know the plan and feel led in the direction that God has intended for us. He keeps us thoroughly prepared before hand with team training meetings letting everyone know what to expect. To have a leader who can speak Spanish is also a great blessing. We were provided with great translators but it's also very nice to have Hunter make that connection with the Honduran people on behalf of our group.
Thanks to St. Luke's- Jackson, MS For Their Service!

Friday, November 24, 2017

#KingdomConnection: UMVIM Team Leaders

Giving Tuesday 2017 is on November 28th, and we hope that you will partner with United Methodist Volunteers in Mission, Southeastern Jurisdiction to promote, encourage and enable people to exemplify "Christian Love in Action" through short-term mission service both at home and around the world! Please give generously by clicking here!

UMVIM's #KingdomConnection connects the local church to mission opportunities by training Team Leaders to lead teams from their local churches. One of those team leaders is Leigh Randall from Advent United Methodist Church in Simpsonville, South Carolina. Randall is the Director of Student Ministries at Advent UMC, as well as the Staff Liaison for Missions. Every year, she leads both a team of graduating Seniors and a team of adults from her congregation to serve with Mission Guatemala. The mobilization of congregants, as well as the long-term relationship the church has built with an international project, exemplifies how a local church can make a substantial impact through short-term mission. 

Read below to see what Leigh has to say about missions in the #UMC.

How has your Team Leader training helped strengthen the mission work of your teams?

Leigh: My Team Leader training set the foundation for the many missions that I have led. The training was thorough and allowed the guidelines for leading international missions as well as domestic missions to be taught in an environment that was very supportive.

How has the connection of the United Methodist church helped your efforts in mission?

Leigh: The connection with the United Methodist Church has provided the bridge to an amazing organization called Mission Guatemala. Through this connection, we were not only introduced to the amazing ministry of Mission Guatemala, but we have partners with them for 7 missions since 2013 and have 2 missions planned for 2018. My home church, Advent UMC, developed a deeper partnership with Mission Guatemala by supporting yearly the Becas con Miƛion Scholarship program.

Share a brief story about the impact of teams that you have led onto the mission field.

Leigh: Our connection with Mission Guatemala began as a mission opportunity for graduating seniors. It has grown to an additional mission with our adults each year. Not only is amazing mission and ministry occurring while we are serving in Guatemala, but it is incredible to see how the Holy Spirit uses experiences gained from the mission to expand the vision and heart of the graduating Seniors as well as the adults! For the graduating seniors, it helps set the trajectory of their lives, helping them see the world as being much larger as they begin the next chapter of their lives. Through the experiences, the Holy Spirit has called a number of our students into Global Health initiatives, pastoral leadership and immigrant care opportunities to name a few. For the adults, the experiences have provided a renewed passion for servant leadership in local missions and beyond!