Thursday, August 28, 2014

{Mission Highlight} Rural Opportunities Within the Southeastern Jurisdiction

August 28, 2014

The Southeastern Jurisdiction covers a beautiful part of our country, from the beaches of Florida to the mountains of Virginia. Today we'd like to share with you some of the mission opportunities in the rural parts of the Southeast. All of these United Methodist initiatives invite teams and individuals from all over the country to experience their local rich cultures while also serving its people and meeting the desperate social and spiritual needs of these rural areas. 

Check out the Mission Highlights tab on our blog to learn about more additional Mission Opportunities. 

Hinton Center, Western North Carolina Conference
The Hinton Center  offers a variety of service projects with the beautiful Lake Chatuge as its setting, and is the perfect mission opportunity for any team who wants to both serve and recharge. The cost of staying in one of the quaint but cozy lodging options actually funds home repairs and neighborhood development initiatives.

Hinton shows Christian love in action by offering affordable new-home housing to those who qualify, but what makes their service differen is that the families who are served in this way must commit to working alongside the teams who building their new home. It not only gives the homeowners a sense of accomplishment and independence, but it also promotes healthy mission model that helps break the cycle of poverty.

Mountain TOP, Tennessee Conference
What you need to know about Mountain TOP is summed up in their tagline: "Loving God. Loving People." Settled in the beautiful Cumberland Mountains in central Tennessee, this organization takes the humble and grace-filled love of Jesus Christ and reaches out to the hurting yet hopeful people around them. The staff and teams who engage in service at Mountain TOP strive to meet the physical, emotional, spiritual and social needs around them, while also building up the leadership skills and Christian growth within themselves.The opportunities to serve here are wide and varying, from middle and high school camps, to family weekends and adult opportunities.

SWAP, Kentucky Conference
Sharing With Appalachian People is a mission of the Mennonite Central Committee that is on theUSA UMVIM Project List. It depends on volunteers and work teams to help address the needs of substandard housing in Kentucky and West Virginia. The goal is to show the love of Christ as you work alongside the locals of the Appalachian region, building relationships while building homes.

Learning about a region and why these social needs must be met is an important part of a healthy mission model that is often overlooked in the midst laying concrete and repairing roofs. However, SWAP offers educational and cultural sessions to their volunteers so they can gain more insight in the Appalachian region. It provides a better perspective as to why they are there working alongside the locals, and is one of many reasons why this is such a strong, wonderful ministry.

Robeson County Church & Community Center, North Carolina Conference
Robeson County Church has been crusading for social justice in eastern North Carolina since the 1960s. Their mission is to involve people across all cultures, races, socioeconomic classes and denominations to join together and reach out a compassionate Christian hand to their neighbors. Robeson County is a culturally diverse area that is home to the largest Native American population east of the Mississippi River. Their volunteers assist with home repairs, wheelchair ramps and their food pantry, and the Center also provides emergency assistance, medical supplies, a senior citizen program and a Christmas gift initiative for local children.
Henry Fork, Virginia Conference
The Henry Fork Service Center began in 1967 with the vision of a caring and devoted United Methodist Woman and GBGM worker named Charlotte Seegar. The initial vision of Charlotte and the Center was to see the local students stay in school and become educated individuals. Over the decades, the Center continues to stimulate the community through a variety of educational programs, and is a place where the local children can see and experience Christ through playing, singing, creating and learning. There are many ways for teams and individuals to engage with this ministry; check out their website for all of the ways you can help.

CROSS,  North Carolina Conference
Christians Reaching Out in Sacred Service
 is a mission initiative of Plymouth United Methodist Church in Plymouth, North Carolina. Each day they work to ensure the citizens in their community can attain the dignity of living in and/or owning a home that is safe, warm and dry, and give the glory to God with each hammering of a nail and laying of a brick. The people and families they serve live at or below the poverty line, are the at-risk elderly, the disabled, or have experienced a devastating loss in the face of a natural disaster. It is their hope that bringing the tangible witness of Christ will revitalize the areas around them.

All of these wonderful mission organizations depend on UMVIM work teams and volunteers to help them carry out their good work. UMVIM, SEJ is here to serve you by offering resources such as Team Leading Training, developed over the last 3 decades of our organization's work in the short-term mission field. We also offer incredible team health insurance coverage for a nominal price. Let us empower you to make the most of your mission opportunity for your team and those you are serving. Check out our website for more info on how to get started, or call our office and talk to anyone on our staff to learn more.

Monday, August 25, 2014

UMVIM Health Insurance in West Africa

As of today, August 25, UMVIM will no longer provide insurance to any volunteer or team going into any and all countries with active Ebola cases. According to the World Health Organization, in the last 5 months there have been 1,350 deaths due to the Ebola virus, which continues to spread in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria, with 221 new cases reported just between August 17-19, and there are now cases as far south as Congo.

For several reasons, it has been difficult to control the spread of Ebola, including the increased disbelief of the people living in this region, and the lack of compliance with the advice of health workers and government sanctions, as they are in contradiction to many of their cultural practices.  Liberia’s President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, has imposed a nationwide curfew and quarantined communities, and many have retaliated with violence.

It is difficult to determine what will happen with the Ebola Outbreak and where it might spread.  If there are any active cases in in the country prior to your departure time, we recommend rescheduling for a later date. When the time is right to plan mission travel into these countries again, here are a few suggestions of what to discuss with your team as you prepare to leave: 

1. Discuss with your team what you would do if you were quarantined and whether the potential risk is worth what you can possibly wait and do later in 2015 after this disease has been controlled.

2. Discuss with your partners in West Africa what precautions are being made regarding the Ebola Outbreak for persons in your destination country and those coming into the country.

3. When you do go, please register with the U.S. State Department's STEP program and contact the Embassy directly in your destination country to let them know of your plans to bring a group of volunteers there. Provide them with where you will be and what you will be doing. Ask them if they have any advice regarding your travel there and what type of assistance could they provide if you encountered any problems.

4. Leave information with the church and  someone who has connections perhaps with your US senator in case you were to need them to assist you.

5. Continue to check the CDC Website about the Ebola Outbreak  and your destination country.

Additional reading on how the The United Methodist Church is actively attempting to address the outbreak can be found here

If you have any questions or unsure of whether to travel to a country in West Africa, please contact your Jurisdictional Coordinator:

North Central Jurisdiction
Lorna Jost,

Northeastern Jurisdiction
Nick Nicholas,

South Central Jurisdiction

Audrey Phelps,

Southeastern Jurisdiction
Paulette West,

Western Jurisdiction

Heather Wilson,

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Invest: The UMVIM Internship Program

by: Susan Kim

A Gradual Call
As 24-year-old Laura Kigweba begins her final year at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C., she reflects on her call to ministry: “It wasn't one moment in which I was suddenly called,” she said, “rather, it was a gradual call.”

This summer Laura served as the intern for UMVIM, SEJ, where she put her energies into mission and working with other young people. She ended her summer more determined than ever to pursue social justice, through the local church and other mission opportunities.

“I want to communicate, and at the same time, be compassionate. I want to desire justice, and at the same time, give mercy,” she said. “I think, in my call, I recognize that it is truly about the journey rather than the destination. Even after being ordained, there is still the journey that needs to be encountered.”

Lasting Commitment to UMVIM
As part of her UMVIM internship, Laura worked in downtown Birmingham, Alabama with Community Church Without Walls and Urban Ministry, where she helped implement tutoring programs and summer camps for kids, as well as assist in providing other community services. She also spent eight days in the Philippines at the Global Young People's Convocation and Legislative Assembly. There, she and her peers tackled issues, celebrated oneness in Christ, learned from each other and experienced the United Methodist Church and its connectional system.

Laura is just one of an entire generation of young people who believe UMVIM's work will continue to have a significant impact in the world and believes in the organization’s holistic approach to justice. “I see an organization that is committed to making change in the world,” she said. “UMVIM provides a ready outlet for both information and action that engages local churches in global development and leadership.”

“This has been a phenomenal summer of learning,” she added in closing. “After this, I see myself entering into the local church to cultivate that environment of social justice. I have a vision of myself being an advocate for justice in all places.”

The UMVIM Summer Internship Program
UMVIM, SEJ recognizes the importance of developing today’s young people to be the leaders and justice-seekers of tomorrow. Your generous donation to the UMVIM Internship Program gives a young person the opportunity to spend their summer understanding mission at its core, and engaging in outreach from a holistic, educational perspective. For more information regarding this program, please contact Paulette West, Executive Director, or visit the Youth and Young Adults page on the UMVIM website. To make a donation specifically to the internship program, please contact Landon Taylor, Church Relations or visit the Donate page.

Check out the this post for a more in-depth look into Laura’s summer.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Mission Travel to Mexico

We recently received communication from Guillermo Berman Ramirez, a missionary at the Methodist Border Ministry in Reynosa, Mexico. Please read his response to the U.S. State Department's recent update to Mexico's Travel Advisory and how it relates to UMVIM teams traveling to work with him and this ministry:

"Dear Friends,
the communication shared by the US government is on target. That is the warning we have agreed with and follow for a few years now...unnecessary traveling must be avoided...we have not traveled outside of the cities we have concentrated to work on for the last four years. For our teams that have visited us (38 teams last year and hope to finish this year with almost 50), we have assured that all cautions are taken while in Mexico...we don't go to places after dark unless we feel it's safe, and always are with the teams when they go out for dinner. It is a good warning if US citizens are traveling alone.  

In our case, first of all, we trust in God's sovereignty and that He is in charge and His people are doing his will and that there are risks everywhere. We strongly feel that going on a mission is necessary, for everybody where ever they go. Then we think we are being very responsible on our invitation to come and work with us and we try to have people from the community with the teams at all times. Finally, we believe that even the cartel or mafia people understand our partnership with the teams and they respect your motivation and dedication to serve the people in Mexico and they leave us alone for that reason.

The US government is doing its job and we are doing our job...nobody can promise that nothing will happen. We must be ready for anything and that is part of the commitments of UMVIM teams, right? The gun battle we have experienced lately are very small and in small pockets of our cities; we don't even hear about them until later, and people in our cities of more that 500K people like Reynosa and Matamoros, continue with their normal daily activities.

The only other thing I can shared, is that we must provide faith growing experiences to our brothers and sisters in Christ, and missions is one of the best ways to provide these. As your missionary, I feel responsible for sharing accurate information about the safety in the area I work at the most...I will always be ready to tell your teams not to come when I feel that will be the right call...please feel free to ask or comment about this and share this with other VIM coordinators. Thanks.

Willie Berman"

Regardless of destination, we highly encourage teams and individuals traveling for mission purposes to take advantage of our insurance, which also covers trip interruption. More information can be found on our Insurance FAQ page. We also encourage all teams to check with the US State Department for any warnings before traveling.

From the United States State Department Website, updated August 15, 2014:

The U.S. Department of State warns U.S. citizens about the risk of traveling to certain places in Mexico due to threats to safety and security posed by organized criminal groups in the country.  

U.S. citizens have been the target of violent crimes, such as kidnapping, carjacking, and robbery by organized criminal groups in various Mexican states.  For information on security conditions in specific regions of Mexico, which can vary, travelers should reference the state-by-state assessments further below.  This Travel Warning replaces the Travel Warning for Mexico, issued January 9, 2014, to update information about the security situation and to advise the public of additional restrictions on the travel of U.S. government (USG) personnel.

This Travel Warning replaces the Travel Warning for Mexico, issued January 9, 2014, to update information about the security situation and to advise the public of additional restrictions on the travel of U.S. government (USG) personnel.

General Conditions: 

Millions of U.S. citizens safely visit Mexico each year for study, tourism, and business, including more than 150,000 who cross the border every day.  The Mexican government dedicates substantial resources to protect visitors to major tourist destinations, and there is no evidence that organized criminal groups have targeted U.S. visitors or residents based on their nationality.  Resort areas and tourist destinations in Mexico generally do not see the levels of drug-related violence and crime that are reported in the border region or in areas along major trafficking routes.

Nevertheless, U.S. travelers should be aware that the Mexican government has been engaged in an extensive effort to counter organized criminal groups that engage in narcotics trafficking and other unlawful activities throughout Mexico.  The groups themselves are engaged in a violent struggle to control drug trafficking routes and other criminal activity.  Crime and violence are serious problems and can occur anywhere.  U.S. citizens have fallen victim to criminal activity, including homicide, gun battles, kidnapping, carjacking, and highway robbery.  While many of those killed in organized crime-related violence have themselves been involved in criminal activity, innocent persons have also been killed.  The number of U.S. citizens reported to the Department of State as murdered in Mexico was 71 in 2012 and 81 in 2013.

Gun battles between rival criminal organizations or with Mexican authorities have taken place in towns and cities in many parts of Mexico.  Gun battles have occurred in broad daylight on streets and in other public venues, such as restaurants and clubs.  During some of these incidents, U.S. citizens have been trapped and temporarily prevented from leaving the area. Criminal organizations have used stolen cars, buses, and trucks to create roadblocks on major thoroughfares, preventing the military and police from responding to criminal activity. The location and timing of future armed engagements is unpredictable.  We recommend that you defer travel to the areas specifically identified in this Travel Warning and exercise extreme caution when traveling throughout the other areas for which advisories are in effect. 
The number of kidnappings throughout Mexico is of particular concern and appears to be on the rise.  According to statistics published by the Mexican Secretaria de Gobernacion (SEGOB), in 2013 kidnappings nationwide increased 20 percent over the previous year.  While kidnappings can occur anywhere, according to SEGOB, during this timeframe, the states with the highest numbers of kidnappings were Tamaulipas, Guerrero, Michoacán, Estado de Mexico, and Morelos.  Additionally, according to a widely publicized study by the agency responsible for national statistics (INEGI, the National Institute of Statistics and Geography), Mexico suffered an estimated 105,682 kidnappings in 2012; only 1,317 were reported to the police.  Police have been implicated in some of these incidents.  Both local and expatriate communities have been victimized.  Nearly 70 kidnappings of U.S. citizens were reported to the U.S. Embassy and consulates in Mexico between January and June of 2014.
U.S. citizens are encouraged to lower their personal profiles and to avoid displaying indicators of wealth such as expensive or expensive-looking jewelry, watches, or cameras.  U.S. citizens are encouraged to maintain awareness of their surroundings and avoid situations in which they may be isolated or stand out as potential victims.

Kidnappings in Mexico have included traditional, "express," and "virtual" kidnappings. Victims of traditional kidnappings are physically abducted and held captive until a ransom is paid for release.  "Express" kidnappings are those in which a victim is abducted for a short time and forced to withdraw money, usually from an ATM, then released.  A "virtual" kidnapping is an extortion-by-deception scheme wherein a victim is contacted by phone and convinced to isolate themselves from family and friends until a ransom is paid.  The victim is coerced (by threat of violence) to remain isolated and to provide phone numbers for the victim's family or loved ones.  The victim's family is then contacted and a ransom for the "kidnapped" extracted.  Recently, some travelers to Mexico staying at hotels as guests have been targets of such "virtual" kidnapping schemes.
Of particular safety concern are casinos, sportsbooks, or other gambling establishments and adult entertainment establishments.  U.S. government personnel are specifically prohibited from patronizing these establishments in the states of Coahuila, Durango, Zacatecas, Aguascalientes, San Luis Potosi, Nuevo Leon, and Tamaulipas. 
Carjacking and highway robbery are serious problems in many parts of the border region, and U.S. citizens have been murdered in such incidents.  Most victims who complied with carjackers' demands have reported that they were not physically harmed.  Carjackers have shot at vehicles that have attempted to flee.  Incidents have occurred during the day and at night, and carjackers have used a variety of techniques, including roadblocks, bumping/moving vehicles to force them to stop, and running vehicles off the road at high speeds.  There are indications that criminals target newer and larger vehicles, especially dark-colored SUVs.  However, even drivers of old sedans and buses coming from the United States have been targeted.  While violent incidents can occur anywhere and at any time, they most frequently occur at night and on isolated roads.  To reduce risk when traveling by road, we strongly urge you to travel between cities throughout Mexico only during daylight hours, to avoid isolated roads, and to use toll roads ("cuotas") whenever possible.

The Mexican government has deployed federal police and military personnel throughout the country as part of its efforts to combat organized criminal groups.  U.S. citizens traveling on Mexican roads and highways by car or bus may encounter government checkpoints, staffed by military or law enforcement personnel.  In some places, criminal organizations have erected their own unauthorized checkpoints, at times wearing police and military uniforms, and have killed or abducted motorists who have failed to stop at them.  You should cooperate at all checkpoints.

The Department imposes restrictions on U.S. government employees' travel in Mexico.  Since July 2010, USG employees are prohibited from driving on non-official travel from the U.S.-Mexico border to or from the interior of Mexico or Central America.  One exception is that personal travel by motor vehicle is permitted on Highway 15 toll road between Hermosillo and Nogales during daylight hours.  
U.S. government personnel and their families are prohibited from personal travel to all areas to which it is advised to "defer non-essential travel".  When travel for official purposes is essential, it is conducted with extensive security precautions.  U.S. government personnel and their families are allowed to travel for personal reasons to the areas where no advisory is in effect or where the advisory is to exercise caution.  While the general public is not forbidden from visiting places categorized under "defer non-essential travel," U.S. government personnel will not be able to respond quickly to an emergency situation in those areas due to security precautions that must be taken by U.S. government personnel to travel to those areas.

For more information on road safety and crime along Mexico's roadways, see the Department of State's Country Specific Information.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

{Mission Highlight} A Summer of Justice

by: Malinda Nichols

Earlier this summer we gave you a quick introduction to Laura Kigweba, the 2014 Summer Intern here at United Methodist Volunteers in Mission, Southeastern Jurisdiction. A couple weeks ago, Laura packed up her bags and returned to Washington, DC for her last year of seminary, taking with her a new perspective on justice, service and the city of Birmingham. Here's a more in-depth look at this precocious young woman and the experiences she had this summer:

A Little Bit of Background...
"I am a vivacious, young, beautiful, African-American's true, I'm all those things!!"Laura's parents, who immigrated from Burundi, Africa, were people of faith who encouraged her to recognize that valuing the love of God was more important than identifying with a denomination. However as a young person, she connected with a United Methodist Church community and found it to be a place that she felt truly represented the love of Christ.

"I'll never forget my first youth pastor, Jason Morris, who pulled me aside at age 12 and told me 'I think you're going to be a leader one day,'" she remembers. "He led me into acknowledging that I am called to be a leader specifically in the capacity of the church. I'll never forget the opportunities and blessings that he placed into my life by walking with me and loving me."

Encouragement from her father and brother particularly guided her heart towards issues of justice, and her youth leader, Kris Konsowitz, challenged her to learn more about the United Methodist Church on the global level. When we met Laura as a Young Adult Representative on the 2013 Young People in Mission Design Team, it was clear that our internship program would be the perfect match to help her develop the strengths, passions and interests she so obviously already possessed.

Young People in Mission
"When I think about justice, I think about love, and you can't really separate the two."When the Design Team met earlier this year, they determined that "justice" would be the heart and soul of the event. The passions and personal experiences she brought to the table helped shape and mold the week at Lake Junaluksa into a time of educating and equipping this next generation of justice-seekers. She was also was able to mentor the younger members of the Design Team, and encourage them that by serving in this capacity and sharing their passion with their peers, they were showing love and justice in their own way. "When we were at Young People in Mission...that is what justice truly boiled down to. It was loving one another in a way we knew we could."

Community Church Without Walls
"How do you participate in a church that is completely untraditional, in a community where anything is expected? You accept THIS is church."As part of her domestic placement, she worked with Community Church Without Walls, a United Methodist congregation that was created to be for and among the poor of urban Birmingham. Rev. R.G. Lyons, the founding pastor of the church, served as her mentor for the summer. She describes him as someone who "seeks justice for all," and one of the most important things she observed from him was how to make the Gospel translatable to everyone, to people who are in the margins not only physically, but also spiritually.

Laura has a tendency to make friends and build relationships wherever she goes, and her weeks in the West End of Birmingham was certainly no exception. She spent her time at CCWW and its umbrella organization, Urban Ministry, connecting with the people who serve and are served there. Talking to them, understanding them, fellowshipping with them, being among them. Loving them. She was also able to go to community and church development meetings, participate in their trips to SIFAT, Serve Week* and Camp Lee**, engage in weekly Bible studies, and she even had the opportunity to preach one Sunday morning. Her intentionality and willingness to learn made her time in urban Birmingham an eye-opening, positive experience that helped guide her as a leader at Young People in Mission, but also prepared for her for the time she'd soon be spending in the Philippines. 

*Serve week, a week of service where FUMC downtown and CWW, combines youth groups and together participates in serving the Birmingham community by painting housing, building friendships at Church of the Reconciler, and reflecting in group discussion of what it means to serve in our community and world.

**Camp Lee, in Anniston Alabama, was the last camp of the Summer. CWW and FUMC Downtown joined together for the last summer retreat, to play, fellowship,have awesome dance parties and discuss how theologian and pastor John Wesley's three rules of do discuss John's Rules of Do No Harm, Do Good, and Stay in love with God, and how to apply them in the upcoming school year.

Global Young People's Convocation and Legislative Assembly
"Young people in our church care so much about the issues of the environment, of inclusivity, of what's going on in Israel-Palestine, of divestments of being a Church who really speaks truth to power, who does walk the walk and actually talk the talk, and we weren't just glossing over with 'God loves you,' but we wanted to put that love into action. And we did that at Legislative Assembly."
Laura was selected by the Jurisdiction to be a voting delegate to the Global Young People's Convocation and Legislative Assembly in Tagaytay, Philippines, and her time there served as her international placement. One of her main goals this summer was to understand and see the significance of the United Methodist connectional system. With 140 delegates from 30 countries and representatives from many of the United Methodist Boards and Agencies, she was given an incredible opportunity to see and understand our connectional system at work.

Laura knew that her summer would present her with challenges and a fair share of realities to process, but she was not expecting to arrive at the Convocation at the exact same time as 
Typhoon Rammasun. Laura and the other delegates spent much of their time dealing with the effects and aftermath of this natural disaster. Watching locals pick up the pieces of what was left of their homes while never losing the hospitality they showed the Convocation participants had a profound impact on her. There is a rawness of being in a developing country during such an event. It was an experience that she recounts with tears, and there is no doubt she left a part of her in the Philippines. If you were to ask her where she would go if she could be any place in the world right now, without any hesitation this country in Southeast Asia would be her first and only choice.

One particular day on the Convocation, before convening to discuss legislation, she had the opportunity to pray over the Assembly. Her prayer was translated into 5 language, and she able to "hear what grace and love sounded like" in French, German, Spanish, Portuguese and Russian. "I can't replicate that," she recalls. "It was a one time experience. For me to have that opportunity was pretty unique."

Click here to read the Statement of Unity that came from the GYPCLA.
Click here for more video updates from GYPCLA, and learn more about GBOD's Young People Ministries here

Reflection, Seminary, and Beyond
At the end of this past semester, a friend and mentor told her that she was a "woman of social justice." Going into this summer, she wasn't sure how she was going to "unpack" that label that was given to her. Ultimately, the these things she experienced this summer as part of Young People in Mission, on the streets of urban Birmingham, and in the middle of a typhoon-laden developing country, she came to understand what it means to be a person of social justice:

"To be willing to love and act on that willingness by engaging in loving every person in every moment is an act of justice. It is an action that at its root mirrors the compassion that Jesus had for every person he came across, from the righteous to the wicked. Jesus had compassion and that compassion compelled him to act in both love and justice," she reflects.

"I've been really encouraged to have my summer begin with those words from my mentor and end in my own self-reflection of 'this is what it means to do justice.' To be able to step into this internship and see justice in every way...has been an amazing opportunity and I'm truly thankful, and I can't wait to start my last year of seminary with this in mind."

This is just a snippet of Laura’s experience this summer, but there is so much more. Take a few minutes to watch the video below to hear about Laura's summer in her own words. 

Visit our website for more information on the UMVIM, SEJ Summer Internship Program.