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Budget woes stall new United Methodist missionaries

11/3/2003 News media contact: Linda Bloom · (646) 369-3759 · New York

A UMNS Report By Linda Bloom*

NEW YORK--Lower than expected budget projections for 2004 by the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries will mean a continued hold on new full-time missionaries.

Despite that reality, the Rev. R. Randy Day, the board's chief executive, has announced his "firm commitment" to training and assigning new missionaries in the future.

"I expect that in 2005 we will achieve a sustainable level of mission personnel," he said, during an address at the board's annual meeting in October. "I hope that we can commission some deaconesses and short-term young adult (missionaries) sooner."

Norma Kehrberg, chairperson of the United Methodist Missionary Association, told United Methodist News Service that while she appreciated Day's words of affirmation, the organization was concerned about the two-year gap in the appointment of long-term missionaries

In response, UMMA is urging the board to launch a renewed fundraising campaign to support missionaries, including the use of an appeal for funds through the denomination's Council of Bishops.

During 2003, the mission agency did not renew the expiring contracts of 18 full-time missionaries because of financial shortfalls. Fifteen missionaries retired in 2003 and another 18 asked not to be reassigned, leaving 93 in the category of standard support missionaries. A freeze on recruitment of mission personnel in any category also has been in effect through 2003.

Statistics released during the October meeting showed a total of 711 commissioned personnel in all categories. That figure compared to 949 in 2002. The overall total, including other types of non-commissioned mission personnel and partner church mission personnel, was 1,050, a decrease of 1,001 from 2002.

One of the reasons for the drop in numbers, Day said, was that "several time-limited mission service categories," including the 10-10-10 missionaries and Korean missionary pastors in the United States and missionaries of hope in Africa, are being phased out. "These programs were never intended to be permanent and they cannot be continued beyond their mandates," he told board directors.

"We also will see a decline in the number of persons in mission and international persons in mission funded through block grants to partner churches," he added. "The reason is this: our grants for those purposes are smaller."

The new statistics also reflected the deletion of the category of rural chaplain, because there are no grants at present, and the fact that employees of the nongovernmental organization formed as an offshoot of the United Methodist Committee on Relief are no longer being categorized as mission personnel.

Day said he "cannot imagine" the United Methodist Church would ever phase out career missionaries, but added he does perceive a need for standard support missionaries to be "mobile in terms of geography and in the employment of their cultural expertise and language skills.

In a recent report to the missionary association, Kehrberg pointed out that support of long-term missionaries has weakened under the Board of Global Ministries' present structure. "This comes at a time when our church and its communities need more face-to-face mission emphasis and interchange with other cultures and religions to lessen misunderstanding," she said

But Kehrberg noted that the association remains hopeful that the board will "reclaim the role of the longer-term, cross-cultural missionaries as one avenue of mission service."

As an example of action taken by another denomination, Kehrberg's report pointed out that the Presbyterian Church USA, under similar financial constraints, has launched a $40 million campaign for mission of which $21.5 million "is designated to recruit, train, equip, send and support 54 longer term, cross-cultural mission personnel, including those with expertise in the various regions of the world."

During the October board meeting, UMMA presented Day with several recommendations regarding missionary support and communications between missionaries and board staff and directors.

Besides utilizing a bishops' appeal, the association suggested using "all relevant persons," including former missionaries to assist in interpretation and fundraising in local areas and providing resource people with pertinent materials, including accurate data regarding the costs of mission personnel.

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* Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.

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