By Jessica Connor
South Carolina young adults are part of a growing movement of passionate, globally minded United Methodist missionaries, and they're hoping more of their peers will join them.
At least three from S.C. are doing hands-on mission work in destinations worldwide: Hillary Taylor is serving in South Africa, Erica Oliveira in the Ukraine and Jay Knudsen in the Philippines.
They encourage any young adult feeling the call to oversees mission to visit The United Methodist Church s Generation Transformation website, www.umcmission.org/GT . There, seekers can find information on the UMC s programs for global mission fellows (long-term mission, ages 20-30), global justice volunteers (short-term mission, ages 18-30) and individual mission volunteers (ages 18+).
Those interested in immediate consideration need to act fast; the deadline for the next phase of global mission fellows and global justice volunteers is Jan. 15.
Knudsen, who grew up in Columbia at Shandon UMC and then attended Furman University, now serves in Davao City, Philippines, working with an organization called INPEACE Mindanao (Initiatives for Peace in Mindanao). They work on peace and justice issues facing the people on the island of Mindanao, such as illegal government programs, relief services after natural disasters or conflict and helping areas organize to deter government land grabbing for large-scale mining or oil production.
Knudsen thinks young people interested in missionary work should definitely consider serving as a global mission fellow. He said the UMC program seeks to change the definition of a missionary and is appealing to young adults who truly want to transform the world through action and advocacy.
Instead of being seen as ˜converters, we are showing that we are here to be with the people and work with them on the issues that face them, Knudsen said. Simply put, we are showing the love of Christ through actions and living out the word to be a blessing and inspiration. It s not about saving souls or converting non-Christians to Christianity anymore. There are places all over the world that are building the Kingdom on Earth, and we go to assist.
Taylor agrees. A field education and ministry coordinator for Seth Mokitimi Methodist Seminary in South Africa, Taylor journeys with seminarians as they do their fieldwork with any of 16 different agencies in the Pietermaritzburg area of South Africa. She has had the opportunity to work in community gardens, HIV/AIDS awareness programs, children s homes, orphanages and more, all designed to help seminarians learn how to become the change they wish to be.
Very often, globally, it is easy for preachers to become pulpit stewards ”words instead of action, Taylor said. But there s something about service that wakes you up, that connects you to other people, that reminds you of what really matters most, and that s relationship.
Taylor, who is from Columbia and graduated from Furman in 2012, grew up on Salkehatchie and thinks mission-minded young adults like herself should strongly consider the UMC program.
I became a missionary because I was so burnt out on college, Taylor said, I knew exactly what I wanted to do, but if I went straight to divinity school, I knew I d burn out.
For her, long-term mission through the UMC was the perfect answer.
There s no place better to find Jesus than in service, Taylor said, citing a Frederick Buechner quote in Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC as spot-on: The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world s deep hunger meet.
And you don t need to be feeding the homeless under a bridge or repairing homes in South America to answer God s call, Taylor said ”so many people all over the world are doing long-term mission in communication and advocacy, which can be just as important.
Becoming a global mission fellow is one more way we can open hearts, minds and doors to a wider church and a bigger embodiment of Christ, Taylor said.
Oliveira, who hails from Rock Hill and was an active member of the Winthrop Wesley Foundation and St. John's UMC, is service and outreach coordinator at Youth to Jesus, a university student ministry in L'viv, Ukraine. Her responsibilities include everything from scheduling fellowship activities to organizing international mission groups to preaching.
She said the global mission fellow program enables young adults to engage in the work of God all over the world in a way they might otherwise not be able to do.
Before I began this program, I remember that I thought that mission work was only for well-to-do older people ”folks who could afford to travel and not have a ˜real job, Oliveira said. For a 25-year-old with student loans that was trying to make it on her own, engaging in the mission of God in this way was unfathomable.
But the global mission fellow program breaks some of those boundaries for young adults, she said, enabling people of all ethnicities, social status, nationality and economic class to be a vital and active part of God's mission in the world.
We are not the future of the church, we don't have to wait to take part in this mission till we're older, we are the church right now, and if God is calling you right now, then we as a church have to open up avenues for that to happen, Oliveira said. In my opinion, that is exactly what this program is about.
Knudsen said being a global mission fellow is an opportunity to be in a place you never thought you would see and to be the hands and feet of Christ all at the same time.
I ve found myself growing every week in Christ during this program, Knudsen said. Even more, you have the opportunity to really build the Kingdom and advance the love of Christ to people you would never meet in your life by not taking part. Young people really are the future of the Methodist church worldwide. It is in our hands to really be the building blocks of the Kingdom on Earth, and the global mission fellows program is a unique way to take part.
Taylor and Knudsen said anyone who wishes to speak with them directly about their experience should feel free to email them: Taylor at email@example.com , Knudsen at firstname.lastname@example.org , or visit www.umcmission.org/GT .