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Individual Volunteer Orientation/Training in Dulac, Louisiana, Feb. 6-8, 2004

Individual Volunteer Orientation

Front row (kneeling), left to right: Walter Whitehurst, Kenneth Ransonet, Ed Benner, Judy Kline, Jeanie Pennington, Mary Elizabeth Pearce, Brandyn DeFoor, Bill Bache, Carl Ennis.
Second row (standing), left to right: Don Delaplain, Betty Whitehurst, Gloria Delaplain, Ken Meyer, Margaret Ennis, Michael DeBorja, Roger Boe, Alice Rothrock.

By Michael DeBorja

The Individual Volunteer Program
Participation in the United Methodist Individual Volunteer program calls for quite an amount of fortitude, as it entails a commitment of from two months to a year, raising funds for one's own support, and willingness to serve by oneself or with one's spouse, often in a far-away place. Of the tens of thousands of United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM), the vast majority go in teams; only a few hundred are long-term individual volunteers, but they serve in scores of countries as well as in the United States.

Since its inception in 1999, the GBGM Individual Volunteer program has been led by Rev. Walter and Dr. Betty Whitehurst, upon their retirement as Director and Associate Director, respectively, of the Southeastern Jurisdiction Volunteers in Mission Office of The United Methodist Church (UMVIM SEJ).* From 1999 to early 2004, it has trained 225 persons in 17 Orientation/Training weekends and placed 253 individual volunteers in 55 countries and 22 states in the US, who have spent a total amount of 149 years in their places of assignment, averaging seven months in a volunteer assignment. The cost of the program amounts to a fraction of that for commissioned missionaries, so it is a growing option at a time of budgetary constraints. It is a well-run program, and its leaders, models of dedication, efficiency, and fellowship.

A list of individual volunteer opportunities is posted in the Individual Volunteer section of the Mission Volunteers website, http://individualvolunteers.info. The project sites have to be approved by the church authority in the foreign country concerned, or the Jurisdictional UMVIM Coordinator if  in the United States. Interested persons (who do not have to be United Methodist) can download and print comprehensive information about the program, including the application form, schedule of Orientation/Training events, and experiences of individual volunteers. Volunteers raise funds from family, friends, their local church, or their own savings to pay for their expenses. The whole process of application, approval, training and placement usually takes several months. Walt and Betty Whitehurst work with the individual volunteers to find the most appropriate placement for them.

After they respond to the call to serve and apply to the program, before their departure to work in a project, individual volunteers attend a weekend orientation/ training event, which is held four times a year in different parts of the US. The Orientation/Training event sets forth the theological basis of mission, brings across the complexities and reality of cross-cultural living, imparts practical tips for mission preparation, and introduces prospective volunteers to the network, support and spirit of like-minded people. Prospective volunteers participating in the Orientation/Training weekend only foot the expense of getting to and from the meeting site. All expenses during the Orientation itself are shouldered by the program. The event usually starts early Friday afternoon and ends Sunday noon.

Dulac Event
The orientation/training event in Dulac, Louisiana, on Feb. 6-8, 2004, began with a devotional led by Walt and Betty. In the devotional they proceeded from I John 3:16-18, the basis for the UMVIM motto, Christian Love in Action: "We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us - and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God's love abide in anyone who has the world's goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action."

Devotional led by Jeanie Pennington,
backed by Walt (with his trusty ukelele) and Betty Whitehurst

Then the list of volunteers currently serving and preparing to serve was read. The participants in the orientation/training - Bill Bache, Ed Benner, Brandyn DeFoor, Don Delaplain, Gloria Delaplain, Carl Ennis, Margaret Ennis, Dominique Gettliffe, Judy Kline, Ken Meyer, Mary Elizabeth Pearce, Jeanie Pennington, and Kenneth Ransonet - introduced themselves and their plans for volunteer service. The Dulac Community Center director, Alice Rothrock, introduced the center, which serves the people in the bayou area, many of them Native Americans of the Houma tribe, some Cajuns, African Americans, and Caucasians, with programs in adult education, particularly computer literacy, food distribution, early childhood education, and a health clinic. UMVIM teams have done a lot of repair work there after hurricanes. Alice herself, and her husband, Rock, already retired at that time, started working there as volunteers after Hurricane Andrew. Bill Bache, South Central Jurisdiction UMVIM Coordinator, subsequently did an excellent PowerPoint presentation on UMVIM.

Theology of Mission
After a delicious supper of gumbo cooked by Alice, there was a discussion on theologies of mission, a presentation developed by Rev. Robert Walton. Statements on what mission is were posted on the wall: to clothe the naked, to feed the hungry, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to see and name the injustice of the world and to work to change the conditions that perpetuate poverty and oppression; to reach out to the hurting in loving compassion, offering what you have in service to others; to engage in dialogue with persons of faith wherever they may be and join together in making the world a better place for all of God's children; joining with Christians around the world in global partnership and mutual cooperation to do the work of God; to go into all the world to take the gospel, baptizing in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Participants were asked to stand near the statement that most nearly matched their own idea of mission, then asked to explain their choice. As the discussion progressed, ideas about theology of mission emerged. Walt and Betty helped clarify the statements. The conclusion of the exercise was that mission is all of these, not any one by itself. Interspersed in the intensive program was the singing of a wonderful selection of simple, catchy songs from different areas of the world, which Betty and Walt, accompanying with his trusty ukelele, taught the group.

Cross-cultural Living , Practical Tips for Mission Preparation, Bible Study
Betty Whitehurst then led a discussion on Cross-cultural Living: Cultural Perceptions and Cultural Differences, including perceptions people in other countries have of Americans, using the book, "Survival Kit for International Living" by L. Robert Kohls, especially chapter 9, and looking at cartoons that reflect American cultural values. In Practical Tips for Mission Preparation I: Travel and Safety, volunteers planning international work and those planning to work in the US met separately. Bill Bache, Carl Ennis, and Betty Whitehurst met with the international group, while Margaret Ennis, Alice Rothrock, and Walt Whitehurst met with the US group. They discussed travel, personal safety, and some legal matters that would be specific to each group.

Bill Bache makes a point during a Cross-Cultural Living session

Carl and Margaret Ennis, former Ecumenical Institute missionaries in Jamaica, led the evening devotional, with the theme of "Walking the Walk" - putting our Christian beliefs into action. The first day went well into the evening with some individual interviews of the volunteer candidates by the Individual Volunteer Consultants and the Jurisdictional UMVIM Coordinator.

The next day, after a great breakfast of homemade biscuits, omelet, and fig and pear preserves, Bill Bache led the morning devotional. He spoke about how to reach out to those not involved in the church community without antagonizing them. Talking about how a tornado destroyed the homes which volunteers had repaired after a flood in Albany, Georgia, Walt asked where is God in all this: in the volunteers who come to help.

Bible Study small-group discussion with Bill Bache, Gloria Delaplain,
Jeanie Pennington, and Kenneth Ransonet

In the first of three Bible Study sessions, "The Great Commission," the group divided into four, each reading one of four passages (Matthew 28:16-20; Mark 13:9-11; Luke 24:45-49; John 20:19-23**) and discussing it in terms of what Jesus commands his disciples to do, under what authority they are to act, what will be the result, what Jesus promises them, and what the passage says to us today. Before the group reports, all sang a Caribbean song, "Hallelujah". One member of each small group reported to the whole group, accompanied by lively discussion. Walt asked, is it possible that a church could be locked inside and thinking only of itself? If it is involved in mission, there's controversy, people don't want you to go there, or there's questions about the budget. Betty pointed out that somehow money does come. We've never had an individual volunteer come home because of lack of money; the problem is motivation.

After a break, the session resumed with a panel discussion on Practical Tips for Mission Preparation II: Legal and Financial Matters. Among the things taken up were the use of the Individual Volunteers Advance number as one of the options for raising contributions, tax deduction, fundraising, email, the Individual Volunteer List Serv, and putting up a website. As a respite, the group sang "Por este pan" from Chile, "Pust sigda budit solntse" a popular Russian nursery rhyme, and an UMVIM SEJ ditty written by Joe Hamilton.

The second session on Cross-cultural Living was on what's it like to live and work in another culture. It was remarked that various countries have their own common greetings, like "Have you eaten?" in China, or "Where are you going?" in the Philippines. There is more deference to authority, protocol, and formality in some countries, where, for example, a superior might not be addressed by their first name as in the US. Dominique remarked that "you carry your country" - you never feel so American as when you are in other countries. Carl and Margaret mentioned the spontaneity of celebration and very family-oriented culture in Jamaica. The US is so much more individual-oriented and institutionalized; e.g., having one's parents in an old folks' home is unthinkable in many countries.

Dominique Gettliffe, Brandyn DeFoor, and Margaret Ellis
preparing for their group skit illustrating cross-cultural interaction

How do you learn about another culture, asked Betty. Among other things, by searching in the web and watching a National Geographic program on Monday night 8 pm (Eastern Time), which puts a typical American family in a remote place and records their reaction. Look at what they do for recreation, listen to their music, read Culture Grams (published by the Mormons), try to find out about the different religions and cultural groups, try to pick up the nonverbal expressions. Dominique pointed out that when you're going somewhere, it's easy to see what you're missing, not what you can gain. There's a period of loneliness at the beginning. Interestingly, at first one might think one knows everything about another country, but at the end of the stay, might wonder how much one really knows about it.

After lunch a short overview was given on the General Board of Global Ministries and which of its program areas relate respectively to the GBGM goals of witnessing so people will follow Christ, strengthening congregations, alleviating human suffering, and advocating for justice for all peoples, as well as on the GBGM website and Mission Volunteers website. This was followed by Cross-cultural Living III: Culture Shock, Cultural Sensitivity. Betty talked about the four stages of euphoria, disappointment, gradual adjustment, and acceptance (someone remarked that this sounded like marriage), illustrated by passages from letters by volunteers.

In Bible Study, Session II, "Jesus Sends Volunteers in Mission," each of three small groups reflected on one of three passages (Luke 10:1-6; Luke 10: 7-12, 16; Luke 10: 17-20***), trying to decipher the meaning for the disciples in Jesus' day and for us today and sharing stories that illustrated the meaning of the passage, one person from each small group reporting to the entire group.

Ken Meyer, Don Delaplain, Mary Elizabeth Pearce, and Michael DeBorja at Bible Study

In Cross-cultural Living III, "Conflict Resolution / Expectations vs Reality", Betty distributed slips of paper with dialogue between two people illustrating differences in cultural values and expectations between the US and other countries. It's good to ask what is proper, what is acceptable. When we expect other people to behave like we do but they don't, a cultural incident occurs. We are thus motivated to learn about the local culture and begin to expect the local people to behave like themselves. Individual volunteers find out that they receive more than they give. We shouldn't expect to make earth-shaking changes.

The Practical Tips for Mission Preparation III panel discussed matters like mailing packages, photographing people and buildings, drinking water, invitation to meals, attention to connotations of words, and giftgiving.

After supper, Cross-cultural Living IV did exercises in cross cultural living, where each participated in and created a skit based on a given plot and presented it to the entire group: an individual volunteer and a missionary couple; a young female individual volunteer and handsome young Latin American man; an individual volunteer, construction supervisor and his family; an individual volunteer and the volunteer's supervisor; and an individual volunteer and her mother. This was one of the liveliest parts of the Orientation event, where everybody had the opportunity to exercise their thespian skills.

The Orientation stressed to keep in mind, during the times one is feeling low, that there are better times ahead. Betty and Walt get a lot of calls from mothers and volunteers, and they urged volunteers to use them as a buffer. Dr. Roger Boe, UMF/HCV consultant, and Bill Bache, UMVIM SCJ Coordinator, said they were also available by email.

The group discussed what do you do if the expectation you have was not fulfilled. If necessary, the Individual Volunteer program can look for another assignment for a volunteer. Romance, language study, what to do in case of a death in the family back home were also subjects taken up. It was suggested to have a confidant, a prayer partner; one can correspond from most any place on earth thanks to email. Nobody's gone who didn't learn much, their lives enriched.

Evening Devotional
Leading the evening devotional, Dr. Roger Boe read Isaiah 52:7, "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, `Your God reigns.'" Roger recalled how at a service in Mexico where he was helping with a border ministry some months ago, the minister touched his feet while reading the passage from Isaiah, and how he was transported, feeling that he was a real servant and being given a real blessing that day. His feet have carried him 70 years, beautiful for what they do, not for what they look like. He likened them to volunteers who work as faithful servants in God's name, going where God wills and doing what God asks. He asked the others to go up to the front of the room and touched their feet.

An invitation was extended to a reunion of individual volunteers near Kansas City, Missouri, on August 25-27, 2004, to hear the stories of volunteers, to be held in conjunction with the summer Orientation/ Training event. In keeping with the UMVIM spirit of flexibility, the Service of Holy Communion and Sending Forth was held on Saturday night so as to enable the group to join the community for Sunday worship at Clanton chapel. As part of the service, the participants were asked to speak on one meaningful thing for them during the weekend. They spoke of the easy atmosphere and humor; of different desires being geared toward the same goal; of the sense of connection - "like coming home"; of how amazing it was to connect with almost 20 people in a day and a half; of being eager to meet those of other cultures. Mary Beth Pearce played her CD of, as well sang right then, "How Beautiful", about hands and feet that carry us, and Don Delaplain gave the benediction.

Sunday morning, an abbreviated Bible Study III, "Our Mission Mandate," due to the impromptu joining with the Dulac community in Sunday worship, took up Acts 1:6-11.****   Walt talked about where should we be involved in mission: at home, in other countries, even remote places - a model for local churches is to be involved not only at home but other parts of the world.

Health Concerns
The orientation/training event concluded with Practical Tips for Mission Preparation IV: Health Concerns, led by Roger Boe, MD. He spoke of the maybe less than sanitary conditions and exposure to new diseases in another country. One's getting sick will take a lot of the fun out of the volunteer experience. He recommended having a check-up, including dental, before going. Having a chronic medical condition can be dealt with, but one has to plan effectively. Take all your medicine with you, locate a source of health care for your condition in the country you're going to if you plan ahead. Get in shape: you're going to be walking and taking the stairs a lot more. Bring a couple of pairs of walking shoes, broken in. Take the opportunity to lose a few pounds. Plan ahead your immunizations, as some diseases like typhoid have been eliminated or cut down in the US. Go to the Center for Disease Control website to know a country's risks and the immunizations needed. Take time to smell the flowers, and not just be absorbed completely in work - it's also good, psychologically. Eat well and have a balanced diet. It's reasonable to take vitamins in this setting. Drink plenty of fluids, including in transoceanic flights. Pay attention to mental and spiritual aspects, too - regular prayer life has an important effect on the immune system. As Martin Luther King, Jr., said, he was "too busy not to pray four times a day." Have a prayer partner at home or in the place where you're going, somebody you can pray with and open yourself to on this profound experience; have an increased awareness and meditation on what's happening.

Those who've been in a place a long time may become immune to coliform bacteria, but not you. Be careful about contaminated vegetables and fruit. The worst risk is from sidewalk vendors. In diarrhea, take fluids, fluids, fluids; use an electrolyte solution or rice water or Gatorade to replace the minerals. Diarrhea mimics dysentery - which is worse, with fever, blood and mucus in the stool, and for which you will need medical attention. Don't use routine antibiotics to prevent traveler's diarrhea; if symptoms are present for more than 24 hours, take a break from whatever you're doing and you will usually get well in 24-48 hours. If you're really sick, take a dose of antibiotics; the antibiotic of choice now is Cipro. It's very expensive, but if you take it once and you get better, you can stop there. Get a diphtheria/tetanus shot, not just a tetanus shot. Malaria is the number one parasitic disease in the world. Take Larium; for less than 1%, there are psychological effects. There are more than 40 million AIDS cases in the world; in some countries, 25% of the population. Contaminated needles, blood transfusions, and exchange of body fluids are involved in the transmission of AIDS. Loneliness is normal; it will pass. Depression can be dealt with, but be up front. Seek out a friendship. Do your spiritual housekeeping: try and strengthen your faith. Preoccupation is also a stress factor; it's something which goes with the territory, but it can be dealt with, and you have a network. Roger told the volunteers that they could call or email him. Keep in mind that this is a rich experience, a joy beyond any other in your life. He recommended the books, "Where There is No Doctor" and "Survival of the Fittest," which is written with warmth, humor, and profound spirituality.

Walt leads the guest choir at Sunday worship with the local community
in Clanton Chapel United Methodist Church

Community Worship
The entire group then moved from the Community Center to Clanton Chapel United Methodist Church to participate with the community of Houmas and others in Sunday worship. It was a joy to be with them and to hear the local pastor preach. In an impromptu move, the group of volunteers formed a guest choir, singing the songs which they had been learning throughout the weekend. The 17th Individual Volunteer Orientation/Training event successfully concluded, the participants wending their way from the bayou, further geared for mission service.

# # #

*  The Mission Volunteers program of GBGM recruits, trains, and places individual volunteers from four of the five Jurisdictions of The United Methodist Church - North Central, Northeastern, South Central, and Western; UMVIM SEJ runs its own program.

**  Matthew 28:16-20: Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, ``All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age."

Mark 13:9-11: "As for yourselves, beware; for they will hand you over to councils; and you will be beaten in synagogues; and you will stand before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them. And the good news must first be proclaimed to all nations. When they bring you to trial and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say; but say whatever is given you at that time, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit."

Luke 24:45-49: Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high."

John 20:19-23: When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "`Peace be with you." After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ``Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ``Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."

***  Luke 10:1-6: After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, ``The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, 'Peace to this house!' And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you."

Luke 10: 7-12, 16: "Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, `The kingdom of God has come near to you.' But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, `Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.' I tell you, on that day it will be more tolerable for Sodom than for that town."

"Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me."

Luke 10: 17-20: The seventy returned with joy, saying, "Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!" He said to them, "I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven."

****  Acts 1:6-11: So when they had come together, they asked him, "Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?" He replied, "It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven."

Note: All the above passages, and those in the text, are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible. Some of the wording and phrasing in this article are from the Individual Volunteer Orientation materials.

Same group minus Walt and Michael, but with Dominique Gettliffe (behind Bill Bache)

Photos by Dominique Gettliffe