Why We are Volunteers in Mission
(Part I of "Guidelines for Sending and Hosting United Methodist Volunteers in Mission")
The understanding that "we are called" and "we are sent" is at the foundation of our faith. The scriptures are full of stories of persons who responded to a call and were sent on mission for God. Abraham and Sarah, our parents in the faith, met God in the desert and entered into a covenant that from that moment claimed a people dedicated to God's mission. Miriam heard the call and was sent to care for her baby brother. Moses heard the call coming from a bush that was burning but not consumed and was sent to lead his people out of captivity. Isaiah had a vision of God in the Temple and heard the voice of the Lord saying "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?"; and Isaiah answered "Here am I, send me!" (Isaiah 6:1-8)
Jesus spent his ministry calling persons and sending them on God's mission (Andrew and Peter, the sons of Zebedee, Mary and Martha and Lazarus, the woman at the well, the paralyzed man by the pool, Zacchaeus in the tree, etc.) Jesus understood himself to be called and sent when he announced to his hometown synagogue in Nazareth that "the Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." (Luke 4:18-19)
Jesus summed up the Christian lifestyle in a simple formula - "Love the Lord your God with all you heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength" and "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Mark 12:30) When asked by a lawyer to explain who was his neighbor Jesus told the story of the good Samaritan. The Samaritan was a good neighbor because he had compassion and was able to cross culture and religious boundaries to help someone who was obviously hurting and in need of help. And then Jesus said, "Go and do likewise!" (Luke 10:25-37)
The New Testament instructs those who would be followers of Jesus to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give shelter to the homeless, heal the sick, care for the widows, and nurture the children. We are told that Jesus came in order that we might be able to tear down walls of hostility that divide and to build bridges of understanding. We are called, wherever we are in the world, to love all of God's creation and to demonstrate that love with action.
Therefore, putting our faith into action is at the very heart of our Christian calling and not just something that we do in our spare time after we have reached our personal goals. Through volunteers in mission every person in the church as the opportunity to serve and to live their calling and their lives more faithfully. And when we reach out in this way, using what God has given us in the service of others, we have "life-transforming" experiences.
The gift of hospitality is another recurring theme running throughout the scriptures. In the Hebrew Scriptures giving shelter to the traveler, helping the sojourner in our midst, and sharing with each other in what God expects. Jesus introduces us to a God of grace who offers unconditional hospitality to all who will come. Provisions are made for all, with a special place reserved for those who are among the marginalized. We are instructed in the Book of Hebrews, "Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it." (Hebrews 13:1-2)
Our neighborhood has expanded. Today we are a global neighborhood and our neighbors are everywhere. There is no place on this planet where we are not called to go if there is a need. There is no place on this planet where we do not have the opportunity to receive those who understand themselves to have been sent. We have discovered that when those of us from more affluent countries and congregations work alongside those who are poor or oppressed, we are blessed in profound ways. As we move into different cultures and experience the reality of other contexts, we begin to live our lives with greater sensitivity, understanding, and compassion. This kind of living and understanding can be life energizing and church energizing.
In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. "Everyone can be great because everyone can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't even have to make your subject and your verb agree... You only need a heart full of grace...a soul generated by love."
We all are called, we all are sent, we all are to offer the gift of hospitality to others.