Retired long-time NCJ Coordinator on her UMVIM Experiences: an interview with Beverly Nolte
June, 2009--The Volunteers in Mission (VIM) movement is one of the most significant developments in The United Methodist Church. Volunteer work has been going on in the church from the very beginning, but only in recent decades has it gained explicit and wide recognition as mission work and become an organized component with a church-wide organizational structure. Unique to UMVIM as an organized movement is its Jurisdictional Coordinator structure, through which the jurisdictions link and relate to each other and GBGM. Beverly Nolte served as UMVIM Coordinator of the North Central Jurisdiction from April 1986 to August 2003. Michael DeBorja, Mission Volunteers staff member, interviewed Beverly about her work and experiences:
From 1962 through 1976, I served as an Evangelical United Brethren missionary in Brazil. When the merger between the EUB and Methodist Church took place in 1968, I was asked to work within that framework. With my husband we moved to Sao Paulo Brazil where we lived and worked in Christian Literature Distribution. After working ourselves out of a job we chose to work in Buenos Aires, Argentina for another three years before returning, with our family, to the U.S. We were asked to serve a church in the Iowa Conference, so we moved back to Iowa in 1977.
The opportunity to continue my missionary career came as I begin to work with our Iowa Conference Staff person, Don Mendenhall, in the area of mission. He and I decided to lead a work trip to Zimbabwe to help renovate one of the wings at the UM Hospital which had been destroyed by the rebels. This was in 1982 and from that time my new focus was the volunteers in mission program. Don suggested I consider applying for the NCJ UMVIM administrator position, which I did. On a cold winter January morning in 1986 I flew from Des Moines to Grand Rapids to be interviewed by three members of the "Intersharing" (as UMVIM was called then) Board. The next morning I flew with an Iowa work team to Puerto Rico.
While in Puerto Rico, I was stopped one day at a grocery story by some Methodist official who told me that I had a message from Sharon Rader in MI. After talking with her I learned that I had been appointed to this position. Joe Wagner, UMVIM Board chairperson, and his wife, Carolyn, loaded up the equipment/materials that they had, drove over to Colfax, IA (where I was living then) and unloaded this "stuff". Not ever having looked at, let alone know how to turn on a computer, I was presented with a computer and software. Assuming that the Wagners were going to spend several days with me providing an orientation, I was dismayed when they told me they were leaving the next morning. It was sink or swim, so I paddled fast and furiously. That begin my 17 years career with UMVIM.
When I began my role as UMVIM Coordinator for the North Central Jurisdiction, there had not been anyone assigned to this position previously. Some of the conferences in the jurisdiction had work programs but none had a conference staff person assigned to oversee the volunteer program. One of my first goals was to ascertain how to begin working with each conference, to ask them to appoint VIM coordinators and to provide training for these persons. I began to travel throughout the jurisdiction to meet with conference staff, VIM coordinators and anyone else that I could get to see and with whom to visit about UMVIM-NCJ.
Our jurisdictional board met twice a year and with their dedication we began to shape several new volunteer initiatives. One was the beginning of the NOMADS program. This concept of targeting retired people with RVs had been on the drawing board for several years but was making no headway. The Fabricks, Hawley and Dorothy, came to Colfax, IA, parked in my alley and talked with me about how they worked with another denominational program with the NOMADS concept. NOMADS was then started with three projects and about 20 members the first year, 1988. This group multiplied, and the mission grew to work projects in the sun belt states with successful accomplishments.
Later, projects were added in the spring in the central tier of states and then projects were organized everywhere across the U.S. The direction of this program became extremely time-consuming. After consultation with our board, the plan to spin the NOMADS off on their own was implemented with Marcia Florkey as the new NOMADS director. The NOMADS celebrate 20 years of "making a difference" in August 2008.
Bishop Duecker, representative from the College of Bishops, challenged our board to target youth and young adults for overseas mission opportunities. Thus, Mission Discovery, was developed for youth ages 16 to 26. Their first trip was to Zimbabwe with Bishop Duecker and Eve Cain as team leaders. The program continues today with trips to Grenada and Chile for Christmas break in 2008.
Realizing the importance of health care on VIM trips and the opportunity for teams to have a medical component, the Rx ConneXion, was started. This program was to tap health care professionals to participate on medical trips and to be part of the construction work teams. Yearly meetings were held in Chicago inviting interested persons from across the jurisdiction to attend.
The last program developed under my tutelage was TeachUM for educational professionals. Trips were planned that would utilize the myriad of teaching skills of these persons including teaching trips to St. Croix, Bolivia, Poland, to name a few. NCJ educational persons offered their skills in several jurisdictional projects in Chicago and Rockford, IL.
Each of these mission programs had a steering committee which met yearly to plan, promote and implement their specific outreach ministry. It was challenging to be part of these history-making groups and to see the influence of the programs across the UM denomination and within the jurisdiction.
Was I ever bored with this job? Never, ever! How could you not be energized by working with dedicated persons who came up with such creative ideas for ministry? It was a pleasure to be part of this cadre of individuals. God was gracious to lift up persons who had passion for exciting ways to expand the Volunteers in Mission movement through these various programs.
As a member of the Iowa Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, I took work teams from 1986 to the present. To work in the Caribbean or Central America in January or February is a neat working vacation with fun in the sun.
Upon arrival in Costa Rica, one of our ladies was walking along the sidewalk when she tripped and one leg went into the drain off trench. The leg was broken so we were prepared to send her home but she said she didn't want to return home because she had no one to care for her. Her work job was to do sitting things like cut wire, peal potatoes and clean paint brushes, to mention a few things.
On that same trip to Costa Rica, one of our men developed a horrific cough and couldn't sleep. Since we were out of San Jose, we decided he should be taken back there. Upon arrival he was taken to the clinic and had an I-V inserted which improved his condition. He went to a doctor in his home town, was hospitalized several weeks and to this day we really don't know what was the cause of his health problem.
On work trips I'm amazed about how teams move like ants. They all can find a job with little direction, are capable of amazing work, and manage to live together comfortably.
Each team is different in composition. Each destination is unique because of history, culture and needs. Each work trip in which I participate is my "favorite" at that time.
People who have participated in a work team experience can be changed for life. Younger persons may seek paths that will take them into ministry or advocacy jobs. Middle-aged people question their life style and may be directed to live simply so that others may simply live. On the other hand their experience my challenge them to "get out of the boat", rock it a bit and change the course of their life. Older folk want to keep on keeping on with VIM as long as the body continues to function. We are transformed, energized and motivated to be different, to think differently as we muck the mud.
Statistics indicate that persons requesting missionary service/appointments have been volunteers in mission and want a new direction for their life.
When persons volunteer to participate in work trips, they come to the project with some baggage, personally, spiritually, mentally. I don't think they know how the experience will impact them. For some who have been minimally involved in church activities, this "hands-on" opportunity helps them discover many things about the Biblical understanding of mission. They learn about servanthood, attitudes of gratitude, reaching out to help the least, lost, left. Witnessing to living conditions abroad broadens their horizons and helps one to be content with all things. How our host friends express their faith in vibrant, vital and vigorous ways inspires team members.
We may question our faith or lack thereof or the lukewarmness of it, and may want to come closer to God. We may want to "do" more things locally or regionally and stir the mission pot in our local church for more involvement.