Mission Giving: New Name, Same Great Opportunity
by Dana E. Jones *
When Women's Division Treasurer Andréa Hatcher learned of a mission project serving women in prison in New York, it was an eye opener that spurred her to action, including financial giving.
"I'd never really thought about the number of children who did not have contact with their mothers who are incarcerated," she said. "Just all of a sudden, a little person without a mother, without the person to tuck her in, to say everything is okay, to read her a book. When the light went on, I began to work with a group on how we could pick up the children and take them to visit their mothers, how we could provide gifts the mothers could give their children - little things that meant an awful lot to the children."
The full value of this mission outreach hit home when Ms. Hatcher and others in her United Methodist Women group met the children.
"Meeting the children made them real," she said. "They were just like my children. And just like the children I knew from church. They had the same likes and dislikes, fears and challenges. For the most part, they did not understand why their mothers were not with them."
Such experiences bring United Methodist Women's mission outreach to life. For Ms. Hatcher, experiencing one mission project made her realize similar mission was happening all across the organization. When she makes her pledge to mission, she sees the faces of the New York children and knows there are thousands more across the United States and around the world who are impacted by the millions of dollars given each year through United Methodist Women.
Members of United Methodist Women can't personally travel the world, but their mission dollars can and do. Since their foremothers gathered to send the first missionaries to India, to open schools for African-American girls, to reach out to refugees and immigrants, giving and raising money for mission as been a central theme. More than ever, United Methodist Women members are challenged to keep pace with escalating costs in the face of continuing and increasing mission needs.
When giving dropped from $18.2 million in 2004 to $16.8 million in 2005, the decline could be seen in the faces of women, children and youth with whom the organization could not be in mission. It was seen in places where funding had to be reduced or ended.
United Methodist Women's mission outreach remains strong. However, as organizational leaders struggle with how to balance the budget, they must make painful decisions about reducing mission outreach. A key goal is to let members know the struggle so they can respond with new energy for Mission Giving - the new name for undesignated giving. Ms. Hatcher's story offers keys toward this goal. United Methodist Women's giving will increase when:
• Members experience mission;
• Members hear and tell mission stories;
• Leaders ask and ask again for members to give to mission;
• Members understand financial giving as a spiritual discipline;
• Leaders build trust in the organization by connecting members beyond the local church.
Overcoming complacency is the first hurdle, said Marva Usher-Kerr, executive secretary for mission opportunities for the Women's Division.
"The faith of our mothers was based in a time when the ills of society were visible," Ms. Usher-Kerr said. "You saw poverty and racism. We've come to a point where we've been led to believe that's all over. We want to believe it's over. We've been lulled into thinking everything's okay.
"We have to reach deeper into our spirits to move beyond this cloud of complacency. The battle is harder because we first have to fight our complacency."
She pointed to United Methodist Women's commitment to racial justice as an example:
"People say, 'I don't see racism in the United States anymore.' We want to comfort ourselves but we have to be uncomfortable. Jesus calls us out of our comfort zone."
For many, seeing is believing, Ms. Hatcher said.
"Several years ago, I had the opportunity to go to Nigeria to visit mission projects there - fish farms, woodworking shops, a women's sewing cooperative. You could see the difference these made to the women and children who were in the programs compared to the women and children we saw in the villages."
The Women's Division recently launched Ubuntu Explorers, a program through which U.S. women are traveling to meet women in other parts of the world. See the Women's Division website for information:www.umwmission.org.
Mission experience doesn't have to mean international travel. It can be visiting a mission institution within driving distance of your home. It can mean joining a Volunteer in Mission project. It can mean scheduling visits to mission sites near where you are traveling.
"I'm not asking every member of United Methodist Women to go to Jos, Nigeria or Bonda, Aceh or Dulac, La., but I am asking them to fund those who can go and those in mission in those places," Ms. Hatcher said.
Telling mission stories
Mission travel, even close to home, is not for everyone but mission stories can be told anywhere.
"There are others who will go and interpret what they've seen," Ms. Hatcher said. She encouraged United Methodist Women units to invite missionaries, deaconesses, Women's Division directors and staff, and Ubuntu Explorers to speak at unit meetings. And she encouraged them to engage Uni-ted Methodist Women's mission studies and read and share Response magazine articles.
Lynne Gilbert, associate treasurer of the Women's Division agreed.
"My advice is learn all you can about the organization," Ms. Gil-bert said. "Read Response. Use The Prayer Calendar. You will learn about real people in real situations. You will see where somebody was hurting and your Mission Giving dollars have made a difference in a family's life, a woman's life, a child's life. Great photos are powerful. They put real faces on Mission Giving."
Ms. Gilbert said you can't tell the mission story too often or in too many ways.
"Telling the mission story is cumulative," she said. "Tell it in every way possible. Pledge services that tell actual stories about where your money goes make a difference."
Asking members to give
People want to be asked to help including being asked to help by giving money, Ms. Gilbert said.
"Ask everyone for their personal commitment," she said. "Challenge folks to increase their pledges. There are a lot of women who have always pledged $30. Things cost more today. Set an increased goal for your unit and interpret why it will make a difference. You're asking when you're telling the story. You can't ask too much."
On average, each member of United Methodist Women gives $20-$30 a year. Ms. Usher-Kerr asked members to dream about what it would mean to give $10 a month - $120 a year.
"We would raise $120 million a year instead of $20 million," she said. "We could fund every pro-ject that came to our table. We wouldn't have to turn mission projects away. We wouldn't have to piecemeal our support."
She asked members to consider what $10 can buy.
"$10 doesn't mean much to us but it is a lot to some people," she said. "Some places, $10 can feed a family for a week. Our money goes a long ways."
Giving as spiritual discipline
How people spend money has a lot to do with who they are, Ms. Usher-Kerr said.
"We are really connected with our financial resources," she said. "How we think about money can define who we are. I need to give from the spirit and not worry about finances so much. I need to give of myself and be a willing giver. We have to connect our giving of ourselves and giving of our financial resources."
When training conference, district and local-unit United Methodist Women treasurers, Ms. Gilbert encourages them to focus on why the money is needed.
"I tell them it's not just about the checkbook and paying the bills," she said. "It's important that part is done right but financial interpretation - telling the story to local members at every meeting - is the most important thing they do. People respond when you reach into their hearts. They want to make a difference."
In an era when there are constant calls for accountability on the part of political and church leaders, explaining United Methodist Women's concept of Mission Giving - giving earmarked for mission but not for specific projects - can be difficult. Understanding why this style of giving is the norm for United Methodist Women is important for every member.
The value of Mission Giving is twofold, Ms. Hatcher said. It provides funds for emerging mission and staying power over the years.
"Because we don't know what the issues will be five years from now or even a year from now, we have to be able to provide funding in a generic way that allows the issues of the day to help us determine the programs to address the issues," she said.
There are needs and issues that persist. Mission Giving also allows United Methodist Women to address these.
"Human beings have a short attention span," Ms. Hatcher said. "We get energized around an issue for a period of time but the amount of time we are energized is far less than the time it takes to address it. This year, I'm excited about AIDS orphans. Next year, I'll be excited about hurricane victims. Yet the serious issue of last year hasn't been resolved. Our thrust for mission work in a more generic way allows us to retain the focus on an issue long enough to make a difference."
Such giving allows United Methodist Women to work on root causes and for systemic change, she said, using a dripping faucet as a metaphor.
"If my faucet is dripping, there's some period of time during which I can just turn the knob tighter and the drip will stop," she said. "At some point, that won't work and I need to get the plum-ber to come in. When I give to the issue of the day, I'm turning the knob tighter. When I give to Mission Giving, I'm calling in the plumber to get to the root of the problem."
Supporting Mission Giving means trusting those who will appropriate the money to specific mission projects, Ms. Usher-Kerr said.
"We need to give and be in trust," she said. "I am proud to be a member of United Methodist Women because every night when I watch TV, I know I did something about the concerns in the news. Every night, someone in the world is being touched because I gave my money. The sun never sets on United Methodist Women's giving. The sun is always shining on some place we gave dollars."
* Dana E. Jones is editor of Response.