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Ubuntu History

“I am a woman. You are a woman. You and I are friends. You and I are leaders. Our name is Ubuntu. Our passion is mission.” –Ubuntu Philippines, 2012

Ubuntu is a Zulu/Xhosa word for an African philosophy built around respect for humanity. Simply put, it captures the concept: “I am human because you are human.” Ubuntu recognizes that each person is part of a community, and affirms women as human beings — especially in cultures where women are not considered equal. The word’s deeper meaning is respect, dignity, consideration for others, self-esteem, self-honor and humanness. Above all, Ubuntu describes a coming together of God’s people to celebrate God’s presence and prompts us to act on behalf of our neighbors. Ubuntu exemplifies our connections to one another and is a foundation for community action and service. Ubuntu is the foundation of what United Methodist Women members understand as mission, and exemplifies faith, hope and love in action.

In the tradition of action, and firmly rooted in their purpose, United Methodist Women members practice “expanding concepts of mission” through service and action for justice. Women volunteer in their local communities and around the world as doctors, after-school tutors, advocates for justice and peace, and much more.

In 2005, the Women’s Division and Mission Volunteers office of the General Board of Global Ministries formed a partnership to enable groups of women (up to 12 per group) from the United States to build friendships and experience mission in other countries. This was the start of the Ubuntu eXplorer Journey program (now called Ubuntu Journey program). 

Ubuntu Journeys are unique mission service opportunities for United Methodist Women to interact with the world through Mission Giving partners. In the spirit of Ubuntu, United Methodist Women members travel on Ubuntu Journeys to other parts of the world to share in the lives of women in other countries. During Ubuntu Journeys, women sing, worship, learn, cry, pray, share, and rejoice together. Each Ubuntu Journey connects women to one another for a unique faith and mission opportunity. On their Journey they will:

  • Witness love and struggle; share challenges and opportunities
  • Grow cultural awareness; exchange ideas and skills
  • Learn where United Methodist Women’s Mission Giving goes to support more than 200 programs in 75 countries
  • Understand daily life with Methodist and United Methodist, grassroots and ecumenical sisters around the world

Ubuntu is the being of mission. It focuses on relationships, shared experience and mutuality. Ubuntu Journeys are about women of faith coming together through shared mission to address social issues and discover new ways of working together, support one another and grow spiritually. Since the program’s inception, Ubuntu Journeys have taken women to Zimbabwe, Uruguay, Cambodia, Cote d’Ivoire, Kenya, China, Mozambique, Brazil, Russia, India, Philippines, Northern Ireland, Haiti, Chile, South Korea and Sierra Leone. Future Journeys are planned for Zimbabwe (the third Journey), Costa Rica, Lithuania and Liberia.

Why We Participate in Ubuntu Journeys

Ubuntu conversion

The message of Ubuntu is carried through Jewish, Christian and Muslim traditions. It has no direct translation in English. Ubuntu is a traditional African philosophy, which Archbishop Desmond Tutu explains this way:

“It is the essence of being human. It speaks of the fact that my humanity is caught up and is inextricably bound up in yours. I am human because I belong. It speaks about wholeness; it speaks about compassion. A person with Ubuntu is welcoming, hospitable, warm and generous, willing to share. Such people are open and available to others, willing to be vulnerable, affirming of others, do not feel threatened that others are able and good, for they have a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that they belong in a greater whole. They know that they are diminished when others are oppressed, diminished when others are treated as if they were less than who they are. The quality of Ubuntu gives people resilience, enabling them to survive and emerge still human despite all efforts to dehumanize them.”
— From God Has A Dream: A Vision of Hope for Our Time, by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, 2004.

Practicing Ubuntu

Here are just a few ways you can practice Ubuntu:

  • Prevent child recruitment for child labor trafficking through education and awareness
  • Place clean drinking water in tanks on migrant trails along the U.S.-Mexico border to prevent heat illness and death of migrants
  • Accept all expressions of faith and hospitality

These acts of kindness and compassion are examples of what it looks like to practice Ubuntu. Often these acts are perceived as threatening to the powers and principalities of the present day — just as they were in biblical times.

And yet, it is when you practice Ubuntu — when you reach out to the other in your midst and find your own humanity in others — that you receive God’s gift of conversion. 

We need each other

In his book God Has a Dream, Archbishop Desmond Tutu makes reference to an African word called ubuntu. The idea is that "a person is a person through other persons. The solitary human being is a contradiction in terms. I need you in order to be me as you need me in order to be you. We are caught up in a delicate network of interconnectedness. We are made different so that we may know our need of one another."

Imagine that! For many of us, this is a daunting concept, especially in a culture where we place such high regard on our self-sufficiency and independence, being able to stand on our own two feet, and having things our way regardless.

Ubuntu speaks to the essence of our shared humanity and reminds us that in God's family, there are no outsiders. All are insiders. “Black and white, rich and poor, gay and straight, Jew and Arab, Palestinian and Israeli, Roman Catholic and Protestant, Serb and Albanian, Hutu and Tutsi, Muslim and Christian, Buddhist and Hindu, Pakistani and Indian — all belong," says Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

It is through our engagement with all God's children — those we know well and the stranger on the street; those who cheer us on as well as those who try our very last nerve; those who look and act like we do, and those who seem to bear no resemblance at all — that we learn to be fully human, God's very own.

Imagine how liberating it would be if we were able to muster the courage to say out loud to those around us on a fairly regular basis: "I need you. I am who I am because of you." To sit with the tension of that: the give and take, ups and downs, the taking on and the letting go of things in order that we might fully find our true selves and become who God intended us to be.
May God give us strength!

Mission in the Wesleyan tradition

The Rev. John Wesley put faith into action in daily life. Wesley elaborated a theology that emphasized “works of piety,” and “works of mercy.” For Wesley, these are key elements in living the Christian life and seeing personal holiness. This enables us to be the people that God intends us to be.

Wesley understood the essence of Christianity to be love — “the never-failing remedy for all the evils of a disordered world” (Wesley’s sermon “On Laying the Foundation of a New Chapel,” 1777). It requires acts of charity, acts of justice, and sharing of resources; in other words, mission.

How we participate in Ubuntu Journeys

The Ubuntu Journey program offers United Methodist Women across the United States the opportunity to apply for team membership on a variety of Ubuntu Journeys offered each year through the office of United Methodist Women. Shepherded by a trained team leader, team members come to know each other as fellow Ubuntu sisters prior to the actual Journey and then meet new Ubuntu sisters at the Journey site. Through many weeks of correspondence, on-line training and sometimes even video conference calls, the team is carefully prepared for new experiences, a new culture, and is eager to meet their new Ubuntu sisters at the Journey site. 

At the same time, the Ubuntu hostess team leader and her committee is carefully preparing for the arrival of the Ubuntu team. The two team leaders plan for the Journey for many months, discussing a variety of activities in which to engage while together; selecting an appropriate theme and Bible verse to guide the Journey; and ensuring the Journey will be successful and meaningful. This interaction strengthens their own women’s program, sometimes even opening their eyes to new mission opportunities for the women. 

Each team, the U.S. team and the host team, come together as one: as Ubuntu Sisters, representing the best of Christian women around the world! We fulfill the purpose of United Methodist Women by developing a supportive and creative fellowship.


© 2014 United Methodist Women