Rivas reflects on changes in global mission over 22 years

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Rivas reflects on changes in global mission over 22 years

Jan. 28, 2005    News media contact:  Michael Wacht*    
mwacht@flumc.org     Orlando  {0239}

n Florida Conference elder retires from 22 years of service on general missions agency staff.

An e-Review Feature
By Elliott Wright**

NEW YORK — The Rev. Michael Rivas has both observed and helped implement major changes in the mission work of The United Methodist Church during 22 years at the General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM).
Before retiring at the end of 2004, Rivas was asked what he sees as the most important mission developments of the past two decades.
The church's steady movement toward a truly "global perspective on mission" tops his list of five positive and significant changes. These changes, he said, "have made our work more vibrant, more hopeful, and more faithful."

Rivas recalled that, when he came to the board, the mission enterprise was divided into "national" mission (concerned with the United States) and "world" mission (covering the rest of the globe). The reality of one world, he said, made up of people with many shared problems and possibilities, gave rise to a mission structure organized around function rather than geography.

Rivas is en elder in the Florida Conference. He began working for GBGM in 1983, joining the staff of the former National Division. During his tenure, he worked primarily in the areas of mission development and structural relations. Having attended six United Methodist General Conferences as a mission board executive, he has a wide-ranging view of the church and its ministries.

The Rev. R. Randy Day, chief executive of GBGM, recently described Rivas as one who "loves God and loves God's people and has the heart of a prophet and teacher." In reflection on his years at GBGM, Rivas identified four other developments closely linked to the movement toward a global perspective in mission.

n  The expanding United Methodist mission presence in the world, the most significant increase in a century.
n  The internationalization of the missionary corps, with an end to the practice of limiting missionary service to US citizens.

n  The growth of involvement by people of color in global mission and ministry, no longer only as 'objects' of mission but as major players in mission work.
n  The growth of mission-support networks and partnerships involving the mission board, annual conferences, and congregations.
Over the years, Rivas had special links to projects and partnerships involving Latin America, the Caribbean, Puerto Rico and Philippines. He was part of the team that developed the National Hispanic Plan for Ministry, the first of several racial-ethnic "national plans" for ministry within the United States.
"It is a joy to me," Rivas said, "to see racial-ethnic minority brothers and sisters actively engaged in mission expansion efforts in places such as Central Asia, Cambodia and Honduras, to name just a few."
He was also part of a successful effort to renew relations between The United Methodist Church and the Methodist Church of Cuba.

Retirement for Rivas is not an end to his mission engagement, only a transition to other venues of witness and service.
The full text of Rivas' reflections follows:
Reflections on Two Decades of United Methodist Mission Work

My retirement provides the occasion for a very individual look at changes and new elements introduced into United Methodist mission work through the General Board of Global Ministries over the last 22 years. Here are some brief reflections based on that experience.

The Global Character of the Mission. We steadily moved toward a global perspective on mission, symbolized in 1996 by our ending the split between "national" mission (in the United States) and "world" mission (everywhere else). Before then, we worked through "divisions" with separate legal, financial, personnel and staff structures. The reality of one world on a single planet, inhabited by people sharing many of the same problems and possibilities, gave impetus to a structure organized around missional functions rather than geography. This change has not been easy to implement. To the degree that we have been successful, our global focus has brought about new relationships, interactivity and shared learnings across political boundaries. The result has been a more holistic understanding and practice of mission as partnership.
Expanding the United Methodist Mission Presence. Over the past two decades, I witnessed the most significant increase since the early years of the twentieth century in the number of countries where United Methodist mission work is present. A combination of factors, including the collapse of Soviet communism, contributed to this possibility. Other factors include the efforts by migrants coming to the United States and refugees resettled here to plant Methodism in their countries of origin, and the ever-growing direct involvement of local churches and annual conferences in mission work. The desire of United Methodists to witness in new lands demanded a new creativity in the Board. The result is an approach that can accommodate different situations without imposing a uniform formula for each new case, or "initiative," as they have been called.

Internationalization of the Missionary Corps. A long-standing dream of mission-minded people was actually accomplished during this period. The requirement that United Methodist commissioned missionaries be U.S. citizens was finally dropped, based on the realization that such a requirement was neither theologically nor contextually tenable. Today, missionaries literally come from and go to every inhabited continent. This has opened new mission doors that would still be closed had we retained the exclusively North American face we once projected.
Racial-Ethnic Minorities in Mission. In former times, racial-ethnic minorities in the United States — people of color — were considered the "objects" of mission. That has changed. The African American struggle in the Civil Rights Movement to end racial discrimination and the eventual elimination of the segregated Central Jurisdiction of the former Methodist Church were the first major blows to that old perspective. With the missional priority on the Ethnic Minority Local Church, started in 1972, The United Methodist Church started to respond positively to significant demographic changes in the United States. This led to the current "racial-ethnic national plans" that are opening the eyes of the church to the mission capacity and commitment of people of color as equal partners in evangelization and social transformation. It is a joy to me to see racial-ethnic minority brothers and sisters actively engaged in mission expansion efforts in places such as Central Asia, Cambodia, and Honduras, to name just a few.
Mission-Support Networks and Partnerships. Over the last two decades, whether in response to the prodding of the Spirit or as an expression of the spirit of the times, congregations and annual conferences in the United States have enthusiastically embraced mission beyond national borders. At least initially, much of this local and regional mission involvement happened without consultation or coordination with the General Board of Global Ministries. After a reluctant start, the Board embraced the concept and reality of mission partnerships, particularly in regard to new initiatives. The best-known example is the Russia Initiative. Others have followed, thus bringing to fruition two of the main objectives of the 1996 restructure: 1) to facilitate and encourage the engagement of local churches and conferences in the mission, and 2) to promote the development of new resources and support for mission beyond the existing budgets and structures. In addition to these initiatives, many annual conferences have developed covenants and partnership agreements with sister conferences and churches all over the world.
These five changes are, for me, the most significant developments that have taken place in the United Methodist mission enterprise during my tenure at the General Board of Global Ministries. They have made our work more vibrant, more hopeful, and more faithful. May God allow us the grace and humility to learn both from our mistakes and our successes. And may life be truly transformed by the witness of those who accept the call to follow Jesus Christ and fulfill God's mission for salvation and liberation.

Michael G. Rivas
(Former Deputy General Secretary, Planning and Research)


This article relates to Missions.

*Wacht is director of Florida United Methodist Communications and managing editor
of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Wright is the information officer of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.

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