By: Jerad Morey
Rev. Bruce Buller had long had a passion for mission in Russia. When United Methodism was taking off there in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and funds were being raised to develop a church center in the northwestern part of the country, Buller made several trips to St. Petersburg to help with the effort.
On one of his trips, he brought his granddaughter, who was still searching for a vocation. They served at a church-funded orphanage for children with HIV, and Buller recounts the transformation he witnessed in her: “My granddaughter said 'I touched those babies. I need to be a nurse.’” For her, mission was key to vocation.
Buller’s story is one of many that Minnesota United Methodists are eager to share about mission work they’ve done and the lasting mark it left on both those they helped and themselves.
History and purpose
About 10 years ago, the Minnesota Conference’s Missions Promotion Team developed the Mission Speakers Bureau, a group of nearly 50 missionaries and mission-minded speakers who could go out to churches and share their experiences in order to provide mission resources and inspire congregations to find their own opportunities for mission work.
“We wanted to give persons the opportunity to hear more [about] how the United Methodist Church is involved in mission, stimulate involvement, and promote the studies from the School of Christian Mission (now called Mission U),” says longtime team member Mary Ann Rick. (Mission U is an annual, United Methodist Women-organized series of classes and workshops designed to expand United Methodists’ understanding of mission in today’s world.)
The Mission Speakers Bureau exists to encourage missions and get churches more involved in service in Christ’s name. The speakers are meant to catalyze discipleship in the congregations that invite them in. While the list of mission speakers has existed on the Minnesota Conference website for at least five years, Rick, a member of Immanuel United Methodist Church (Corcoran), says it’s an underutilized resource among the state’s congregations.
The speakers and their stories
Rev. Lyndy Zabel, associate pastor at Messiah United Methodist Church (Plymouth) and the conference’s director of missional impact, has gone on a number of mission trips around the world and is a mission speaker. “A certain segment of every church is interested in missions,” he says. “I want to talk to those people.” Zabel points out that his “director of missional impact” role, which he stepped into in late June, “implies that the [Minnesota] Conference wants to expand its impact” in the missions arena; one way that churches can participate in this effort is by inviting mission speakers.
Zabel says a mission speaker would be a perfect resource for any church that is seeking information about mission opportunities or would like to learn more about covenant relationships, through which churches commit to support a missionary financially and both parties communicate with and pray for each other regularly. Missionaries can speak to their experiences, and in doing so, God might spark a call in a congregation.
What sort of call? That depends on the speaker. Becky Coleman, a member of Living Spirit United Methodist Church (Minneapolis), has had advanced mission training from United Methodist Women, and she’s prepared to illustrate how tools like the demographic research website MissionInsite, available to all Minnesota United Methodist churches through their district offices, can be used for local mission work—helping churches better understand their local mission field and be in ministry with those who live in it.
Another mission speaker, Debby Newman of Centennial United Methodist Church (Roseville), serves the United Methodist Committee on Disability Ministries as representative of the United Methodist Church’s North Central Jurisdiction (which includes nine episcopal areas, including Minnesota and the Dakotas). Her lifelong mission field is the church itself, and she focuses on helping congregations welcome and be in relationship with people living with disabilities. Her demonstrational video on incorporating American Sign Language into worship, “See It, Say It, Sign It,” has hundreds of views on YouTube, and her news releases on including people with disabilities in church life are sent to conferences throughout the jurisdiction.
Zabel—who co-founded OC Ministries, a local nonprofit mission that has built classrooms, clinics, and churches in seven developing countries—is available to speak about the Biblical foundations for mission and coach congregations on mission opportunities that are right for them. If, for example, a church men’s group decided it wanted go abroad during a Minnesota winter to help with construction work somewhere, Zabel would let the group know about opportunities for building in the Caribbean. There are so many different mission experiences available that every congregation can find a good fit.
Mission speaker Ruth Wiertzema was a missionary working at Red Bird Mission—which provides spiritual, educational, health, and community outreach ministries in an isolated and distressed region of the Appalachian Mountains—and she is now a member of Little Prairie United Methodist Church (Bridgewater). When recalling her years as a missionary, she remembers a blind friend who, to her eyes seemed to live in poverty and yet was rich in wisdom and love.
“One of the things I try to help people understand is it’s not ‘us up here helping them down there,’” she says. “What we give, monetarily or in service, we also receive. We come at people with respect that God has given them something that will bless us.” Wiertzema now delivers workshops on that exact topic.
Wiertzema and Buller have both seen the impact a mission speaker can have on individuals and congregations. Buller recalls speaking at a church in southern Minnesota about the Russia church center initiative and, later on, meeting with a member of the congregation who told him, “When you spoke, the Holy Spirit said ‘that's the one you need to invest in’” before making a significant anonymous donation for the effort.
Wiertzema at one time was in covenant relationships with several congregations, including Little Prairie United Methodist Church (Dundas) and Evangel United Methodist Church (Rochester). Those relationships helped both youth and adults to more concretely visualize a life led in radical pursuit of God’s call.
Mission speakers are catalysts for discipleship, and their stories serve as a reminder that, as Zabel puts it: “We’re in the business of changing lives.”
Lyndy Zabel is happy to refer appropriate speakers to interested congregations; he can be reached at (612) 230-6129.
Jerad Morey is a member of Mosaic in Brooklyn Park, a freelance writer, and a member of the Mission Speakers Bureau. Follow him on Twitter @Jerad.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church