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Summer UMVIM not just for kids!

UMVIM Jeanette Harris with lunch mates

The UMVIM placement may be Costa Rica or Detroit or a site near or far away. Jeanette Harris encourages persons of all ages to be in mission as ambassadors of the UMC.


Detroit: Metropolitan UMC

For the six weeks this summer, Jeanette Harris, an energetic sexagenarian from Metropolitan United Methodist Church in Detroit served as a mission volunteer in Costa Rica. After learning about United Methodist Volunteer in Mission (UMVIM) at the 2018 Michigan Annual Conference, I decided to apply. 

After completing a weekend in Arizona, as part of the VIM Global Ministries training program, I was assigned to the Universidad Biblica Latin America in San Jose, Costa Rica for the summer. What an irony, it was the same place, the United Methodist Women had started an UBUNTU journey in the summer of 2015. 

The mission assignment was as a general volunteer in the school’s library. At the same time, I had the luxury of reading articles about liberation theology in Central and South America. Other reading included articles written by Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther King Jr. about the importance of acting against injustice and the danger of complacency during times of domestic upheaval.  A dream assignment for someone who loves to read!

But, what did this have to do with “mission”? The “mission” work centered on relationship building. The first night in Costa Rica, two women, Jostlyn and Cesi who lived in the school’s dorm, stayed up past midnight to help with my luggage and to share a meal. Meal sharing and potlucks are not just a Methodist tradition. Each Thursday, student, staff, and friends would gather in the dorm for a potluck luncheon.

As a non-cooker, the time of dread soon became my favorite part of the experience. I added pasta and tuna salads to dishes of empanadas, rice, beans, and tortillas. During these Thursday meals, my 1,200 days of Duolingo Spanish was put to the test. On my last day at the library, I was treated to a going away coffee hour with my new friends.

Costa Rican friends with Jeanette Harris.
Jeanette Harris, third from left, learned several things on a recent trip to Costa Rica as a Volunteer in Mission, including the importance of relationship building. ~ photo courtesy Jeanette Harris

As the six weeks drew to a close, I learned some important life lessons. Yes, you can go on an assignment alone, but it really is more fun with a companion. Secondly, while it is great to have a prayerful send off at the beginning of a mission assignment, what sustains you are the calls and notes of encouragement you get during the assignment. From now on, I am going to send packages of notes with people, who go off on assignments, to read daily. Thirdly, overseas assignments and travel is a great way to see the world. But, do you really need to travel 3,700 miles to have a meaningful summer mission experience?  The answer is a resounding no!

Without a doubt, the cultural experience of living and working in another cultural is invaluable. It was great to be in Costa Rica not as a tourist, but grocery shopping, managing laundry and doing other day-to-day things. But my local library offers a variety of summer mission assignments — tutoring, reading, and working in the summer enrichment program — that provide recreation and meals to city youth. Also, the Rev. Sue Pethoud at Cass Community Social Services wants the word out that there are always mission opportunities in the City of Detroit. You do not have to be part of a group. If you are over seven-years-old, Sue will find an assignment to fit your skill. United Methodist Women’s groups also do people-to-people mission work and connect right here in the State.

In addition, you can learn more about opportunities to serve as local ambassadors with the Michigan Conference’s Engage MI. Many new relationships and connections can be forged with neighbors in the state of Michigan.

Next summer may find me spending some time in Central or South America again, but I will also be engaged in mission assignments in Detroit and writing notes of encouragement to other volunteers. Connections are really what it is all about. 

Last Updated on October 31, 2023

The Michigan Conference