New Program Offers U.S. Women Overseas Mission Experiences

Two divisions within the missions arm of the United Methodist Church are forming a partnership that will enable women from the United States to build friendships and experience mission for one to two weeks in one of five nations.

Through the Ubuntu eXplorers program, the Women’s Division and Mission Volunteers office of the General Board of Global Ministries will enable women from the United States to understand and share together the daily life, struggles, culture, challenges, and opportunities of women from Zimbabwe, Uruguay, Cambodia, Sierra Leone and Cote D’Ivoire.

According to the Women’s Division, the program will give members from the one-million member United Methodist Women a first-hand look at the programs and projects supported by their annual giving of approximately $20 million.

“Participants will learn about the cultures of the area, travel, pray, sing, cry, teach, work, listen and tell stories, and engage as Christian sisters,” explained Karen Prudente, executive for international opportunities with the Division.

“They will visit and have a mission experience at institutions such as schools, clinics, women’s training centers, hospitals, nurseries.”

Jeanie Blankenbaker, Assistant General Secretary for Mission Volunteers, says that the idea of Ubuntu eXplorers came as an answer to a prayer from Grace Musuka, coordinator of women’s work for The United Methodist Church in Zimbabwe.

“Ubuntu” is an African word and proverb meaning, “I am human because you are human.” According to Ubuntu psychology, “Sharing ourselves and our gifts with others optimizes our collective and individual humanity. Even in the sharing and the giving, the individual or ‘other’ group receives the gifts and the glories of humanity,” the Women’s Division reported.

“A couple of years ago, Grace asked me if it would be possible sometime for just women to come to Zimbabwe to worship with her women, to share in laughter and cry in sadness, to enjoy each others’ company in Christian love, as sisters of faith, letting the women in Zimbabwe know they were not alone,” Blankenbaker explained. “When we called Grace to ask if she’d still like us to come, she immediately said, ‘Can you come yesterday?’

“To see this come to fruition through the Ubuntu eXplorers not only in Zimbabwe but in other sites mentioned here, is exciting and a wonderful testament to United Methodist Women,” she says. “We look forward to this partnership with the Women's Division and United Methodist Women.”

According to the Women’s Division, Ubuntu eXplorers will begin April 2006 with a first trip to Zimbabwe. Trips to Uruguay in August and Cambodia in September will follow. In 2007, the Division and Mission Volunteers will host trips to Sierra Leone and Cote D’Ivoire.

Team leaders for the first three pilot programs have already been selected by the Division and Mission Volunteers and team members of 10-12 women from across the United States, with at least one member being a young adult, will be recruited. Before the trip, team members will have a day of orientation in New York City.