Today, here at General Conference in Tampa, we celebrate mission. The General Board of Global Ministries will host a Friends of Mission luncheon, and tonight’s plenary session will feature mission-minded members of The United Methodist Church—including the church’s ethnic national plans, communities of Shalom, Global AIDS Fund, The Advance, and others—in a program called “We Need a River.”
I liked that title before I even knew how it would be addressed, because that is how I think of mission: a rolling river coursing through the bloodstream of humanity and all creation. It is a river that unites all people regardless of the place and circumstances of their birth, the language they speak, how they worship, and whom they love.
As a writer, I’ve been blessed to travel pretty widely, both in my native country and abroad. I have wandered far from the beaten path with guides who have given me an intimate view of their lands and peoples.
Once, on my return from an overseas trip, I learned I had contracted a virus which played havoc with my perception. My doctor sent me to a neurologist, and he hooked me up to a wonderful machine that tested the flow of blood to my brain. I got to hear the marvelous sound of that coursing and vital river of blood and ever after, I have come to recognize its ceaseless flow through all creation and all humanity, regardless of our differences, real and perceived.
Mission, to me, is more than overseas travel and service. It is a mindset of openness to others. It is a recognition, as the theologian John Sivalon says, that we cannot be fully ourselves—or even fully human—without the other who is not us, not me, but who is connected to me by our common humanity, common creation; who is connected to me by the river of life that unites us.
Mission, then, is an attitude and outlook that begins from our own incompleteness and extends from there to a shared search for fullness of life. It is both ever constant and ever changing.
Christians hear the promise of abundance in Jesus’ life and words. He shows us that we can strive together for fullness of life by pursuing justice, mercy, and compassion, and by living into the love he models for us. Fullness of life becomes open to us all, and to all creation, as we open ourselves to one another.
We need a river, yes; and we have a river: God’s river, God’s mission.
Linda Unger is staff editor and writer for the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR).