Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Who's Afraid of a Little Budget Cutting?

If you are aware of what’s happening at the general church level, you may know that a budget is being prepared for next year’s General Conference. And the press release about this budget warns that things are getting tighter …

Here’s the lead from the United Methodist News Service story, as well as a few paragraphs that pertain directly to the General Board of Global Ministries:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS) - The United Methodist Church is facing the "very hard, very painful" work of cutting ministries and shifting resources while building its denominational budget around four newly named areas of focus.

After months of reviewing a proposed budget that does not keep pace with inflation, the chief executives of the denomination's program agencies pledged to preserve ministries that address those four areas - leadership development, congregational growth, global health and poverty ……

The Board of Global Ministries is targeting a new pilot project aimed at addressing poverty in rural areas of the United States and also is reprioritizing its missionary ministry, said the Rev. R. Randy Day, the agency's chief executive. The board had asked for a funding increase of almost 23 percent but would receive a 6 percent hike under the proposal.

"The fact is, we lost a lot of dollars we were hoping to have," Day told the joint gathering.

The agency intends to place missionaries first with skills that address the church's new areas of focus - for instance, those with medical training to fight killer diseases and promote global health. "Every time missionaries come up for renewal, we are coordinating and looking at that through the lenses of all four areas of collaboration," Day said. "We can't cover everything, and sometimes we make those painful decisions that these missionaries will not be reassigned and doing what they were doing."

A few comments on what’s happening here: first, I am happy to see the church name these four areas of focus as priorities in the future. As a matter of fact, these four things are precisely areas of importance in the Cameroon Mission. I have written here before about the vital importance of creating strong leaders and supporting new and existing congregations. You’ve also heard about our health work, specifically concerning cholera prevention in Obala and an AIDS/Malaria prevention team that has traveled the country over the last two years. And we are beginning to address issues of poverty through our partnership with the Fobang Foundation, RELUFA, and our own partner churches.

So I feel confident that, concerning budget matters, the Cameroon Mission will remain a top priority for GBGM over the coming years. We fit all four categories of priority funding!

For that reason, I am also not worried about our jobs! We aren’t medical doctors, but the work Leah and I are doing is tied up in all of these areas, and so I hope the Board will continue to think of us as … necessary!

I know that fiscal responsibility is a matter of grave importance for the United Methodist Church. I certainly don’t begrudge the fact that the GBGM budget won’t be increased as hoped; I’m sure there are things that need to be trimmed.

And the truth is that much of the funding for initiatives and programs in the Cameroon Mission comes directly from churches and donors who have been touched by a personal encounter with the work here, either through our family, the blog, a visit, or getting to know a Cameroonian. I’m confident that that kind of funding will continue, as God leads you to provide.

For example, there never would have been a Pastor’s Kid Education Scholarship Fund except that Leah got the idea, wrote about it here on the blog, mentioned it in the newsletter, and shared it with churches on itineration. As a result, we’re distributing almost $10,000 this year alone to help children go to school! That was not a budgeted item of GBGM; that was simply a cry from the heart that you heard and answered.

Perhaps that is the point of having to cut certain programs from the GBGM budget; the hope is that individuals and congregations will pick them up and run with them. If GBGM itself cannot sponsor a specific initiative, for example, then perhaps a group of United Methodists in America will. And they will do it with fervor and excitement, because they “own” it.

But there is a danger here, too. The history of mission work in the last thirty years is littered with stories of reckless individualism, of people and churches who decide to work outside the system in order to do what they want to do, or what they think ought to be done, and in the process, make colossal cultural mistakes. I fear that some people engage in this kind of renegade mission work only in order to make themselves feel better about having “made a difference,” when in fact, they end up making things worse!

There are simply things that can’t be done without the backing and support of an international mission organization, which brings immense resources, energy, and experience to the mission field.

Having GBGM behind us is an immense blessing, and we hope that the Board will be able to continue to function as a mission-sending agency, with power and effectiveness. Because of GBGM’s support, we were able to go directly to the mission field without having to search for financial support ourselves first. Because of their staff support, we have someone to call when things get difficult, and someone to call when we are worried about our health or safety.

So no, I’m not happy that GBGM won’t get its 23% budget hike … but I have a feeling the work will get done anyway. Thanks for all that you do to make sure it will!