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The Value of Long-Term Volunteers

Posted 1/8/21 at 9:00am. Written by Craig Waddell

Judson Park, current Venturer in Vienna, Austria with Project:Vienna.

Venturers are long-term volunteers who dedicate a significant segment of their lives to working with BGAV (Baptist General Association of Virginia) mission partners around the world. I asked some of our current and former long-term volunteers, as well as some of their field supervisors and hosts, to share how their experiences demonstrate the value of long-term volunteers. 

While short-term volunteers can have tremendous value, a long-term volunteer is on site long enough to develop relationships, become familiar with the culture, and participate in the dialogue about how to address local challenges. Dr. Otniel Bunaciu, from Project Ruth, Romania reflected that, “long-term volunteers are able to understand the situation better and to engage with issues, bringing a welcome external perspective on local situations.”  

In addition to the specific skills, they might contribute to the ministry, both when on the field and when they return home they potentially are instruments of ‘cross-fertilization’ of ideas and practices in mission.” Pastor Abel PerezFBC La Chorrera, Panama, recalled his church’s continuing connection with Brittney Mumma, who “helped in so many areas … a young woman with versatility and a passion for people. She helped our people connect within the church and with outsiders too. She is one of our people now.” While very much about sharing the talents and skills one haslong-term volunteering additionally includes becoming a dependable part of each other’s lives. This builds trust and credibility.  

Julia Wallace (current Venturer) with with Wissam Nasrallah (COO) and Nabil Costa (CEO) from LSESD in Beirut, Lebanon

Sharing life in this way is part of being missional and is one of the ways God communicates with us. “Long-term volunteers show us that God has not forgotten us,” said Dr. Andrea Klimt, from projekt:gemeinde, Project Vienna, Austria. “There are people who have developed a relationship with, and sometimes even a love for, our country, our union, and our church. We see God’s love for us in that.” Dr. Klimt cited Patrick Clarke’s and Will Cumbia’s valuable connections with the church’s neighborsas well as Olivia Haynes’ quarantine concerts for the neighborhood from her apartment windowThey “create a public impression of our fellowship through the relationships they create, especially to people we would not reach otherwise. 

Working with partners for an extended period of time offers us a way to practice healthy ways of working together, and healthier ways to think about our role in what God is doing in the world. Sara Hubble was a long-term volunteer at the Door of Hope Ministry in South Africa, and one of our first Venturers. She said the experience transformed my mission mindset from one where I was going to take Jesus to places in need, to a truer understanding that God was at work in our international partners long before I got there and long after I left.” While we do bring valuable skills, resources, and relationships to each other, well-rounded missiology understands that God is already present and effective wherever the Church is found. Sara went on to say that it taught her “to respect that local believers are the experts on their people and the needs of their community.” Affirming that we have as much to learn from others as they from us, Julia Wallace (Lebanese Society for Educational and Social Development or LSESDLebanon) wrote, “When I read Scripture, I see a call to relational living.” These authentic relationships make it possible for us to talk about each other’s experiences. We can work toward a more global perspective on Christianity that is not limited to the ways one’s culture of origin expresses it. 

Eliza Green, Summer Venturer in 2017 with Project Ruth in Romania

The long-term volunteer is in a living laboratory for exploring what it means to be part of God’s mission, and what one’s particular role in it might be. Pastor Greg McCormick’s churches hosted two long-term volunteers in Virginia, one from Austria and one from Italy. He remembered that no one knew in the beginning exactly what to expect, but that they “were seeking to follow God’s lead step-by-step on a journey.” The long-term volunteer certainly commits to a length of time which will undoubtedly contain some surprises. When personal and relational challenges invariably come up, the long-term volunteer has the opportunity to work those out and grow as a person and as a servant-leader. Many of those surprises bring joy and growth. Brittney Mumma said of her experience in Panama that it helped her “gain a deeper and fuller understanding of another … way of life,” and that it revealed “passions that may not have been revealed or even known before.” In fact, most Venturers have experienced their time of service as an opportunity to explore their calling, some of them considering a calling into full-time ministry. Justin Pierson said his service in Vienna “solidified my calling … to be a minister devoted to love and justice …” Whether vocationally or not, serving as a long-term volunteer is a life-changing way to work out how we fit into God’s mission. 

Long-term volunteers are valuable in many ways. Because of their length of service, they can contribute on a sustained basis to our partners’ ministries, and it is worth the time to orient them to the local culture. They help our families of churches to practice healthier, more relational ways of responding to each other’s needs and of working together. Their experience in an unfamiliar and often intercultural environment can help long-term volunteers develop a more global understanding of discipleship and of missional ways of living. What has your experience been? What are some ways in which you have seen the value of long-term volunteers? 

You can find more information on our Venturers program here.