by Julie McGonegal
Much of that partnership is now spearheaded by congregations. Connections between churches in Canada
and other parts of the world run deep on both sides.
Friendships are flourishing across global borders, and
experiential learning is giving rise to personal transformation and social change.
The People in Partnership program represents a new
shift in overseas mission work for the United Church.
Emerging out of the recommendations of the Permanent
Committee on Mission and Ministry and a review from
the Executive of the General Council, the program
acknowledges that people are less able to participate in
overseas mission work than in the past. Fewer people
are able to make a long-term commitment overseas,
resulting in the implementation of a new vision.
A key change in the revamped program lies in the
capacity for people to take brief “exposure trips” of
10 days to two weeks. Pat Elson is the Team Leader
for People in Partnership. Asked what these kinds of
shorter engagements offer, Elson invokes the metaphor of a mirror. “Sometimes you can see yourself
more clearly through other people’s eyes,” she says.
That radical shift in perspective—personal and cultural—can be profoundly disorienting, but it has the
capacity to mobilize people.
Consider, for example, that many partners have experience
with Canadian mining operations in their backyards. When
Canadians travel overseas and witness the direct effects,
there is an inevitable “aha moment,” says Elson. “All of a
sudden, that’s not so far away. That’s us.”
Our partners have come through various kinds of colonial
experiences and have much to teach us, she adds. “They have
come out in a different place than they were in before, but
still live with much of that post-colonial burden. They have a
lot of knowledge and experience for all of us in the process of
trying to live in a new relationship.”
But there are those who lament the loss of the wider work that is no longer possible due to resource short-
ages. The Rev. Nan Hudson, former Area Secretary for East
Asia and currently supply minister at Faith United Church in
Kingston, Ontario, is one of them. “There’s work that used
be to done at an international ecumenical level, at a national
level, and even at a Conference level that the United Church
is no longer able to sustain,” notes Hudson. “And with the
In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, this principle
typically took the form of people living with the communities
they were serving. The United Church and its forerunners
sent people overseas for years, even decades.
Think of Bob McClure, the Canadian physician and medical
missionary whom locals fondly recall riding his bike down the
dusty roads of Henan, China, in the 1920s, with his medical
bag strapped on the back. Or George Mackay, the Presbyterian
missionary in the country that is now Taiwan. In the 1800s, he
established schools where Indigenous students were welcome.
Both men fully embedded themselves in the communities they
While the United Church’s overseas ministries have gone
through various metamorphoses, the values of reciprocity
and respect modelled by these pioneers still shape the partnership work that the church does today.
Overseas Mission: A new vision
Laurel Marshall and Emily Gibson, Crescent United Church delegation,
share stories with children in Tierra Nueva, El Salvador.