Though she only spent three months overseas on her first trip to Palestine, the Rev. Loren McGrail is optimistic and looking forward to returning to one of the world’s political hot spots. By sharing her stories, McGrail experiences a renewed hope and belief that her work in the region makes a difference.
"It's an incredibly unique opportunity to be called to work with one of Global Ministries’ many partners in the world. Mission work is more an exchange of gifts than it is learning -- I hope I'm bringing something to them instead of just taking something away from being there,” McGrail said.
McGrail was one of several missionaries gathering in Cleveland Oct. 25-27 at Missionworks! 2012. Begun in 2002, Missionworks! is a biennial celebration of mission for clergy and lay people in the United Church of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) -- the two partners that form Global Ministries. This year’s theme – Learning from Global Partners.
McGrail’s upcoming trip, pending approval from Global Ministries, will be her first as a full-time missionary. She previously traveled to the Middle East for the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) to monitor potential human rights violations at military checkpoints, and recalls witnessing difficult situations in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict during her first visit to the area from February through May 2011.
“The part I'm excited about is working in a volatile place to help our congregations and leaders continue to be inspired to do advocacy work,” she said. “I hope to get them information they need to do that advocacy work.”
Just as McGrail was readying for her first trip as a missionary, she was able to learn from the stories shared by a handful of retiring missionaries present at Missionworks! Ken Frank and his wife, Betty, also spent time working in the Middle East, serving in Turkey beginning in 1982. The Franks got involved in education after program administrators invited them to teach at a boarding school. Because the majority of the Turkish population is Muslim, including the Global Ministries partner organization, Ken Frank thinks his mission work is a good example where Muslims and Christians can successfully work as a team. "We felt it was extremely important because of the Christian-Muslim cooperation with a common ideal being education. We hear so much they can't work together but this was a counter-example,” he said.
The Franks retired two months ago, and are now living in California, having spent 38 years as missionaries, starting in Zambia in 1970. “[Mission work] was every existential year-to-year, and we had to decide whether we wanted to continue,” Ken said.
Maryjane and Don Westra only recently completed their first mission, spending three years in Zimbabwe as hospital administrators. This is the couple’s second career, Maryjane said, after previously working as social workers. She doesn’t recall a specific event that inspired them to become missionaries, but said they were “always globally minded. We’ve had foreign-exchange students, children in our home for medical care, and language classes overseas.”
Once the youngest of their eight children turned 18, the Westras made the choice to apply to become missionaries. They sold their house in Minnesota, their car and their furniture before heading off to Zimbabwe to fulfill their lifelong ambition.
“The biggest thing about mission work is how we’re learners rather than teachers,” Maryjane said. “We had to rearrange our whole value system [in Zimbabwe]. In America we value time, we’re always looking at our watch. Africans are not [like that] and it can be a good thing ... It makes you stop and re-examine your own value system.”
During her discussions at Missionworks!, Maryjane said she was asked about the types of projects she and Don completed in Africa. “When you’re there, you want to fix the world,” she said. “What I realized is you have to stop trying so hard if you want to get something done.”
After the conclusion of Missionworks! celebration, a few missionaries will remain in Cleveland for training. At the Wider Church Ministries-Global Ministries (WCM-GM) board meeting Nov. 11, the new missionaries will be commissioned during a worship service in the Amistad Chapel at the UCC’s Church House.
“We want to create as much of a global environment as possible. There’s music, global worship, and connecting with current and former missionaries,” said Jan Aerie, who oversees mission education and interpretation for WCM-GM. “It’s a chance to learn about and celebrate what might be done in future missions.”