A Theology of Mutuality, a new book by Glory and Jacob Dharmaraj, was published by United Methodist Women in 2014. I caught up with Glory, retired United Methodist Women executive for spiritual growth, as she had just returned from a mission trip to the national mission institution Neighborhood Center of Utica in Utica, New York.
response: How can we find time to do mission in our super-busy lives?
Dharmaraj: That is a question I face on a daily basis in our church. Especially mothers—they have to take children to rehearsals, games and music lessons. In the midst of all of this, where are we to find time?
And this is where older people like me have a role. We can ask, "How do we adjust our times so that we can work together?" We may make time for new relationships and new ways. How can we make this happen? It is hard.
We must encourage one another. Although, yes, we lack the time to engage in mission, we can accomplish so much with the Holy Spirit.
response: You have just returned from short-term mission. What is the value of short-term mission?
Dharmaraj: This [short-term mission] exposes women to new experiences, such as how people outside of their cultural contexts live and practice their faith under trying circumstances. It also helps them tackle challenging tasks such as addressing poverty, immigration, interfaith relations—albeit for a short time—so that they can come home to organize to alleviate the root causes of these issues.
Short-term mission trips are transformative experiences for those who undertake them. It is an inward journey that opens us outward.
response: What project did you work with? How did you organize it?
Dharmaraj: For the past four years or so, my husband and I have contacted the Utica Neighborhood Center three or four months in advance to receive a children's wish list so we could provide items on the list.
Neighborhood Center was a project of the Woman's Home Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church. The center was built in 1905—more than 100 years ago! We were so excited when we saw the letters WHMS on the building. It is a testimony in bricks and stones. On one recent visit we had tea with Somali refugees. One woman who had been served there as a refugee is now a worker. People who receive mission become agents of mission.
On the trip we visited with the staff and children and listened to innovative mission work such as the newly started Mobile Crisis Center. When we came home around 9:30 p.m., we were revived.
We do not have to travel far in order to do mission. We have to give women tangible challenges, something they can take part in, like a women's center or a soup kitchen. Have a cup of soup with one another. Very often we feel that mission is one-way. It is two-way.
response: I have been thinking I prefer to give rather than receive.
Dharmaraj: This is one of the key challenges of our time. I think, "I should be always the giver." Then I think about Jesus. Read Luke 8:1-3. Jesus received the resources from women. Luke talks about the women followers who provided Jesus and his disciples with resources. If Jesus could accept resources from women, I think we can accept gifts, including gifts of charity, justice and compassion.
response: To whom do we give and from whom do we receive? How?
Dharmaraj: The poor challenge us in many ways. United Methodist Women teaches us to do something about addressing the root causes of poverty, as in advocacy for the allocation of public funds.
Every mission is two-way. It is both giving and receiving. Otherwise, it'd drain us. The Bible talks always about mutuality. The mother churches give to the daughter churches and the daughter churches receive. And then the daughters give to the mothers, as we see in the Acts of the Apostles.
response: Church and United Methodist Women are two of the few intergenerational places where people of many ages gather.
Dharmaraj: Yes, you see mothers and daughters, granddaughters and grandsons. Even if it's not for mission, we need to bring generations together for an informal supper, a picnic.
response: I love the prayers and creativity in A Theology of Mutuality. How do theologians today incorporate new ways to tell the story?
Dharmaraj: We all have our stories. We always think in metaphors, images, symbols and stories that are close to our hearts. I share the greatest of the love stories: Jesus and the ongoing mission led by the Holy Spirit. Jesus and his parables are our greatest model. I use contemporary metaphors and images. Prayer is the language of the heart-language of the soul, as well.
response: What other questions did writing this book raise for you?
Dharmaraj: Mutuality is a vast area. This book is only a drop in a bucket. Everyone has a story, a thought, a narrative to share. It makes me feel humble. As inheritors of mission, we have built on the foundations of others.
I have seen missionaries investing their whole lives in mission, and I don't want that to be lost. Because it's God's mission. We need to inspire each of us. It is a connected journey. We walk together, according to the pace of the least of these.
response: How is your retirement going?
Dharmaraj: Our women's history is replete with examples of women who have contributed to mission through composing songs, literature, without engaging in formal work. In Christian mission there is no retirement. In Christian mission there is no full-time or part-time work. We all follow our respective callings. I believe, at this point in my life, it is my calling to be fully geared to mission through writing, teaching, workshops and presenting research papers on United Methodist Women's history as well as on deaconess histories. I am also writing a new book on mission and evangelism for today.
I live mission every day. It helps me understand everyday challenges.
response: Is technology one of those challenges?
Dharmaraj: Talk about giving and receiving! Every one of us uses technology. We can look for help from the younger people in our local church. With technology, the generation gap can be abolished and the divide made not so great. Young people are the digital natives. Together we could start prayer requests through e-mail. We could spend time for prayer on Internet communities. We can engage in mission studies through online education for a particular time or space. We can meet our missionaries and talk with them through our computers.
response: You have seen many changes during your work of more than 20 years with United Methodist Women.
Dharmaraj: I've not seen so many changes as I have in the past two decades in my lifetime. If we don't acknowledge that and adapt our mission strategies, we will be lost. We must go ahead. God is a change agent. We must change with the changing times so that we stay relevant. Jesus Christ is the same unchanging God.
response: Are we staying relevant?
Dharmaraj: On several levels, the church lags behind. There is a cultural gap.
Acknowledging this, we need to forge ahead. We know changes are taking place. How can we adapt? That is why we need to understand mission today in changing times before we undertake and engage in any mission work, because Christian mission is intentionally relational and deliberately mutual.
Because we are called to employ a diversity of approaches in mission with a flexibility to change. In short, we try to be relevant as we engage in mission as a community of believers.
Glory Dharmaraj served as the director of spiritual formation and mission theology for United Methodist Women for nearly 21 years. Her book, A Theology of Mutuality: A Paradigm for the 21st Century, is available from United Methodist Women Mission Resources.
Mary Beth Coudal is a blogger and former communications executive with United Methodist Women.