Earlier this month returned VMM volunteers from all over the UK and Ireland, and as far away as Malta and the USA, gathered in Liverpool Hope University to celebrate 50 years of the Volunteer Missionary Movement. They were joined by VMM founder Edwina Gateley in celebrating all of the 3,000+ lay-missionary volunteers who have shared their skills, culture and selves with marginalised communities across the globe; learning so much in return and leaving lasting impacts on innumerable lives, including their own. So many memories were shared among the attendees of returned VMs; memories and reflections of our volunteers’ experiences of living in and working with community overseas, through the VMM mission to “share who we are, not just what we have”.
The three-day anniversary event commenced with an informal welcome and dinner with early arrivals on the Sunday. The festivities and conversation then began in earnest on the Monday with an opening service planned and lead by Father Terry Donnelly. The programme proceeded with a buffet lunch and then an afternoon of presentations and discussion, comprising of a first part, looking at the history of VMM and a second part, considering the present and the future of the organisation.
This included an audio visual presentation on some of VMM’s current projects in Africa prepared by UK Manager Van Garber, with the editing services of Liverpool Hope University student Alex Monkhouse, and Africa Manager Tim Flynn and Communications Officer David West, based in Africa. During the evening Edwina presented awards to those returned VMM volunteers who have continued to be active in their personal mission over the last decade.
For most of VMM’s 50 years, we have sent professional volunteers with the ability and desire to commit to two years, or more, of service with their adopted communities overseas. There was, therefore, great interest for many to learn more about the VMM Short Term Volunteer Programme, which was initiated in 2016. This included a presentation by Dr. Candida Darling of the University of Chester on this programme, which she has adopted for her students.
The short term programme has given young, mid-career and late-career/retired people the opportunity to taste VMM activities and the chance also to “share who they are and not just what they have” through cultural emersion and exchange, as well as gaining a deeper contextualisation and understanding of the complex, interconnected and often internationally biased issues behind the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as we struggle to create the VMM vision of “a world where we live in the shelter of one another”.
There then followed a presentation of the personal stories of Marie O’Meara and Fr. Terry Donnelly on their VMM experiences. The personal reflections continued on through a tea break of informal conversations where other VMs were invited to reminisce on their VMM experiences, many of which contained hair raising moments of living in-country amid disease, scarce resources, poverty and politics, sometimes being ‘Too Hot To Handle’. This sharing also included several contributions from VMM couples (the Wiggins, Nisbets and Harris’s) who had met and married as a result of their VMM experiences.
The final event before dinner was a presentation by the Chair of the VMM Board of Trustees, Bill Chambers, on ‘The Future’. Among his observations from his position on the board and experience of the volunteer sector was the impact of the continuing economic recession in the UK and the preference for some donors to prioritise home charities; while also noting a general overreliance by VMM and other small charities on a small number of major donors, such as Misean Cara in Ireland.
In concluding, he invited all friends and former volunteers to continue to provide their financial support, time, enthusiasm, and their professional skills to VMM. Full details of Bill’s presentation were included in our last email newsletter. To subscribe to VMM’s quarterly newsletters and keep abreast of all our member communications, just fill in the box on the top-right of this page!
There was much to talk about and discussion went long into the evening on how best to proceed to strengthen VMM’s future as a thriving and committed lay-Christian charity that welcomes volunteers of all backgrounds, regardless of religion, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity or politics; once they embrace our lay-missionary volunteer charism to commit to giving of themselves in working with local civic, community and faith-based organisations to empower marginalised individuals, groups and communities, by providing opportunities to work in partnership with our sisters and brothers in Africa.
The following morning this discussion continued with a group of twenty-plus VMs collaborating on these plans for VMM now, and on into the next 50 years. Indeed, we extend the invitation to contribute to this conversation, as well as your skills and expertise, to the future success of the Volunteer Missionary Movement, which has positively changed the lives of so many of our amazing volunteers, as well as our partner communities overseas.
If reading this account of VMM’s special day, celebrating the charism of our mission and the commitment of our amazing volunteers, has inspired you to join us or reconnect with us, especially with next month’s Extraordinary Month of Mission approaching, check out our website and see how you can ‘Get Involved’ with VMM or email us at . We would be delighted to hear from you.
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VMM founder, Edwina Gateley, presenting VMM Volunteer Awards to: Doug Nisbet, Joan McErlean, Mark Wiggin,
Cecil Johnston, Jean Warner and Kevin Shannon
Douglas Nisbet (Africa volunteer, services to Scotland, trustee)
Joan McErlean (volunteering in Africa, bid writing, services to Scotland)
Mark Wiggin (Africa volunteer and trustee)
Cecil Johnston (Africa volunteer and parish collections)
Jean Warner (Liverpool shop volunteer manager)
Kevin Shannon (longest serving volunteer in Africa)
Anna Dewhurst (parish collections, in absentia)