Learning is a central concept in the UEM. The earliest missionaries from Bethel and the Rhineland built schools and training centres alongside the churches and hospitals at their posts. But learning – just as the mission leadership in Germany had planned – did not take place only in institutions. The missionaries and their families also learned by being together in the mission stations and sharing their everyday lives, which led to unexpected insights for themselves and their mission leaders. As Ernst Johannsen, one of the first Bethel Mission missionaries present in what is now Tanzania, wrote in 1920, in the language of his time: "The evangelist among the heathens must love the people as they are; pity does not suffice. He first wants only to learn..."
Learning has remained one of the main concerns of the internationalized UEM. The 1996 constitution of the international UEM describes the UEM as a "worshipping, learning and serving communion". Training programmes, summer schools, continuing education programmes and study courses have been organised at the education centres in Germany and the regional offices in Dar es Salaam and Medan. There is a special focus on interfaith dialogue, diaconia, church organization and church leadership, as well as on women's rights, church music, partnership work, and human rights. Learning in the UEM has always transcended linguistic, cultural, and national boundaries. It is still bound up with common lives and faith, and these continue to generate unexpected insights and attitudes that go beyond the prearranged curricula and preplanned educational objectives. Collective learning creates community and relationships and encourages deeper knowledge of how others live their lives. "International learning" has also become very popular in every state-run educational system, as well as in other systems of education. Schools, kindergartens, and study courses are becoming international and seeking partners in other continents; companies are sending out many of their employees to other countries and offering their own educational programmes; and universities are developing programmes of international study and research. Internationality in education has become a mark of excellence that gives rise to professional recognition and financial support.
Already a tradition for more than century, global learning in the UEM has come back into the spotlight because of these developments. The UEM is becoming more conscious of its own special experiences and traditions in international learning, both formal and informal. As part of this process, its approaches to "global learning" are in need of new labels and greater precision. Programme formats and methods, standards and subject choices must correspond to the international equality among the members of the UEM. So far, most learning programmes have been planned and managed separately in the three regions (joint programmes in Africa and Asia, educational centres in Germany). Completely internationalized programmes were fewer, for example the continuing education for lay preachers in 2016, the annual summer schools, the international study courses in Mission Theology and Diaconic Management, and the international consultations that have taken place on ageing, HIV/AIDS, adult education, and human rights.
In 2017, the International Council mandated that all learning programmes be made more international in concept and that collaboration on learning be strengthened among the three regions.
This mandate has led to a new learning concept for the UEM: Global Learning in Ecumenical Perspective. According to this concept, learning in the UEM will now be less separate in the individual regions and less cross-regional, so that it can be more international and collaborative. There will no longer be educational concepts that consider the three regions as separate entities. Instead, the common theme in all learning programmes is to be "mutual learning against a background of different contexts". Of course this is not completely new, but it is now to be implemented more consistently in all learning programmes. What this means in practice:
. Training programmes, continuing education, and seminars are to be conducted primarily in learning groups whose membership is international, with an international team of trainers and lecturers.
. Collaboration with experts from all three regions is to be strengthened.
. The former course directors of the UEM training centre in Germany are becoming coordinators. This means above all that they will no longer offer content themselves, and instead will organize and coordinate programmes.
. The coordinator teams in charge of educational programmes are to be made more international in their membership.
. New methods promoting mutual international learning are being developed. Multiperspectivity will be encouraged.
. New learning formats and programmes will be strengthened that bring learners together from all three regions.
. A joint planning process is being designed that will incorporate the educational needs of UEM members from all three regions. The educational programmes for a given year will be compiled and planned the prior year, during the UEM's international planning week. Staff members in the educational field are now part of a Global Learning in Ecumenical Perspective team at the UEM that is working closely with all UEM departments and the regional offices in Medan and Dar es Salaam. On 26 March 2019, the course directors – now educational coordinators – moved offices from the Holy Mountain in Wuppertal to the Mission House, allowing their work to be linked even more closely to the international work of the UEM.
Changes are also happening in the area of partnerships, as these too strive to be more obviously international. As of 1 March 2019 there are no longer three partnership representatives in the UEM office in Wuppertal and one in each regional department to supervise and handle partnerships as a team. Instead, there is now a central office staffed by Frauke Bürgers and Kristina Neubauer, the two experts in partnership work. This office is under the authority of the General Secretary. It will work closely with the two partnership experts in the regional offices, Zakaria Mnkai in Dar es Salaam and Petrus Sugito in Medan. This now gives the UEM an international partnership team of four people. The aim of this change is to create new, flexible forms of international partnerships and "fellowships" alongside the existing ones.
The new international partnership team will collaborate not only through jointly developed plans, but also through an international communication culture with regular international meetings conducted electronically.
Almost 25 years after the UEM's internationalization, our goal with these developments is to stimulate the continued internationalization of cooperation at all levels of the UEM. The UEM Council has initiated three think tanks that will reflect on the issue of the internationality of the UEM and possible additional changes to create greater internationality by 2021. These forums, which will take place in Germany (December 2018), Asia (July 2019), and Africa (2020), will include internal church and diaconic experts, as well as professionals outside the church. Together they will develop new ideas for international cooperation that is more widespread and more innovative.
We look forward to implementing these changes and shaping them together.
Angelika Veddeler, UEM Executive Secretary Germany
15 March 2019