One of Norway’s major missionary organizations, Det Norske Misjonsselskap, NMS, is in financial trouble, and membership has been divided over reorganization efforts aimed at saving money. The missionary movement has lost members and interest in recent years, with one long-time supporter saying she’s part of a “dying breed.”
The national board of NMS threatened to resign over the weekend. It had failed to gather enough support for its reorganization proposal at an extraordinary meeting in Bergen, the first in NMS’ 160-year history. Newspaper Bergens Tidende reported that a majority instead supported an alternative from the grassroots level, which the board’s leader ended up backing in a show of solidarity.
It’s all aimed at cutting costs to save money. NMS has been suffering from a lack of donations, a lack of younger members joining the fold and an ageing staff. “We are perhaps the last generation of mission women,” 72-year-old Kari Hesseberg told newspaper Aftenposten. “Perhaps a dying breed.”
Hesseberg has met every two weeks for the past 40 years with other women in Ålesund, to sing, pray, chat, sew clothing for children and raise funds for NMS. But their group hasn’t attracted a new member for nearly 25 years and now they’re all mostly in their 70s and 80s.
“Being a missionary and trying to convert other people to believe what you believe in, isn’t as accepted in Norway as it once saw,” Kristin Fjelde Tjelle, a historian at the college Misjonshøgskolen, told Aftenposten. The entire missionary movement is now viewed with more skepticism in Norway, “from being a popular movement to being more of a sect,” according to Leif Hadland, assistant secretary general of NMS.
Lack of funding
That’s led to lack of adequate funding for missionary work. There currently are around 70 mission groups in Norway that operate missionary activities overseas, mostly in Ethiopia, Japan, Mali and Bolivia. Around 30 percent of their financing comes from the state, but the rest is raised privately.
Aftenposten reported that the largest groups had about 560 missionaries stationed overseas in 2008, down from more than 800 in 2000. NMS had a deficit of NOK 15.7 million last year.
“Savings and interest have allowed us to cover the deficit, but this can’t continue,” Hadland told Aftenposten. Reorganization proposals involve cost-cutting, staff reduction and fewer missionaries being sent out.