An Examen: God, Where Have You Been Present?
Posted on January 31, 2020 by VMMissions Staff
Now in our fourth decade of short-term missions, what have we learned at VMMissions? Are short-term mission experiences about rendering a service or surrendering to Christ? Martin Rhodes shares his own story of how a short-term assignment in Mexico shifted his focus from doing to being.
In the year 1548, the missionary, Ignatius of Loyola offered God’s people an exercise called the Consciousness Examen. I appreciate this practice of turning my heart and mind to God in prayer, recalling the day that has passed and noticing where I experienced God’s presence. As I submit myself to God’s tutelage in scripture reading and prayer, I become aware of God’s many gifts to me and the ways that I accept or reject the way of Jesus in my life.
E3 Collective medical team, September 2019 (l to r: Martin Rhodes, Kerwin Borntrager, Dr. Wes and Nancy Ross, Lynne Eggert, Jen Kuhns, and Pastor Rami in Jordan. Martin shares, “In the months that led up to our being at this table in Jordan, we explored together our call to follow Jesus and submit our gifts, talents and whole lives to his leading. That call coalesced for each of us as we joined with the Church in Jordan in sharing the good news found in Jesus—of healing in body and soul.” Courtesy of Martin Rhodes
As VMMissions celebrates 100 years, it seems an opportune time to prayerfully examine our history, giving God thanks for his sustenance and faithfulness, confessing our shortcomings and looking with hope to the future ahead of us. As the Discipleship Ministries Coach at VMMissions, much of my work involves stewarding our short-term programs: Partners in Mission, tranSend, and E3 Collective. In looking back over the history of these programs, what is there to thank God for? Where have we missed the gifts that God wanted to lavish on us?
In looking back, I am thankful for the way my own story intersects with God’s work through VMMissions. In 1990, my family undertook a three-month, 3,000 mile journey through the Partners in Mission program to the Baja Peninsula of Mexico to live and work on a residential ranch and school for deaf children. As a 13-year-old boy, full of the overconfidence and arrogance of youth, I had no idea how God would use the trip to transform my life.
At Rancho Sordo Mudo, my parents, six siblings and I quickly settled into new routines with our new acquaintances: children ages 6-18, their teachers and dorm parents. The wise elders at Rancho Sordo Mudo anchored our days with the awareness of God’s presence and a reliance on his Spirit. Through the rhythms of tortilla-making, dish-washing, trash-carrying, Bible study and prayer, we were transformed from strangers into friends. And more than that, I slowly came to realize that our hosts were our teachers and that coming to a place to serve is secondary to coming prepared to receive.
Near the end of our time in Mexico, one 13-year-old girl had the wisdom to ask me if I had given my life over to the Lordship of Christ. I truthfully answered, “No,” and she asked a question that the Spirit guided all the way to the depths of my heart: “Why not?” Having grown up surrounded by the love of family and the church and discipled toward the way of Jesus, her question was the one I needed to hear. It helped me to respond fully and freely to Christ and set me on the path of discipleship that I am still walking today.
Deaf children at Rancho Sordo Muno in Mexico celebrate with Martin Rhodes (center) at his birthday party in 1990. Courtesy of Martin Rhodes
It is these lessons that almost thirty years later inform my hopes for our short-term programs. While it might have been tempting in the past to count a trip successful if a roof was repaired or some service rendered, now we position ourselves toward relationships. We look for the spiritual growth that happens when we engage cross-culturally, when our individualistic identities are challenged, and when we learn to know and be known in deeper ways. How needful this was for me as a young man! I pray that the Holy Spirit would likewise use short-term encounters with brothers and sisters around the world to form and shape participants of this generation into uncompromisingly committed disciples of Jesus.