NEWTON, Kansas (Mennonite Mission Network) — When does service become mission? Sometimes the words are used interchangeably, like when a church youth group goes on a mission trip and engages in acts of service in a community. Yet, often, service and mission are considered separate acts. A person may be drawn to Christ-centered voluntary service, yet not consider themselves involved in mission. Where does one end and the other begin? That's the central question of Parts and Service, the fourth episode of MissionWary?, a podcast from Mennonite Mission Network.
Marisa Smucker, Interim Executive Director of Mission Network, was administrator for the agency's MVS (Mennonite Voluntary Service) program from 2019-21. In the podcast excerpt below, she reflects on the program's connection with the idea of mission.
"I believe that each of us is looking to be a part of something bigger than ourselves," said Smucker. However, she doesn't want people to get hung up on whether their role fits into what they might assume mission to look like. "I don't want it to stop people from thinking, "Yes! I want to be a part of that. Yes, I'm looking for something that I too can say yes to."
Smucker explained that she believes that MVS can be a place where mission can happen. That manifestation of mission, however, can't just take the form of what mission already looks like in another context. "It has to be beyond our own construct of what we've come to understand this word to be."
Andrea Sawyer-Kirksey is the executive director of DOOR (Discovering Opportunities for Outreach and Reflection), a faith-based organization that provides opportunities for service, learning and leadership development within the urban context. In the podcast excerpt below, she explains how service, like mission, needs to be decolonized to restore agency to the people who are already living in the places where individuals or groups may visit for a term of service.
"Decolonizing [service] is to say to folks who are doing missions trips or service-learning trips, "You are here to be a learner. You don't set the standard,"" she said. "You listen, you watch. Do what you see other people doing. Take the lead from them."
Sawyer-Kirksey gave the biblical example of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:1-42). "He didn't tell her to stop being a Samaritan or to bow down to him." Instead, Jesus "came to embrace her fully and to have a conversation and engage with her. So, decolonizing service is about connecting with people in their own space. It's not about the white savior. It's not about doing service so that [the service participant] can get this feeling of superiority."
MissionWary? is available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, YouTube and anywhere else you listen to podcasts. Learn about the complex bond between service and mission, where the call to mission comes from and how stories of mission become the history of mission. To view the complete episode list, click here