The River and the Sea: Making Sense of the Story

By Carol Tobin
Transforming Editor

Carol TobinFor one hundred years, VMMissions has existed to help the church know itself as sent. We now have the opportunity to take a look over our shoulders. It is when we look back that we are best able to see an unfolding storyline that can then help us to orient toward our future. What do we see when we look back?

For one thing, we see that we are not the primary actors. We play bit parts. As I have pored through a treasure trove of archival material for this special centennial issue, I find that I am reading a story not simply about an agency and its work and workers, but about God. God has been active: energizing people in prayer, seeding vision for the new, providing joy in the midst of adversity, and pouring love and passion into those of us servants who, like jars of clay, are ready to be used, but who are admittedly full of cracks.

I see a river of outward impulse that simply keeps flowing. I resonate with the testimonies of workers who experienced riotous joy as they were swept giddily along in its coursing currents. I notice at times the temptation to stand timidly on the banks of this untamable river as we worry about whether the waters will rise and carry off what we treasure. At other times, I feel the heartbreak of gazing upon a barren landscape, wistfully wondering if the current has changed and left us high and dry.

Another thing that stands out is how easy it would have been to miss those tiny rivulets that wondrously grew to become wide channels of access. I remember visiting the headwaters of the Mississippi River. We laughingly straddled the shallow bit of stream at our feet. Who could have imagined what would emerge from such humble beginnings? So it is with our beginnings, Italy and Jamaica in particular!
Sailboat on the sea  

We can also note that looming obstacles have in some cases forced bends in the river, enabling new streams of blessing to emerge. When Guyana closed its doors, blessing multiplied in Trinidad! When a new generation of givers wanted to give to people rather than institutions, we found ourselves blessed with Ministry Support Teams!

What about apparent failure and tragedy? Melvin and Miriam Weaver had spent several years of seemingly fruitless ministry in Kentucky. While in the process of discerning with the mission board where to serve, Melvin and VMMissions president Jacob Shenk lost their lives in a tragic plane crash. What was gained by the ever so costly investment of Melvin’s years in the mountains of Kentucky? Perhaps there is an enduring legacy, not of buildings and programs, but of faith—examples of courage and passion that both inspire and instruct subsequent generations.

By looking back and noticing these things, we can turn with fresh vigor toward our future.

Perhaps a nautical image can help as we look ahead. We might picture our work together as VMMissions as a small sailboat on the big and turbulent seas of the world, attempting to catch the winds of God’s Spirit. Our ballast is God’s word, steady and unchanging. The raised sail is our attentiveness to the Spirit.

Do we have sufficient ballast to keep us from careening off course in the face of contrary currents? Do we still have our sails raised, ready to believe that the Spirit is blowing across our world? Are we poised to catch the high-in-the-sky breezes that will move us where God wants us to go? May it be so!

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