This past spring, Ken Herfst and students from Redeemer University College in Ontario walked the narrow streets of a slum settled on the outskirts of Guatemala City’s main dump.
Thousands of people hustled in the sun’s early morning rays to scavenge through mounds of garbage, filling bags with food, glass, aluminum, and other commodities they can use or sell.
Herfst and his students were on a mission trip with Resonate Global Mission—but they didn’t build any houses, paint any church buildings, or facilitate any trainings or programs. “Those projects have their place,” said Herfst, “but our purpose was to listen, observe, reflect together.”
What does it look like to join God in mission and build his kingdom?
Mission Is Contextual
“Mission is contextual, and so the same approaches don’t work everywhere,” said Rachel Beveridge, a Resonate missionary serving in Guatemala. “God is at work in the world in different ways. As Christians joining God’s mission, we have to take into account both the history and current realities of any given place in order to discern how God might be calling us to respond.”
Herfst, who served in Guatemala for many years and now teaches urban and intercultural ministry at Redeemer, brought students from his classroom to Guatemala. After studying and discussing theories, theology, and practices while sitting in desks, Herfst’ students were able to see ministry in action.
Students were invited into communities, homes, and churches. They visited a slum, joined a family for a traditional meal, and crowded into a church office to hear stories of Guatemala’s history. In every conversation, students were encouraged to think about ministry not just in terms of talking about the gospel, but in practicing what Jesus did and said.
“(It’s) often presented as the question between evangelism and church planting versus social action,” said Herfst. “Instead of seeing both belonging together, there's often a tension between the two.”
In the Bible, Jesus preaches both. Scripture is full of verses about faith in Christ and encouraging one another spiritually—but Jesus also asks his people to care for one another by providing water, food, clothing, and shelter.
Resonate partners with ministry leaders like Herfst who want to bridge the divide in mission between caring for people’s spiritual needs and their physical needs. The vision trip to Guatemala was just one way Resonate and Herfst equipped and empowered young aspiring ministry leaders. Students were able to see people in Guatemala doing both.
Thinking About Mission
“It helped grow the way I think about mission,” said Adrian Faber, a student who participated in the vision trip. “Going on the trip to Guatemala opened my eyes to how mission work is rooted in and for the individuals in the culture … it’s about working with people, knowing people … sharing the gospel with actual individual people.”
Faber graduated from Redeemer this past year and is returning to Central America as part of Resonate’s Cohort—a year-long mission experience designed specifically for young adults to explore their calling while gaining experience working with local mission organizations at the grassroots level.
Herfst and Resonate plan to organize more vision trips for students to better understand what it looks like to join God in mission and build his kingdom. These trips may just be a few days long, but they help equip students to live out the gospel for the rest of their lives.
“(The students) are still responding,” said Herfst. “They’re not done. They’re still trying to work through it all … you need to live within the questions often.”
This story was originally published by The Banner.