Numbers show growing desire for mission
by Jenny Gaskell, MBMS International, and Myra Holmes
It was a “bumper year” for SOAR S. Texas, a short-term discipleship and mission experience sponsored by MBMS International, thanks to an increase in participants and an undercurrent of spiritual transformation. Under the leadership of Craig Jost, MBMSI’s Midwest regional mobilizer, participants worked July 14-24 alongside the churches of the Latin American MB Conference. MBMSI is the global mission agency of North American Mennonite Brethren.
This summer was the second year for SOAR S. Texas after a several year hiatus. If numbers are any indicator, Midwestern Mennonite Brethren are glad the opportunity returned. Last year, Jost says, 57 people participated in SOAR S. Texas; this year’s trip more than doubled that number, with 141 participants.
Registrations rolled in fast and early, leading MBMSI to close registrations earlier than anticipated. “I knew we were going to have a bumper year when I was contacted by four groups from Canada in September 2008 to reserve a spot,” Jost says. He says that this year’s team included families as well as youth groups, Canadians as well as U.S. participants.
“I think there is an increasing desire for mission across the Midwest,” Jost says. He speculates that MBMSI’s dual focus on discipleship and service—in keeping with their emphasis on holistic church planting—is attractive. “Many churches are looking for more than a traditional mission trip—one that looks to deepen the impact of serving in a cross-cultural setting with a lifelong discipleship commitment,” he says.
As for the experience itself, MBMSI says an undercurrent of spiritual transformation marked SOAR S. Texas. Teams spent several days in spiritual preparation and orientation, then were sent to churches in Rio Grande City, La Grulla, Garciasville, La Joya, Mission, McAllen, Donna and Weslaco, Texas, and Carmago, Mexico. Ministry looked different for each team, but generally involved a daily vacation Bible school as well as service with the local church.
John Langer, group leader from Gettysburg, SD, served with his team in Mission. “We didn’t have one kid at VBS the first night,” says Langer. “We stopped and prayed as a team, and God’s faithfulness brought nearly 20 kids to the door.” Fourteen of those made commitments to Christ during the week.
“We saw God this week. Clearly,” Langer says.
Although not every site experienced such tangible fruit of labor, participants say God was present and working.
“On the last day there, I got a sense from the pastor that God did work through us, though we didn’t get to see it,” says Toby Berg, youth leader from Enid, Okla., who served in Donna. “I hope to keep in touch and hear back on the seeds God planted. I think that’s the work God had for us, and we’re excited for someone to reap that harvest.”
Following nearly a week of on-site service the teams processed the experience during two days of debrief. Many participants report transformation in their lives.
“I cleaned house spiritually and emotionally, relinquishing a lot of baggage,” says Wyeth Leslie of Corn, Okla., and serving in Weslaco. “I rededicated my life for Christ.”
Bethany Martinez of La Grulla, Texas, a second-year participant, also served in Weslaco. Though from the area and familiar with the culture, Martinez still felt challenged and transformed. “I saw that God really wanted to use me in a big way; I gave my life to him,” she says.
While Jost has resigned his position as regional mobilizer so that he and his wife, Fabiana, and their children can serve overseas, Jost says that MBMSI hopes to continue SOAR S. Texas next summer.