Professor maps mission work

Voice for Missions is a student organization that creates a space for fellowship, prayer and information for those seeking to pursue global missions. They have weekly meetings at which they facilitate prayer, devotions and passionate qualified speakers. This week, that speaker was geography professor Jason VanHorn, who brought not only his own statement of faith and personal testimony, but also elaborated on the geographical basis of mission work.

“Mission work requires levels of spatial thinking — spatial thinking about the local, spatial thinking about the regional and spatial thinking about the global,” said VanHorn during his presentation. “We are called to ‘go and make disciples of all nations,’ but we are also called to consider the local. This leads us to questions like ‘What is local? What does local mean for missions? How do we navigate the layers of locality that we are bounded within?’”

Through visually representing the world using geographic information systems (GIS) — software that allows users to create layered maps — one can see, argues Van Horn, what kind of challenges one will face in mission work.

“In order to understand the challenges of mission work,” explained Van Horn, “we must be aware of where we are and how we can approach a certain space.”

From this presentation, students like first-year student Anna Piazza, a leader of Voice for Missions who helped organize the event, remarked on how VanHorn’s geographical perspective can help one develop a sense of empathy:

“You have to know an area before you go to it. Research before you pick an area to do mission work, because it’s important to visually understand what you’re going into and to be culturally sensitive,” said Piazza.

Sophomore Araceli Jaimes, who has been leading Voice for Missions since last fall, commented that, for her, that sense of empathy is at the heart of any mission work.

“[In mission work] you are engaging and loving people. You are sharing the gospel, what Christ did for them, as opposed to being like ‘this is why you should be a Christian,’” said Jaimes. “It’s about engaging and living with others, stepping away from our ethnocentrism and showing the love that Christ has for them.”

Although mission work is often perceived as a task carried out in a distant place, Jaimes noted how mission work is also applicable to life here and now. “Living in a missional way to me is sharing with others what it’s like to love Christ and follow his calling for me and my life. That’s a very day-to-day kind of thing that I’m working on as a college student here in Grand Rapids. When I’m sharing my story, I don’t have a clear answer. I don’t know what I’ll be doing, but I feel this calling and I want to pursue it,” said Jaimes.

Though they are a rather small student organization, Voice for Missions has had speakers from Christian Reformed World Missions and Calvin’s off-campus programs office, as well as professors from various departments.

“We’ve been blessed with people who are eager to come in and share their love and passion of missions and what that looks like in their lives. It’s been really cool seeing that,” said Jaimes.

As the year continues, Voice for Missions hopes to continue hosting speakers and integrating various disciplines with their understanding of mission work.

Even though Voice for Missions may be ambitious in its scope, it emphasizes openness to any student.

“We want to make a space where students don’t feel like they have to commit to anything huge, but know that we have a mutual interest and want to grow and pray together,” said Jaimes. “We want to learn more about what the great commission means in our lives.”