Last weekend Greta and I attended Volunteer Missionary Movement’s annual retreat in El Salvador. We gathered with our fellow Central American VM’s and shared stories about our work and the current political situation in our countries, reflected on how we’ve changed since beginning our time with VMM, and recalled what it means to be a missioner for life. Edwina Gateley, founder of VMM, joined us for the retreat, sharing her wisdom on being part of the movement.
Edwina reminded us that our “mission” with VMM is not simply a two-year stint, but a lifetime commitment to bringing about the reign of God by working for peace and justice. I feel pretty uncomfortable calling myself a “missionary,” and it was good to be reminded that the kind of mission VMM is talking about is not an evangelical one. Instead of bringing God to the people, Edwina talked about learning to recognize God, both in ourselves and in those around us. For us as volunteers this was a an affirmation that no matter what challenging circumstances we find ourselves in (and they are numerous), we should know God is with us, and remember to recognize the ways in which God is moving in our lives. Edwina explained that all we have to do is find the tiniest flicker of hope and know that God is present. For the communities with whom we are serving, we affirm their recognition of God’s presence. It is not about bringing God, or even finding God, but creating opportunities and spaces for community members to recognize God in their own lives. In this way, mission becomes a mutual exchange of support and affirmation.
We also spent time discussing the political and social realities of each of the countries we are serving in and in Central America as a region. Currently, VMM has missioners in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua. Tim Muth, a VMM board member who joined us on the retreat, has a great blog on all things El Salvador. He and the other volunteers in El Salvador talked about the gang violence gripping El Salvador and the politics behind the campaign against it. Those of us from Nicaragua struggled to explain the tension between social programs and corruption under Daniel Ortega. For more information on this ongoing Nicaraguan debate, read NACLA articles that offer both a more positive view of Ortega and a more critical perspective.