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The Ascension: Stepping into Service

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Editor’s note: Missioner Janice Smullen reflects on how passages from the Ascension parallel her own experiences of being called to mission and her time in service.

Each time I revisit the Ascension in the Gospels, I find numerous points that relate to mission and service. Throughout my own time on mission in Jamaica, I see similarities between these verses and my challenges and blessings in a daily life of service.

“He rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart…”  (Mark 16:14)

My strongest prompt to mission came as I reflected on a painting of St. Francis gazing at the cross and being told to rebuild the church. The question written with the painting asked, “Am I willing to do God’s will?” For many years, I have read, heard, and tried to practice in small ways, the example of Jesus doing  the “will of my Father,” and loving others as God loves me. Now I felt that God had put the nudge toward mission into my heart. Two years of overseas mission service seemed like a very big step into the unknown  but I had the stories of Francis and many others as examples, and I felt that if I said “Yes,” God would enable me to shed my worries and, thus, soften my heart and make more room for his Grace!

“The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them.”  (Matthew 28:16)

I always notice the number eleven here; it is a particular mention to the fact that someone is missing.  There are times when I am missing someone familiar from my table. It is different people at different times and my heart misses them. The last phrase—”to which Jesus had ordered them”—strikes me as being particularly relevant to mission and service. What are Jesus’ lifestyle orders? Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, go and make disciples of all nations.

My heart believes that God does and will  take care of me while on mission, and the Almighty and Universal God is also able to care for my loved ones even when they are located in different parts of the world.

“He led them out to Bethany…They did him homage and then returned to Jerusalem with great joy and they were continually in the temple praising God.” (Luke 24:50-53)  

I found a great amount of help in being “continually in the temple praising God.” I couldn’t have made my decision for mission without some serious prayer and reflection. The question of “Is this really God’s will?” was a focus for my Lenten prayer before I began my time of service. Contemplative silence and guidance from trusted friends helped me to find peace in the answer to that prayer. This ending of Luke’s Gospel account shows the disciples returning to the Temple, and I have reflected on how this seems to be the strength they needed before departing to their ministries which are recounted in Acts

“Jesus came and stood in their midst and said, ‘Peace be with you.’” (John 20:19; 21:22)  

Ahhh, my prayers were voiced and answered; my heart found peace, and my decision for mission was made. In John’s Gospel, Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit upon the disciples. In the next chapter, I see another of my tendencies:  my desire to get a quick summation of God’s plan.  Peter wants to know about the future for the Beloved disciple…(nudge, nudge, wink, wink) and he is gently reminded by Jesus, “What concern is it of yours? You follow me.”  I often need gentle reminders to allow me to follow Him and trust.

The disciples encounter the resurrected Jesus in their everyday lives while fishing, walking, eating, and interacting with others. As my mission time unfolds, I also see Jesus in everyday life. I see him in the faith voiced in the locals that I meet and in new forms of singing and praise. I feel discouragement at the discrepancy of incomes and lack of faith just as Jesus felt while gazing at Jerusalem. I marvel to see God’s hand in creation as I walk by household gardens or explore the hills.

And, like the disciples, I see Jesus working through me, giving me a stronger dependence on prayer as I realize that I will not be able to fix systemic problems, and a stronger sense of humility as I realize that I am an outsider here, but I truly have been sent by God.  

Jesus ascended and asked his disciples to go and teach all nations. Mission service makes us a viable part of that eternal and mystical plan. Jesus may have disappeared into the clouds, but we are able to make his presence real today.
I really think that He was having a good chuckle as He ascended. He knew how much mission would change us!

Reflection Question: Spend some time reflecting on Scripture passages today. How do you hear God speaking through them to you?

Janice has been granted the fruits of a family vocation and many community volunteer experiences during the past 40 years. Each experience has helped to build her faith in God's unending and unconditional love. She has been a CCD teacher, doula, ESL instructor, retreat facilitator, and mentor to refugee families. Now, Janice is grateful for the freedom and health and the opportunity to continue service and growth overseas. She lived most recently in Greensboro, NC, and loves to garden, sew, read, hike, and do yoga. Janice has been in Kingston, Jamaica since March 2016.