Meghan’s parents were with her as she waited to check in at the airport. Her father asked her again, “Why are you doing this?” With honest simplicity, she replied, “Dad, like I’ve told you, I can’t explain it. I just know I have to do this.”
What was it that Meghan felt so compelled to do? Mission.
She was on her way to Rome for her preparation to serve in Indonesia for two years. With her bags checked and a last hug, she made her way toward her boarding gate without a real clear idea of what she was getting herself into. All she knew was, ‘she had to do it’.
Many young people today consider going on mission projects. It is an exciting prospect, going to a far off land to learn about another culture and people, while serving the less fortunate.
During my six and half years with VOICA (Canossian International Voluntary Service), I have had the honor of preparing Meghan and many other young men and women to serve one to three years in our Canossian missions.
One of the first things we do with a new group of fledgling missionaries is to sit them down and ask them to share with us and their peers, “Why are you here?” On a rare occasion one might state they weren’t really sure why they were preparing for mission, but that it just ‘seemed like the right thing to do’. For the most part, those that come to us desire one of these – or a combination of – things:
- Be able to see another country, and serving is a good way to learn about the locals;
- Give back to God for the good education received, by helping others;
- Round out a resume;
- Experience something new before settling into a career, and or getting married;
- And sometimes they want to escape (not a good reason for mission).
These answers will naturally shift as they learn what mission really is and what mission really is not:
Mission is not:
- A place we go to import our knowledge as though we have all the answers.
- An attitude that I’ve done what was expected of me today; the rest can wait until tomorrow.
- Set on a fixed schedule. Someone may knock at your door in need of help at an inconvenient time.
- A division of chores between volunteer missionaries.
- Grass huts and wild animals (although there are those things).
- A place where we learn to be humble, realizing that even the poorest of those we serve will have something to teach us.
- An attitude of putting others first, especially when you are tired and don’t think you can give any more.
- Spontaneous at times, asking volunteers to drop what they are doing and give a hand to an urgent need.
- A union of hearts between volunteers, to be generous in helping one another.
- A desire to know the other person and their inherent dignity given by God.
Little by little our volunteers grow into their missionary skin while preparing in Rome. They learn to live together in community (essential for successful mission); they learn to pray together, and to lead prayer; they learn about their particular missions, the language, culture; they learn to solve problems using the few resources they have; they learn to cook and clean; they learn about our Saints, Magdalene Canossa and Josephine Bakhita; they learn about mission in the Church; they learn how to serve others and their community.
More importantly, they learn that mission is hard work, but there is also much joy.
Those who experienced long-term mission may resonate with Meghan’s strong need to give a couple of years of life. Her reflections describe her need to go serve in mission an “illness” that “enveloped her entire being…a great desire on my heart to serve others”.
Our volunteers may not start out with such a desire; but as they complete their missions, and say goodbye to their new friends, they have learned well what it means to have mission penetrate their being, and grow in desire to give their heart to serve and love.
It’s something worthwhile to consider:
Voica Volunteer Missionaries in Action, serving as catechists, teachers, healthcare workers, bakers, diggers, brick makers, painters, and most of all, a sign the hope of God’s love to those in their midst.
Last week Bonnie wrote about her call to mission from her kitchen.
Meet the Costyns, a young married couple now in Rome for preparation for mission with us. They are keeping a blog of their missionary journey.