WHERE will we serve? TO WHOM shall we go? These are burning questions on the heart of new missionaries. But it is not always as clear cut as we would like. Three missionaries reflect on the question of “where” as it relates to their calling.
Jason Wilde writes:
Three years ago, we were preparing for our first trip to General Cepeda, Mexico as part of our missionary training. It was a time of excitement and anticipation – not just for the few weeks living amongst the pueblos of Mexico, but because we knew we’d be finding out where we would be sent the following year.
Missionaries jest that we all have images of ourselves hiking through the jungle forest, machete in one hand and Bible in the other, ready to preach God’s word to any living human we come across. But in reality, the overwhelming majority find that God’s will is different for them—serving instead in unremarkable villages, large megalopolises, fighting stomach parasites, waiting for the water supply to return, lying sweaty and tired on the floor because it is a cool relief from the relentless and intense heat, struggling (in a foreign language) to just convince one family to come to a Bible study, and many other less than heroic situations.
And here I am, walking on a rarely used suburban sidewalk, pushing through the weeds growing up from someone’s fenced backyard, weathering the 38 degree overcast cold in what used to be my ‘Southern winter’ hat and jacket, and trying to look through the corner of my glasses that have not been completely fogged up from my face mask. I am not going out to preach the Gospel, or even bring a bag of rice to an impoverished single mother. I am simply trying to bring my family to Christ, or rather, bringing Jesus home to my family as a Eucharistic minister.
Being a missionary doesn’t mean following your desires or your dreams, most of which are prideful and glorious. Rather, it means following the will of God, even if that means living in our home country in the time of a dangerous respiratory pandemic. Our mission is looking more and more like that of the keepers of the warning beacons of Gondor, living solitary lifetimes on a remote mountain peak, not seeing another living soul for God knows how long, but knowing that the only reason for you being here depends on keeping that stack of wood dry and ready to ignite once you see your neighbor’s warning beacon light up, 40 miles away. (That was a Lord of the Rings reference, in case you are confused.)
I have no idea what the future holds for our family, but I know that God has put us here and has forcefully and repeatedly stopped us from going anywhere else for the current time. I can’t even speculate what the future holds, for it is nothing more than grass that gets cut and thrown out as mulch.
Are we being prepared for a future mission, or is this our mission? Maybe both? My restless nature wants to know answers and make plans, but maybe this is my crucible moment. I am the target of missionary work at this moment—the mission of Christ to make me patient and humble in the face of a society that is impatient and prideful. And so, I pour out the love I have from the Father to the only people I can in this time—my own family. I have to serve them just as much as I say I would a poor person looking for his next meal.
Maybe this is preparation for something else, but very likely it is just my own salvation that I am working on.
Phillip Douglas shares his perspective of discerning where to serve:
“Go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, make this proclamation: The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Cure the sick, drive out demons. Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give.”- Matthew 10: 6-8
In light of this passage the encouragement here is for us to GO and find those in need, instead of staying comfortable among those who have little to no need. Seek them out, identify them, get to know them, and share the love of Jesus Christ with them.
BUT WHERE? you may ask… RE-read the passage above again and then reflect upon Saint John Paul the Great’s words as he give us two groups of people:
- Place of re-evangelization: “places who may have Christian origins and roots yet have lost a sense of faith, no longer consider themselves Christian, or who are living a life away from Christ and His Gospel” (Mission of the Redeemer, 33). Think North America, Europe, Latin America, essentially the western hemisphere…
- Mission ad gentes: “peoples or places who do not yet believe in Christ, who are far from Christ, in whom the Church has not yet taken root, and whose culture has not yet been influenced by the gospel” (Mission of the Redeemer, 34). These people are also considered unreached peoples. Think Asia, Africa, North Korea, China, etc…
Regardless of where the Holy Spirit leads us, it is the mission of Jesus Christ and He is simply inviting us alongside Him in His mission. What an honor! He will train us, prepare us, and has already made us worthy through His grace and mercy, primarily in the Sacraments.
Here is my final and perhaps most important take away from serving in world missions with my family:
Take time in prayer, and like the great Fathers of our faith in the Old Testament, be humble and brave enough to say, “Here I am, Lord. Send Me!” Say that prayer first, then ask the Holy Spirit where we should be going…The obedience of “YES” comes long before the discernment of “where.”
In my experience, when we do it the other way around, then we won’t ever GO. We will get too caught up in the details, fears, anxieties, excitements, etc of the “where” question. Jesus wants us to first say, “HERE I AM, LORD. SEND ME!” Then he will do the rest. If His Spirit is alive within us, He will show us the “where” in His time.
In closing, Anna Biewer offers a reflection on being where the Lord has placed us:
Where has the Lord placed you today?
Where are you in this moment? Here, right now? Not where you were yesterday, not where you were a year ago, not where you want to be.
Where are you right now?
We can so often get so stuck in the past or in the future that we forget to live out the day the Lord has given to us right now. The Lord is with you in this day, and He has great things planned for you. Surrender the past to Him, surrender the future to Him and allow Him to work through you in the present moment. You can encounter the Lord in this very moment, He is just waiting for you to come to Him. Will you come to Him? Will you allow Him to give you what He has for you this day?
Ask yourself, where does the Lord have me now? And I encourage you to bring to prayer, “Lord, how do you want to work through me this day, what do you have for me?” Sit with Him with that and allow Him to respond to you.
Almighty ever-living God,
grant that we may always conform our will to yours
and serve your majesty in sincerity of heart.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
(Collect Prayer for World Mission Sunday)