Christmas is within days, and while the hustle and bustle is not quite the norm this year due to COVID-19, many of us are preparing with hopes of a bright, healthy New Year. During a recent trip to the grocery store I could hear the joyful holiday music playing. One holiday song in particular houses lyrics that I hold dear to my heart. The lyrics to this song bring back the memories of my first mission journey to Africa, which took place during the holiday season. Sung by the group Band Aid, “Do they know it’s Christmas?” was performed in 1984 as a fundraiser to support relief for the 1983-1985 Ethiopian famine.
With the holiday season upon us, being a missionary celebrating the holidays away from family and loved ones can be difficult. Missing familiar foods, aromas, and cultural traditions can leave you questioning God’s will for your mission calling. Although poverty certainly exists in many places around the world, not all missionaries leave their homeland to serve the poor. During this Thanksgiving Season, let us remember our roots in the United States, in particular where there is suffering within our Native American communities.
During this World Mission Month of October with its theme rom Isaiah - "Here I am, send me!" - I started to reflect about my own faith calling. Everyone's calling is unique.
And to put my story in perspective, I go back to a mission experience "after the call."
Let me start with the obvious: The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our world and rewritten what we consider “normal.” Every part of our lives has been impacted to some degree: how we live together and interact with each other on a daily basis; how we work and communicate; how we shop; even how we eat, drink, and enjoy our leisure time. During these times, I felt as if I was starring in the film Groundhog Day, reliving the same day over and over again.
Throughout my years working in the African missions I have come across many families who have a strong devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. To my surprise, as poor as these families were, they would somehow have a picture of the Sacred Heart in their homes. Although they were without food, drink, furniture, clothing, they were not without a picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Mother's Day is observed around the world with most cultures setting aside a day to honor mothers. Some see the carnation as the official flower of Mother's Day, perhaps because Anna Jarvis, when she organized the first official celebration in the United States in 1908, distributed 500 carnations as the flower was her own mom's favorite. Carnations, and their various colors, then have become symbolic of this day here at home. The colors red/pink are used to represent those fortunate enough to have their mother physically with them to celebrate this day. Oppositely, the white carnations represent those mothers who may not be here physically, but are celebrated spiritually.
Last year, more than 37,000 people were welcomed into the Catholic Church in the United States at Easter Vigil Masses. This year, that joyous moment was postponed due to the ongoing pandemic of COVID-19. That fact gave way to reflection for me, as I thought back on that personal experience in my life 21 years ago, and about all it meant and continues to mean for me.
“And how can people preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring (the) good news!’” (Romans 10:15).
Missionaries from around the world have many stories to tell – joyful events, as well as sad, even fearful times. Here’s a story from my missionary service that happened one Holy Thursday that reminds us of the power of words – and the Word.
"So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love" (1 Corinthians 13:13).
Love is a global phenomenon, and Valentine's Day is celebrated in fascinating and different ways around the world, even in mission countries.
Celebrating Valentine’s Day in Africa was one of the most memorable holidays that I had experienced there. It was the day I met "my valentine," or at least that was the name that I gave to her. Early in the morning on Valentine’s Day, I drove with a few Sisters into the city of Nairobi, Kenya, which was about 45 minutes from the Ongata Rongai slum area where I was staying. Our mission that day was to purchase roses to hand out to the local women.
I met her while accompanying a religious Sister to a Communion call at the home of one family in a village outside the city of Arusha in Tanzania. As we were all about to pray before Communion, the little girl in that family asked the Sister if she could hold the missionary’s hand. Placing her cold little hand in my hot sweaty one (with temperatures so high, one should naturally have hot hands), I could feel her squeeze my hand during the Our Father, causing me to open one eye to take a peek at her precious little face, leaving me with a feeling that I was looking at a living angel.