Can you believe that January 2021 is nearly at an end?! As I was brainstorming a topic for my first blog of the year, the words “a fresh start” kept coming to my mind. This thought brought back many memories of how I felt at one point during my time in the missions. It was a time where I had experienced feelings of nervousness and discouragement, sometimes even feeling as if my work as a missionary would be short lived. Let me elaborate.
The mission work that I had set out to do in Nigeria was completed, and I was unsure how to continue ministering among my African brothers and sisters. So, I thought about Jesus' encouragement to pray in a way that mountains would be moved. Matthew 17:20 spoke to me at this time in my life. I was convinced that God was calling me to continue on as a missionary, but I was unsure as to how I could continue putting my gifts at the service of those on the margins. As time went on, I began to discern a clearer response. The Lord seemed to bring people into my life who later would become some of my dearest friends – one of the most important being the former Bishop of the Allentown, Pennsylvania, Diocese, Bishop Thomas J. Welsh.
Bishop Welsh was very supportive of my work in the missions. He would periodically request updates, and always pursued an interest in my latest journey. He did, however, have concerns that I was working as an individual missionary, which posed an increased risk for my safety. He had advised me to find a religious order to work with, as this would ensure that I was not alone on any more of my journeys. While this was a great idea, I questioned, “How will I find a religious order that would allow me, a lay missionary, to work with them in Africa?” Again, I assured myself that if I was meant to continue on as a missionary, God would show me His way – and sure enough He did just that!
A missionary priest, Father Kevin Kraft, OP, came home from East Africa to visit family and friends in Allentown. By this time, Father Kevin and I had already developed a friendship based specifically on our love for the missions, exchanging stories of the different African countries we had visited, and of our mission experiences. I shared with Father Kevin that my mission work had come to an end in Nigeria, and I told him Bishop Welsh’s concerns for the continuation of my solo mission work. It was at that moment that Father Kevin suggested that I contact Father Paul Gaggawalla, Regional Director of the Apostles of Jesus, a religious group which is based out of East Africa that had then just started to form an order here in the United States.
Ironically – or perhaps not ironic at all, but just part of God’s plan – this order happened to be forming right in my home Diocese of Allentown. It seemed like the answer I had been praying for had finally been uncovered! My mission work was to move all the way across the continent of Africa, to the rolling Ngong hills of Nairobi, Kenya, where I would eventually spend many years working in slums and villages. The years spent in this Eastern part of Africa are ones that I especially treasure, and I now consider this area to be my “second home.”
God seemed to lead me to an order of faithful servants: the Apostles of Jesus, and the Evangelizing Sisters of Mary. Bishop Welsh was overjoyed when I had shared this news with him. The announcement of his approval ensured that my response to God's call in working with this religious order was the right one for me at that time. In fact, it was through Bishop Welsh’s assistance that the Apostles of Jesus were able to have their own “fresh start,” if not a “new beginning,” as it were, here in the United States. This discovery truly brought things full circle, and still gives me chills to this day when I think of the saying, “God has a plan.”
With a new year upon us, leaving behind such a challenging year like 2020, perhaps many those some of those feelings of wanting to begin again arise in many of us – that we would welcome a fresh start! As this year continues, it is important to remember that God is bigger than any mountain that may stand in our way. When we come to these crossroads in our lives – mentally, physically, or spiritually – we must open our hearts and be patient. God has a plan for each and every one of us. And He will move those mountains for us, with grace and mercy, when the timing is right. Do not get discouraged, remain strong in your faith, and remember, God works in strange ways so always be listening for His path to your “fresh start”!
“Hol(l)y Headlines!” ~ a bit of a play on words ~ is an "Extra! Extra! Read All About It" call to build missionary momentum as part of our ongoing effort to educate and motivate the next generation of the Catholic Church's missionaries. The blog's author, Holly Benner, is National Coordinator for the Missionary Childhood Association. She's also the mission education coordinator in her home Diocese of Allentown, Pennsylvania. She has a passion for the missions and experience in making mission real at the diocesan level. For 10 years, Holly traveled frequently to Africa as president of a faith-based non-profit that she founded, one focused on developing sustainable water resources among poor communities.
Resolving to do good...
According to one report, although 77 percent of people who committed to a New Year's resolution stuck to it for a week, only 19 percent of those who made resolutions actually fulfilled them within two years. Resolving to do good is a good plan in January or June, and there's a way to make that happen right from your own home.