That Missionary Life

That Missionary Life

“Who is a missionary?” I asked my class, not too long ago.

They came up with a variety of answers: someone who preaches in a foreign country, someone who has very little, someone who doesn’t make money, and the list continued.

It was difficult for them to wrap it all up neatly. Several wanted to insist that you had to leave the country. I think it was because it fit their idea of a missionary better. Flying to a foreign country steeped in poverty seems far more missionary-esque than serving on a college campus.

FOCUS sends people to college campus and calls them missionaries. Are they?”
“Do they get paid?”
“They fundraise their salary.”

Many were on board with that. But for them, there had to be some type of leaving happening–going to a new place, even if they would begrudgingly accept work in the United States.

“What does a missionary do?” I asked.
“Preach the Gospel.”
“So who could be a missionary?”
They discussed for a while. One said, “You?”
“Am I a missionary?”

The whole issue of pay came up again, some saying that would disqualify me from missionary status.

Am I a missionary?

Continue reading “That Missionary Life”

Pausing for Perspective

Pausing for Perspective

Walking out of the school building last week, I took in the afternoon weather.  It was overcast and wanted to rain.  Part of me was a little annoyed that it wasn’t a sunny winter afternoon.  Although it was warmer than a typical January day, it was a bit bleak.  Yet before I could be too down about it, I unexpectedly thought, “If I were in England, this would feel like a wonderful day.”

For a moment, I took in the cool air and imagined traipsing around London.  The cloudy sky seemed to fit perfectly for a stroll down the streets of London and seeing the sites.  If I were in London, I wouldn’t sit in a hotel room and be annoyed that it wasn’t sunny.  I would step out with an umbrella and soak in the delight of being able to explore a new town.  In fact, the cool air and the cloudy sky might even seem to add to the romance of the excursion.

It is incredible what a change in perspective can do.  On an afternoon in South Dakota, the weather seemed to be rather unremarkable, bothersome even.  Yet if I pictured myself somewhere else, be it the English countryside or a pub in Dublin, it suddenly seemed to add to the beauty of the situation.  I think there is something about the unfamiliar and the novel that makes us more prone to find it enjoyable.  The same thing in an everyday setting is easily overlooked or forgotten.

I’ve experienced this stark difference several times in my life.  The easiest examples are from when I’ve been traveling.  When I studied abroad in Austria, I had to walk a couple miles to the train station every time I wanted to explore Europe.  It is amazing how invigorating it felt to strap on a backpack and trudge through the snow, headed to someplace completely unexplored.  I’ve spent my whole life living in a state that experiences cold winters and sufficient snowfall, but there was something about an Austrian winter that was exhilarating.

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Or there was the time that I went to Honduras for a mission trip.  There was something soul-satisfying about waking up in the early morning and stepping outside to hear the birds chirping.  In those moments, there was some indefinable joy and sensation.  To this day, on specific spring or summer mornings, I can go outside and there is something “Honduran” about the atmosphere.

These moments of travel and exploration are times where I have experienced what it means to be fully in the present.  It happens in ordinary life, too, though not nearly as often.   Continue reading “Pausing for Perspective”

Converting a Slow Heart

Thursday night, I was sitting in adoration.  When I left and went home, I decided to journal a little bit.  Writing down my thoughts and feelings has always helped me sort through the mess that is my heart.  At times it is only after writing something down, that I will have a revelation about it.  I re-read what I wrote and it clicks.  That’s it!  It is an interesting method of learning from myself.

So I sat down and wrote a bit.  It wasn’t much, but the second to last line I wrote struck me.  I just looked at it again, closed my journal, and laid back on my bed, knowing that I would need to spend more time with it to fully unravel what I had just discovered.

Maybe, like Totus Tuus, I’m teaching not primarily for them, but for the salvation of my own soul.

Perhaps that won’t strike you as particularly profound.  That is alright—the Lord did it for me anyway.  I do find it to be profound.  What if the struggles I encounter in the classroom are not simply the quirks of my students or the secular culture pervading the hearts and minds of the youth?  Or, more accurately, it is that, but that primarily what the Lord desires to do is use all of it for my own salvation.

I’ve had this realization a few times before.  Leading a mission trip to Honduras, I wrote up a talk to give to my mission team.  I still have a phrase written down, the sheet bookmarking a place in my Bible, that came to me while preparing for the talk.  Re-reading it reminds me that it relates to my whole life, not just the experience of leading a mission to Honduras.

In a way, God is calling you to this mission not because of a beautiful gift you have to offer the people of Honduras, but because He desires this mission to convert your heart in some way so as to be more aligned with His.

After I taught Totus Tuus (a catechetical program), I realized that all of the summer was spent not primarily for the sake of educating the youth of the diocese, although that is a great benefit.  I was tricked into thinking it was that.  The real purpose was to form my own heart and soul during the summer through living in community, teaching the Gospel, prayer, and play.  We were told that we were going to help bring Christ to others, but really it was all about going out and encountering Christ ourselves and letting that transform us.

Whether I am teaching or leading a mission trip, the Lord seems to keep pounding on the dense door of my heart, calling me to realize that all I encounter, all I do, all I learn, all is for the salvation of my own soul.  It is for converting this heart that is slow to hear, unwilling to follow, too proud to admit wrongs, and too quick to think I’ve already been converted.

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.  –Philippians 2:12-13