I was a stranger and you welcomed me...

It’s been a roller coaster for us since July 21st when we said goodbye to our wonderful co-workers to take the next step in our journey. We moved the last few pieces out of our house and into the storage unit the following weekend and began to settle into our “gypsy” life, on the road from one wonderful host to the next. On July 27th we set off on a plane to New Rochelle, NY to begin our orientation with the Salesian Lay Missioner program. We weren’t exactly sure what to expect, but the weekend we had spent with them during our discernment gave us a little glimpse and we were ready. Our experience those three weeks in orientation were nothing short of transformational.

 Our group in the chapel preparing for our commissioning ceremony

Our group in the chapel preparing for our commissioning ceremony

We arrived in New Rochelle as total strangers to at least half of the other 13 missioners who would be embarking to their respective destinations following orientation and to most of the Salesian priests, brothers, and sisters we would encounter. Only three short weeks later however we left with a sense of homesickness for these strangers and were beyond sad to say goodbye. We spent very long hours with the Salesians and with our fellow missioners, but all the while through the work and the tough topics and getting to really know one another something we always felt was WELCOMED. We learned so much about the Salesian charism and their way of life being immersed with them. We felt overwhelmed at times certainly, but what stands out most is love, joy, and support. The love we witnessed for one another within the Salesian family and all those they serve is a picture of the love Christ has for his church. The joy with which they serve others and one another is infectious. The support they provided to one another and to us was so genuine and unconditional. We were told over and over how we were now a part of the Salesian family and we really felt it as we were welcomed with open arms to embrace their lives and join them in their daily tasks and worship.

 Selfies were not in short supply with the Salesians!

Selfies were not in short supply with the Salesians!

Our days were spent in community starting each day with morning prayer, daily mass. We fellowshipped over food within the communities who so kindly welcomed us as if we had been there all along. We always ended the day with evening prayer and “good nights”, a final thought for the day delivered by a priest or other member of the group. Our days in between our spiritual work were filled with tasks and service, but with the Salesians it was sometimes difficult to feel as if the “work” was work due to the great joy with which it was completed. We were able to be immersed into a community of religious who were truly living their vocations with great joy and excitement. I can only hope to always be able to live out my vocation as joyfully as they give to those they serve. We spent a week getting to know our fellow missioners and ourselves as well as what to expect while on mission. During this time I learned maybe one of the most important lessons of orientation when I realized it wasn’t my job or expectation to go and “help” or to “change” the circumstances of those I would meet, but rather to be truly present with them in their suffering and to show them God’s love and compassion. Of course this isn’t to say the Salesians and others aren’t changing lives and helping a great deal because there’s no doubt this is true, but for me as a missioner who has only one short year to show the love of God to a group of people, this was a freeing perspective. Our job is simply to try to be present with those suffering and to do so joyfully while showing God’s love through our words and actions.

 Meeting new friends at the Don Bosco Community Center

Meeting new friends at the Don Bosco Community Center

The second week was difficult in other ways as this was our service week. It was at times frustrating as things weren’t always scheduled and tasks weren’t always detailed. This gave us a very real idea of mission life and we were able to meet some of the most wonderful people while doing so. I witnessed a priest who had no idea I was watching him stop whatever he may be doing anytime a child walked by to give them a blessing and I saw those kids light up with excitement to see him. I saw him working from before we were up at 6:00 AM until after midnight with the biggest and most genuine smile you have ever seen the entire time. Don Bosco says it is not enough to love children, but they must know that they are loved. The children (and adults) who came into contact with Father Pat knew they were loved and they loved him. His presence continues to inspire me! The third week we were blessed to be able to take retreat with the Salesians at the National Shrine of Mary Help of Christians in Stony Point, NY. Being a newer Catholic this was my first retreat experience and oh what I wouldn’t give to be able to relive this week over and over again every week! We joked about being excited to go to retreat and relax from the past weeks of hard work and long days when we were reminded that our own spiritual work was actually the toughest of all.  

 The serving line at the Don Bosco Community Center

The serving line at the Don Bosco Community Center

On retreat we felt a peace and serenity that surpassed understanding and did allow us to begin to dive deeper into our own spirituality and to grow closer to God, Mary, and our Salesian family. When the time came to say goodbye we found ourselves trying to figure out ways we could extend our stay or get the maximum amount of hours with our new Salesian family. Once returning “home” to the homes of our families and friends we continued to feel a longing for our Salesian community and lifestyle and at times struggle to bring the spiritual aspects religious life allows into our lives outside of community. We are constantly learning and are still anxiously awaiting our departure. We thought we would be beginning our second full week in South Africa now, but due to some complications with our visas this has been pushed back. This was difficult for us to accept initially as we felt we had finally accepted our departure and had spent months saying goodbyes to loved ones. We were frustrated to have to go through these emotional goodbyes yet again in 6 more weeks, but we are thankful for the extended time with our friends and family. We however also admittedly struggle with pride and boredom as we are used to working and being involved in so many things, but had discontinued these for our trip. We are however thankful for a wonderful friend who offered Josiah work the following day after finding out our departure would be delayed and for our families who promise not to kick us out, allowing us security for this extension.  As of now our planned departure is November 1. On this date we will be travelling to Africa; we may not be able to stay in South Africa for the entirety of the year if our visas are again denied, however we are confident God will place us exactly where he needs us to be and have already began discussing some alternatives with the Salesians should this be necessary. Until then we will continue to enjoy our time with our loved ones and try to be present with them and one another. Stay tuned, thank you for your prayers!