Notes from the Field includes reports from young people volunteering in ministries of Catholic sisters. A partnership with Catholic Volunteer Network, the project began in the summer of 2015. This is our fourth round of bloggers: Christian E. Ruehling was a volunteer missioner for VIDES+USA who served five months with the Salesian Sisters in Dilla, Ethiopia, before serving in Geneva, and Maria Beben was a staff writer for Franciscan Mission Service in Washington, D.C. Both of their years of service ended in December.
Now that my year of service is over and I'm home with my family for Christmas, I've had a lot of time to think about the past year and a half. During my time as the staff writer for Franciscan Mission Service (FMS), my two responsibilities were to maintain the social media platforms and manage the blog.
The responsibility of managing the blog was one of the things that drew me to a year of service with FMS in the first place. As someone who loves to read, write and edit, the staff writer position was the perfect fit for me. I'd have opportunities to write my own posts every once in a while, but for the most part, I was in charge of corresponding with FMS' 10 overseas missioners: sending them reminders about their monthly blog posts, editing the posts once I received them, returning the post to the missioners with my edits and comments, and then uploading the reworked post to the blog. These were the concrete steps that I understood and expected.
What I didn't expect, however, was how much these monthly blog posts would challenge and encourage me. Each month, I got an in-depth glimpse into the lives of the 10 individuals living and serving in Bolivia, Guatemala and Jamaica. Each month, these men and women blew me away with their stories, their resilience, their faith and their selflessness. In the face of personal and societal hardships, they really and truly did turn the other cheek and put their trust in God.
In a post during Lent, one of the missioners who taught English in Guatemala shared how hard it was to comfort her students when violence in the neighborhood affected their families and exposed them more deeply to a very ugly side of humanity. In this case, she didn't pretend to have the answers or know the perfect thing to say, but she spoke with determination about accompanying her students in whatever form they needed and walking with them through the darkness and uncertainty. Her post challenged me to walk with others in my own community when words just couldn't seem to solve a situation.
In another post, one of the missioners in Bolivia shared the realities of living through a serious drought in a developing country. Her post really opened my eyes to the necessity of water conservation and the widespread effects of wasting water. Even though we may not always witness the consequences of wastefulness in the United States, these consequences don't disappear; they permeate other countries and societies in more lasting and deeper ways. She spoke of the dire necessity of water deliveries and hardships that arise when these deliveries occur less frequently or stop altogether for a while. No water means no watering crops. No watering crops means no selling crops or storing them up to eat little by little. Her post included a call to action for an awareness of how we spend natural resources and if we can be more mindful when we do so.
A post from a missioner in Jamaica revealed her frustrations and doubts about her role and capabilities as a teacher in a very culturally diverse environment. However, even her doubts were offered in the forms of prayers and included gratitude that she was allowed to practice patience and be with the kids each day.
Though my role as a staff writer was very different than that of an overseas missioner, I looked for ways to practice their lessons in my own life and was not disappointed. There are always plenty of opportunities to practice patience, humility and trust, regardless of location. More than once, I found myself tearing up at the beauty of shared moments and deepened relationships that were written about in only approximately 400 words.
Through their blog posts and my emails with them, I've seen the missioners themselves changing. The ones who have only been on mission for one out of the two years have become more comfortable with who they are. When I think back on their blog posts from the beginning of the year and compare them to more recent ones, I see they are more confident now, more settled in their roles and their communities. I see the same growth within my own writing from when I first arrived at FMS and now. I second-guess myself less, I'm more comfortable voicing my opinion, and I'm a lot more OK with showing vulnerability than I used to be.
The FMS blog, which is simultaneously a form of ministry and a beautiful record of years of diverse experiences, has been one of my favorite aspects of working at FMS, like I expected. However, I never could have anticipated the lasting impression that it's left on me and the positive challenges that I've drawn from each missioner's experiences.
[Maria Beben was a staff writer for Franciscan Mission Service in Washington, D.C., from August 2015 to December 2016.]