Paradoxical Lessons of Mission
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Paradoxical Lessons of Mission

Paradoxical Lessons of Mission


A Mass and breakfast celebration of St. Teresa of Kolkata’s feast day with the Missionaries of Charity in Siem Reap.


"I am so grateful that the last 5 weeks have been full of so many life lessons, the ones that can only be learnt through solo travel or foreign mission. Two such lessons I have learned seem contradictory at first, but I believe do actually fit together in a sweet paradox. The first being, how to submit to the unexpected, and the second, understanding my agency. 


It’s safe to say that the West, particularly the US, is much more “Type A” than Cambodia. And by “Type A”, I mean interested in the control and knowledge of time and plans, expectations and rules. I consider myself to be a laid back, go with the flow person. Yet, I find Cambodian customs and mission itself challenging that notion. 


One such plan went awry this past week. My one week stay in Siem Reap turned into two when my visa extension process took longer than anticipated. Father Will had left briefly for France, and I was more or less on my own in his absence. Not knowing what ministries to involve myself in, let alone where to sleep at night, I found myself needing to rely on God the Father, trusting in His providence, that all would be well. Rolling with the unexpected forces me to enter into a state of receptivity, to the goodness of God, to the hospitality of others, to the protection of the Church. Because my plans went awry, I had the opportunity to stay at St. John’s Parish in their guesthouse. Not wanting to impose, but truly needing a place to stay, Father Yacob (Mill Hill Missionaries) graciously welcomed me a few nights, provided all my meals, and even ensured my safety when I came down with a fever. I had to battle feelings of nervousness and imposition, certainly unworthiness too. Who am I, some random white girl, crashing at this church? The voice of God encouraged me, “Let the Church be the Church.” For if the Body of Christ is indeed one Body, it is only natural for me to stay at the church and have her people care for me.  This experience makes me ask myself: Are our churches and homes naturally inclined to spontaneous hospitality like they might have been in the early days of Acts and St. Paul’s letters? How apt are we to welcome the stranger, especially Christian brethren, in need of bread and bed? What part does my agency play in the unexpected? Does submitting to the unexpected negate any role I have to play in determining my experience? I’d argue, no. In fact, mission and solo travel in a foreign land where I don’t speak the language, has enhanced my understanding of my agency and has empowered me to plan, advocate, and provide for myself when necessary. 


My extra week in Siem Reap had no itinerary, and no one was going to write one for me. I had a place to stay but what was I going to do? Few ministries were taking place during the week, and the priests were busy with writing reports and had no work for me. By the grace of God, I was introduced to Freely Given, an American missionary team based in Siem Reap, Cambodia. When I was with them, they were just the Davidsons, a family of seven, but have since added more young adults to their team. ( Finding things to fill my days required me to seek out Nic and Jacelyn (parents). They weren’t going to come search for me and provide me with entertainment; they had 5 kids to manage. No, I needed to approach them with my struggles of wandering and communicate to them my questioning if I should even be in Cambodia, feelings that arose from plans gone awry and illness. When I told them I was bored and confused about my mission, they gave me a list of things to help out with, helping me fill my lonely days. 


If I hadn’t asked for help from Father Yacob, where would I have ended up? If I had waited in my bedroom for a church staff member to find me ill, what state would I be in? If I hadn’t asked the Davidsons for things to do, how bored, and maybe even depressed, would I have been?


To submit to the unexpected doesn’t mean to sit around and wait for the answers to fall into my lap. On mission, especially in a country like Cambodia where few Catholic things are taking place, you got to make things happen yourself. Not stuffing the experience into a box of your own expectations, but rolling with things as they come. I can accept the circumstances which remain out my control, but I cannot twiddle my thumbs waiting for someone to host me or entertain me.


I could have grasped at my former plans, letting their neat bullet points and calendar lines leave me with temporary peace. But I chose to submit to the present, the Lord reminding me I cannot stockpile manna, nor trust, for tomorrow. Only today will he give me my daily bread.  These words of Venerable Madeleine Delbrêl have brought me much comfort and have been my guide when anxiety threatens to overwhelm me:


« We believe that we lack nothing here that we need. If we needed something else, God would already have given it to us. »


This mission is teaching me how to trust God and trust myself, believing he has surrounded me with the people I need and has graced me with the skills and wisdom to make it through. 


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