Monday, August 19, 2013

And So It Begins...

        Welcome to my blog!  This is my attempt to capture a glimpse of my life as a Salesian Lay Missioner (SLM) in Maridi, South Sudan.  My intent is to update this periodically over the next year to share with everyone with my experiences and various adventures.  I must start with a disclaimer that I did not major in English or Writing for a reason--so please bear with me through grammatical errors, misspelled words, run-on sentences, and scattered thoughts!  Thank you all so much for your support throughout my discernment process to become a missioner and for your continued thoughts and prayers.  This dream and passion of mine would not be possible without your example and encouragement.     
Mama Mary statue at the Marian Shrine
So the time has come.  After applying to the SLM program in January, over eight months ago, the final countdown can officially begin.  For the past three and a half weeks I have been in New York for orientation to the program.  After arriving the first night, I was greeted by 27 other SLMs who were beaming with God's love and joy.  It was such a refreshing experience to be surrounded by people who have the same passions and desires to serve God's children around the world.  The first few days of orientation were a general overview into the SLM program, and it gave missioners a chance to explain their faith journey, talk about people who have helped shape their lives, and simply tell each other why they are felt called to mission.  We all then headed to a retreat house for an introduction into cross-cultural ministry.  We were joined by two other mission groups who are also entering into a year or two of service around the world.  I am so thankful that we had this time to examine different aspects of volunteering abroad--both the good things and looking into possible challenges we may face.  We then headed back to Port Chester, NY where we had been previously staying.  The next week was dedicated to service within the Salesian community and community as a whole.  I spent three days working at Holy Rosary Parish and the connecting soup kitchen.  In addition to serving at the kitchen, much of my time was spent at the clothes closet, sorting and folding donated clothes.  I worked mainly with the Spanish-speaking community who makes up the majority of Port Chester.  It opened my eyes into one of the challenges that comes along with mission--the language barrier.  My seven years of French definitely did not come in handy, and it really was frustrating at times not being able to communicate verbally with the community.  Although I did get really good at charades!  Nonetheless, I realized more than ever that words definitely aren't a necessity to communicate to one another.  Hearts have a way of speaking to hearts through one common language- love (hence the title of my blog).  The other two days of the service week were spent working at a Salesian day camp in a surrounding community.  My assignment was with second graders, about 15-20 in total.  My time at the day camp quickly reaffirmed my love and desire to work with the youth.  There is just something about the pure joy, humor, and love that bursts from each child.  It truly is contagious.  I was able to put into practice Don Bosco's (the founder of the Salesians) way of being present with the youth and showing them that they are loved.  Overall, the service week was extremely beneficial.  It was much different than the type of service that I will be doing in South Sudan, but the same core aspect was present: showing Christ's love to one another.  
My brother and I after he professed his vows
         A week of retreat completed orientation.  The 28 of us joined about 40 Salesian Priests and Brothers on retreat at a Marian Shrine in Stony Point, NY.  Much of the retreat was loosely structured which allowed for personal reflection and really getting to know the religious community members.  The Salesians are truly such an incredible group of people.  Their dedication to Don Bosco's mission was clearly evident, and so I am thankful I had time to get to know them on a deeper level and hear more about their vocation journeys.  A commissioning Mass ended the retreat and orientation.  The SLMs were commissioned out to serve at their various sites.  Unfortunately I had to say my goodbyes to the others early and did not get to attend the service.  Instead, I was in Louisiana witnessing my brother, David, dedicate His life to the Lord and the Jesuit community through his first vows (a pretty good excuse in my book).  His courageous "yes" to the Lord's call greatly influenced my own decision to say "yes" to this year of mission, and so it was a special experience to be able to witness his first profession before I leave to dedicate the next year of my life to the Lord in a different way.  
         This is my shortened version of orientation.  I am incredibly blessed to have gotten to know my fellow SLMs.  Each one has made an impact on my life, and their happiness and desire to serve God is truly inspiring.  I know they will continue to be a part of my mission experience and we will continue to nurture the friendships we created as we part ways for now.  Side note about orientation-- I quickly became the go-to nurse.  After cleaning out and bandaging several wounds from some intense soccer games, assessing people for strep throat, giving a travel vaccination, and handing out plenty of bandaids, it made me realize how much I have missed nursing over the past three months.  I am so excited to get back into the nursing world in South Sudan, to be with the patients and be free to share Christ and His love with them.  I just hope I haven't forgotten too much!
The South Sudan Crew
Now that orientation is over, the countdown to South Sudan can finally begin….eight days.  In about one week I will be on a plane to South Sudan.  The next week will be filled with packing, doctor's appointments, spending time with family and friends, and continuing to prepare my mind and heart for mission.  Orientation left me in the "mission-mode," and I hope that continues until I step on the plane and then enter mission.  The Lord is so good and has blessed me incredibly throughout my discernment process.  I know 100% that this is what I am called to do at this point in my life.  Although the details of where I will be staying and what I will be doing are still a bit hazy, I know God be with me every step of the way.  What a comfort it is to know wherever I go that my best friend, along with the help of Mama Mary, is looking out for me, guiding my words and actions, and  preparing the way!  
Thank you for all again for joining me on this journey.  Like mentioned, I will keep you all updated as much and as best as possible.  Your support, prayers, and kind words are invaluable!  Please keep me and the other Salesain Lay Missioners in your prayers as we start this new, exciting chapter of our lives.  You, my dear family and friends, will also be in my thoughts and prayers throughout this journey!  And so it begins…
The whole SLM family ready to go out and set the world on fire!

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