“What you missionaries do is amazing. How do you do it?”
This is a question I hear often and one I’ve asked myself a few times as well.
Not only do I walk the streets of Denver on a daily basis, talking to the homeless, but I’ve also watched my friends on the street carry their crosses. Tom, who wants to get off the streets and start working, but still struggles with his addictions. Mark, who almost died after his kidney failed due to the drugs he took in the past. Tracy, Stephanie, and Jess, all victims of abusive relationships, trapped between violence and being lone women on the streets. David, my closest friend on the street, who lost his daughter in a car crash last October and has since turned to alcohol, violence, and despair to the point of suicide.
I’ve seen how dark the streets can be, how much suffering there is, and my heart has broken time and time again. How do I do it? What is my life right now?
Christ in the City missionaries are fond of the image of Our Lady and St. John at the foot of the Cross. It reminds us that it’s not our job to “fix” our friends, to carry their crosses; rather, that sometimes all we can do is to be there for them. But what do we say when they ask us: “how can God let me suffer like this? What is the point?”
This Easter season reminds us of the answer to these questions. I had to see my friends, people I have come to care about, suffer before I could truly grasp its meaning: Christ’s ministry did not end with the suffering at the Cross, but continued with the hope and promise of Easter. It is up to us (not just the missionaries, but you too, dear reader) to remind others that we can have faith in each other despite our past mistakes, that there is hope beyond suffering, that we can love and be loved despite our brokenness. Christ willingly suffered and so united our suffering with His. It is up to us to spread the Gospel, to let everyone know, “Lent is over. We are an Easter people. He is risen! Alleluia!”
Joe Lugue is a first-year missionary from Rancho Cordova, CA. He likes puppies, babies, Oxford commas and irony.
“You look like Mother Mary,” Rob told me as my long hair peeked out from my hood. I didn’t feel at all like Mary. I had only gone on this street walk because I was forced to. My “yes” was cold and begrudging, unlike Mary’s.
We were visiting San Antonio for the SEEK conference and doing street ministry while there. I had been cold all day, and it was now five o’clock, freezing, and getting dark. I reluctantly headed out with my street partner, Trey, and two volunteers; we found Rob, who I had met earlier that day. We started talking to Rob and the conversation turned to our Blessed Mother.
I never had a close relationship with Mary. Maybe it was feminine competition, but I thought she probably judged me and disliked me because I am so imperfect. If she had never sinned, how could she relate to me? Why would she like me?
Several months ago after a friend’s recommendation, I began to spend ten minutes each day speaking with her. These ten minutes usually seemed to drag on. But gradually I started to speak to her spontaneously throughout the day. I started going to her when things happened in my life even before I went to my earthly mother. She was becoming someone I knew.
“Why do Catholics like Mary so much?” Rob asked. We explained that just like a mother knows their child best, so Jesus’ mom knew Him best. Wheels started turning in Rob’s head. “So it was really Mary who defeated the devil,” Rob said in a moment of realization. “I want to know her better!”
We prayed together and Rob humbly begged God for the opportunity to get to know his heavenly mother better. I asked him before we left if he’d ever had a rosary. “No,” he replied, “What is a rosary?” As we fumbled through our pockets, Trey pulled out his old, worn wooden rosary.
This wasn’t just any rosary. Every missionary gets one at the start of their year, and it’s made from a special rose-colored Brazilian wood that slowly darkens with each use as the oils from skin stain the wood. He had also attached his own crucifix that had been touched to the Jordan river and other holy places in Israel. The beads glistened a dark mahogany after three years of prayers.
I wanted to cry out, “No, don’t do it Trey!” I knew how special this rosary was for him. But he carefully placed it in Rob’s hands and explained gently the significance of the cross and all of the holy places it had been. Our fingers barely worked due to the cold, but we wrote down the words to the Hail Mary and practiced it with him, preparing him for this special encounter with his long-lost mom.
We left the city the day after, so I don’t know how Rob’s new friendship with our mother is going. But I’m grateful for Mary reaching out to me so that I feel more confident leading others to her.
Makena is a second-year missionary from Denver, CO. This Denver native enjoys wiener dogs, kombucha tea, painting, and rolling down hills.
By society’s standards, right now, I’m not doing so hot. I left school before getting my degree, I have no income, and I spend every day walking around downtown Denver talking to homeless people.
If we were to back up a year, society would have said I was surpassing all expectations. I graduated high school top of my class as an academic all-state runner and an all-conference speaker, I had an amazingly supportive and proud family, and I had my choice of almost any college in the country. Everyone thought I was on the fast-track to succeeding in the medical world, myself included. That is, until I came on a mission trip to Christ in the City during the spring semester of my freshman year of college. That was when I had a brief, but powerful encounter with the one thing I had been missing for 18 years- a living relationship with God.
I had been on this straight and narrow path for my entire life, doing everything that society, my family, and my teachers had told me I needed to do to be successful. Fortunately, God reached out His hand and showed me that He had other plans for my life. And in all honesty, it has been the most freeing, empowering, and exciting decision I have ever made. Everything I had going for me doesn’t come close to the richness that my relationship with God brings to my life. However, I am not completely free of societal pressures.
On a recent holiday break at home, I was really caught up with some of the questions I have been asked a million times, “Have you already graduated college?” “So are you going back next year?” “What are you studying?” “What do you want to do with that degree?” Until I had a close friend tell me, “You’re not on earth to fulfill society’s standards.” That’s when it hit me: my goal is to get to heaven. No human is going to be the judge. At that moment, I made the conscious decision to start doing my best to ignore what others think I should be doing and instead put my effort towards living up to God’s standard for me. God’s never going to ask me why I didn’t pick a more lucrative career; He’s not going to be disappointed in me for putting my education on pause for a year to serve the homeless. On the other hand, He is going to be concerned with the way that I’ve treated and loved His many beautiful, unique creations and gifts.
The definition of success is “the accomplishment of an aim or purpose.” As humans, our aim and purpose is to strive for holiness so that we can have eternal life with our Father in heaven. Society’s view of success isn’t true success, it’s human success, and human success isn’t going to get us very far in God’s eyes. “In the twilight of life, God will not judge our earthly possessions and human success, but rather how much we have loved.” –St. John of the Cross.
Lord, let me strive each day to not let my mind be occupied by earthly possessions, but help me to do my best to care for and to love others as You love me. Amen.
Shannah is a first-year missionary from Pierce, Nebraska. She studied biophysics before taking a year off to be a CIC missionary, she ran 8 half marathons, going on 9, enjoys Dr. Seuss, and has a lot of trust and love for her friends.