Missionary travels and a changed perspective.

Having done mission work in other parts of the world, what have you learned that you can share with us?

Thank you for the question. Over the last few years I have had the chance to make extended stays in Ethiopia, Senegal, and El Salvador, and they have all taught me much. In each of these places I grew as an individual and as a Christian, but I also grew in appreciation for the Church and in knowledge the current state of the world. Here are a few thoughts:

We are a global church. The Church extends far beyond the borders of our community, and in the midst of the diverse places in which it has taken root, there are diverse expressions of the one Catholic faith. I believe that that is a sign of our strength. I have had the opportunity to celebrate mass in dusty cinder-block chapels, in simple mud houses, in beautiful colonial-era cathedrals, and even on top of mountains. During such celebrations I have heard ancient chants, bellowing drum lines, simple hymns, and vibrant community choirs. Yet, in the midst of all these places and worship styles, we all come to worship and renew our relationship with the triune God. We are all part of the body of Christ. These are our brothers and sisters in Christ. We have a family larger than we might have ever imagined.

Life is more than the material. While abroad I was often reminded that the spiritual and communal aspects of life are just as important as the material (and at times more important). Whether in our political discourse or our own analysis of situations, we often think strictly in material terms. For example, we ask: “Will this course of action increase my take-home income?” or “Is this the most efficient way of doing this task?” However, life abroad put me into contact on a regular basis with people who trusted the spiritual realms more than they trusted the material, who valued relationship with another person more than getting a task completed quickly. It’s a good reminder that there is more to life than merely what we own.

What goes on in the United States has a big impact on the rest of the world. While we may have very little knowledge of life in other places of the world, in many other place, eyes are on what is happening in the United States. What goes on here has an impact on the rest of the world, whether that be in the realms of culture, international norms, intellectual trends, etc. We have a lot to be proud of, including a stable government, law and order, and excellent road systems. However, the bad parts of our nation also get shared. That means that we have tremendous responsibility.

Kids are kids no matter where you go. It can be intimating entering into a foreign culture. However, I found that one area of familiarity in a new place was always the children. I was always struck by how kids are kids! There’s that same drive to play, the curiosity about new things, the desire for attention and care, and seemingly inexhaustible energy. I also found that kids were always very willing to be patient with my faltering attempts at new languages.

The Archdiocese of Chicago is mission territory as well. After having spent two years in Ethiopia, my view of the United States changed somewhat. My world was centered in the place where I was working and living. Therefore, it was now the United States that in some sense felt like a faraway place. In a way Chicago felt like a mission territory at the other end of the globe. And in truth, it is missionary territory. Christ commissions us to go out and preach the good news, and we don’t have to go far to do that. We can share our faith in our families, in our communities, with friends, and with coworkers. Let’s work with God to build up the Body of Christ here and now.

Stephen Lilly

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