Mission – Development or Transformation?
Why was I sent to a « far away» mission? Was it just in order to help the poor and the needy? No. If it was only to help the poor and the needy, why was I not sent to some city in Canada: Calgary, Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, or Quebec? Or even to one of the reserves for the First Nations people in the country? There are many people who need my helping hand in Canada.
Then, was it in order to meet and live with people of different cultures? Again, where on earth is there a better place than in Canada to meet and live with diverse peoples? You can name any country, you will find a group of people from that country in any big city of Canada. Are not our FMM communities in Canada already international?
Then, why was I sent to Ethiopia? Why did God send me there?
When I was studying Armharic, one of the Ethiopian languages, in Addis Ababa, the capital city in Ethiopia, I had a strange feeling of “déjà vu”. It seemed to me that I had come back to the past. The people are a different color, but their manner of greeting was not foreign at all to me. The salesmen and women on the street, sweepers, shoe-shining, boys, the boys selling newspapers, the people lined up at bus stops, all these scenes seemed so familiar to me. In this environment where my present crossed my past, I met and got to know myself, a self that was quite different from the one that I had known: not so kind and gentle, easily getting angry, needy, helpless and powerless, emotional, and having wounds from the past that bled easily at any touch.
When I was far away from home and was stripped of the garments that had been identified with myself I got to meet myself face to face as who I am. When I recognized and admitted that this stranger was me, I saw Jesus standing in front of me, stretching out His arms and telling me come closer. In this corner where there was no hiding place, God was right there to embrace me. When I was able to name my wounds, I got to know the name of God. His name is God who heals, God who forgives, God who provides, God who loves me like a mother, tenderly and generously. The experience of God shed light around me. Instead of concentrating my attention on the work that I was doing, it opened my eyes to see the people to whom God had sent me. It urged me to appreciate the people as they are.
No matter what religion they have, Ethiopians put God first and foremost. Their greeting itself is a prayer of a blessing that one ends with an Amen. They greet a stranger with the words, “May God give you health”. They express their gratitude by saying, “May God give (pay) you on my behalf.” In this way, he/she praises God first and then gives thanks to that person. One can say the phrase, “God only knows” to console someone, or to defend oneself against false accusations, or to threaten someone with a guilty heart. The Ethiopians are very generous by nature. A poor woman who has just received a loaf of bread from a benefactor will invite a passer-by to eat with her. When people are admitted to our health center, they immediately form family with the people who are next to them, helping in some way and even sharing their meager meals together.
Only when I experienced God’s love in my life, was I able to see the people around me with the eyes of God who had sent me and to appreciate them and learn from them.
In this way, I learned that I was sent to receive the gifts of God, not just to do humanitarian development for the poor living at the ends of the earth. The God who knows me through and through and who knit me in my mother’s womb knew what my wounds were. He knew where and with whom I would become “whole”.
If we saw our missionary vocation as God’s invitation for us to be healed and to become “wholly His”, wouldn’t our “yes” resound our joy with trumpet blast? If we looked at each sending as our chance to be transformed in the specific way that God works in us, wouldn’t our “yes” be the one of Mary at Nazareth and on Calvary?
Meeting our Sisters in the Canadian Province once again, I am convinced that each of our mission sending is a step that leads us closer to God. I am grateful to God that I was formed as a Franciscan Missionary of Mary surrounded by Sisters who have taken these steps with fidelity and serenity as Mary did with her whole life.
Anna Kim, f.m.m.
© June 2008