5 Things a Year of Mission Taught Me

Alex reflects on completing her first year as a volunteer missionary at the SPEC Retreat Centre, in the Diocese of Westminster.

Volunteer Missionaries and Core Team and the SPEC Retreat Centre in London (Photo: WYM)
Volunteer Missionaries and Core Team and the SPEC Retreat Centre in London (Photo: WYM)

I’ve just wrapped up my first year of mission at SPEC and I would recommend a year of mission for many reasons. It helps to develop public speaking skills, it gives you a greater world perspective, it teaches you how to live with other people, and it’s just absolutely fun. But, there are a few things about a year of mission that were far more important for me. If you’re feeling called to do mission, if it’s something on your heart, here are a few of the ways God worked on my year of mission. Here are some of the truths that he spoke to me through mission.

1. Everything is for nothing if I don’t pray

I was very involved in my parish back in Florida. I was a catechist and a core member in the youth group. I started a young adult ministry at my parish, I served on a diocesan task force to improve young adult ministry. I was even asked to be on the parish council by my pastor right before I left (a position that I said I would only accept if my pastor personally nominated me). I did a lot, but I didn’t really pray a lot. I remember when I started the young adult group at my parish, one of the women I was working with said “We should do a novena before meeting.” We did the novena, but when she suggested it, part of me was like “No, why? We don’t have time for this! We need to act!”

Wow, how a year of mission has taught me how wrong I was. The whole point of everything we do is to serve God. How can we serve God if we don’t know what he’s telling us? The only reason we have the power to do anything at all is because of God. How can we exercise that power if we don’t ask him for it? From praying the Divine Office, to prayer before retreats, to prayer before meetings and silent Adoration…a year of mission taught me that unless I pray, I might as well be doing nothing. God wants to be involved with everything, and when we pray and invite God in, we’ll see the fruits.

2. Being in a relationship with a mission is a gift

The small print of a first year of mission says, “I will not pursue any romantic relationships.” Well, I was 25 when I entered mission and part of me felt like this rule didn’t apply to me. In fact, part of me felt like I could benefit from dating. When I entered the mission, my heart wasn’t fully living into this rule and I regret that. I did pursue people, and I saw other first year missionaries pursue people too. And yet, being in a relationship with the mission for the entire year ended up being such a gift.

Whether it came from a lack of attraction or from fraternal charity, I am so grateful that the men I lived with, and the men I’ve encountered, all gave me the space to have this year with God. I can’t imagine how difficult it would have been if someone had pursued me. It would have been hard to fully see the love that God wanted to personally show me. It would have been difficult to experience the healing in my heart that I needed, and to see my identity fully. A year is so short, and if you can give it totally and freely to God, or give someone else the space to have that year, I think God will bless that. God will teach us the truth that before anything else, we are all brothers and sisters in Christ first.

3. We are called to live in the light

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a blunt American or you have that subtle British sarcasm, we human beings are all so weak when it comes to communication. I suffered with inner turmoil and built up aggression towards the people I lived with for months over things that probably could have been resolved in minutes if I had spent more time communicating with them and less time communicating with my own thoughts. Thank God one of our Monday formation talks was about how important it is to bring things into the light.

Conflict resolution is difficult and uncomfortable, but if you’re on mission, you don’t have much to be afraid of. After all, the people you’re on mission with love God, they probably love you even if you’re irritating, and they all desire holiness. I can’t imagine a more perfect person with whom to resolve issues. If one year of mission taught me anything, it’s that we are called to live in the light and we should. Each time I brought something into the light, or other people brought some of their issues with me into the light, God blessed it. I was expecting awkwardness and anger, and, actually, all I ever got was peace and forgiveness. God rewards honesty tenfold. Don’t allow things to sit.

4. God wants to be my Comforter

I came from a really good home. Both my parents love me greatly and they’ve always been a source of comfort for me. I knew that if I ever had a problem, I could always go to my parents. But one thing my parents never taught me was to seek my comfort in God. At home, I am known and loved by everyone: by my family, my friends, my co-workers, my pastor. Only when I left home for mission in a foreign land and became unknown did I really start to turn to God for my comfort. It was good that people were there for me when I needed someone but one important thing that mission taught me was that God really wants to comfort me first.

I noticed the difference just recently at World Youth Day. When things went wrong and I was upset and crying and falling apart, for the first time ever, all I wanted in those moments was Jesus. I can’t say that for any other time in my life before mission. It’s always been that I want my mommy and daddy, or I want a friend to listen to me and agree with me. But now, what I want first is Jesus. And he is all that for me. Jesus is the embrace, he’s the friend nodding while I complain and saying, “Yes, yes, I hear ya.” He has been my Comforter this year. Back in the States, a comforter is actually what we call a duvet. So hearing Jesus called Comforter created a funny but nice image for me – an image of being enveloped and at rest. Let Jesus be your Comforter.

5. I was the Mission

When I say, “I was the Mission,” I don’t mean it in one of those cinematic ways like “I am the Law!” The truth is I came to England thinking that this country was in a need of saving and I was going to do it. I was going to speak truth and teach all the children how much Jesus loves them and work for God. I was going to make so many sacrifices for Jesus leaving my important job in Florida and giving a year of my life to bring truth to all the people in London.

The woman who interviewed me for my year at SPEC laughed at me and said “This year is for you,” and then I proceeded to laugh at her. But she was completely right. I was the mission. I was the one who needed to hear God’s truth. I was the one who needed to be served. My heart was the heart that needed healing. God called me on mission because He wanted to speak something to me and spend time with me and outside of this mission, I wasn’t giving Him the space to do that. One of the most important things a year of mission taught me was that I still need Jesus. And no matter how much I learn, no matter how much healing I experience or how far along I am on my faith journey, I will always be in need of Jesus.