The Family Missionary By Jonathan

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Gemma my missionary girl

Throughout this first year of missionary life I have been frequently surprised at what challenges lie in our path and at the way in which God wants us to handle them.  One area in which I have especially struggled has been sharing the faith in another language.  You could say that one event that occurred last November had haunted me for more than 6 months.  We were in a village and an older man approached us and asked us a number of questions about our beliefs.  I was so lost and frustrated because I couldn’t even completely understand much less answer his questions.  Eventually he left us looking as frustrated and confused as we were.

During the first half of this year I was waiting for the day to come when I would have to go through that again.   How would I answer?  What were the words to use?  I read article after article trying to learn how to speak in Spanish about these questions.  Finally Teresa and I were visiting a family of poor invalids.  As we got out and walked up to the house I heard God speak inside my heart, “Jon you have spent half a year trying to learn how to preach in a foreign tongue to people you do not know, when the words you use at home and among friends do not reveal your love for Me.”  I was floored.  I realized that I had not been a great witness of Jesus at home where it mattered most.  I yelled when angry or frustrated, I complained about any number of problems, I “vented” often to my wife or team members bringing everyone down.  I realized at that moment that I needed to focus on my own conversion first and foremost. I needed to become a family missionary not just a part of Family Missions Company.

In this blog I wanted to share some of the things God has revealed to me over the past few months and especially weeks about being a missionary in the home.  I want to share some of the powerful verses that have given new life and focus to my life and helped me to be a better father, a better Catholic, and a better missionary.

Matthew 12:34b-36 Your words show what is in your hearts. 35 Good people bring good things out of their hearts, but evil people bring evil things out of their hearts. 36 I promise you that on the day of judgment, everyone will have to account for every careless word they have spoken. (CEV)

 Matthew 15:11 It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles. (NRSVCE)

One of the first things God revealed to me was that words really do matter.  Our words have power, revealing power.  The words we use, the choices we make in giving meaning to our life experience bring out the truth that lies underneath.  The same mouth that speaks evil at home cannot effectively preach the gospel.  Your words reveal where your heart is. (Mt 12:34)  Words reveal the deeper part of a speaker that he or she may not even be aware of.  If you use your words to slander or complain this should warn you that your heart is not in the right place.  As Aristotle says, “Spoken words are the symbols of mental experience” (De Interpretatione 1)

Another important fact to keep in mind is that we will have to give account for every word we say. (Mt 12:36) Jesus is pretty straight forward.  We will be held responsible for our jokes, our sarcasm, our complaints, our “venting”, whatever.  These words tell our story.  These words build you up or contaminate who you are. (Mt 15:11) Your words have the power to change you.

IMAG3840In searching the Scriptures I have found a number of ways in which I fail in my speech.  I know God is so good and will help me with these failings in my ways of speaking.  (Matt 7:7; Luke 11:9)  If you read these and feel they are impossible to follow remember “I can do all things in him who strengthens me.” (Phil 4:13 RSVCE)

  1. Don’t Yell at Your Kids or Spouse…Even If You are Mad or They Deserve It! Ephesians 4:31 Stop being bitter and angry and mad at others. Don’t yell at one another or curse each other or ever be rude. (CEV)  The other day my sons were playing and they broke something we were going to use for a chapel.  Immediately they looked so worried.  “Dad, please don’t be mad.”  They said.  I realized that it was an accident but still it bothered me.  I know that at times I yell at my kids if they do wrong.  I have yelled at my wife in a fight.  God has been saying that I need to always speak with a soft voice and show love to my family.
  2. Take Joy in Correction…That is, in Receiving Correction.  Proverbs 25:12 Like a gold ring or an ornament of gold is a wise rebuke to a listening ear.  (NRSVCE)  The other day I was driving and the Lord said that I should be happier receiving an admonition than giving it.  How difficult it is to receive correction from the family.  I have been trying to listen more to correction even if it comes from the quiet voice of my son crying because I haven’t read to him a story for a long time.  (See also Proverbs 10:17, 12:1; 15:5, 12, 31-32; and 17:10)
  3. Be Willing to be  Misunderstood– I Peter 3:17  For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil. (NRSVCE)  “But I didn’t mean it that way” how many times do I say this in a week?  God has been showing me that I do not need to always be explaining myself to others.  Often times we need to just shut up and try to understand the other person.  Take our Lord’s example, He didn’t defend Himself at the cross but He certainly could have.  The verse God gave me last week during a misunderstanding was Exodus 14:14 The Lord will fight for you while you keep silent. (NASB)
  4. Don’t Bring up Past Mistakes and Failures…EVER AGAIN! Sirach 19:10 Have you heard something? Let it die with you.  (NRSVCE) Sirach 19:7 Rehearse not again a wicked and harsh word, and thou shalt not fare the worse. (DRA)  Never bring up the past errors of your spouse or children unless it is for their benefit.  I know I have often said something like “Not again” or “why do you always act this way” to subtly remind the listener that this is not the first time they have failed.  And yet as far as the east is from the west, so far does he (God) remove our sins from us. (GNT)  Are we not to imitate Him?
  5. Teasing Kills- Ephesians 6:4 Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. (ESV)  If my teasing makes my children angry I need to change the way I relate to them.  I don’t want to discourage them but rather lead them to Christ.  Colossians 3:21 Fathers, do not provoke your children, so they will not become disheartened. (NET)
  6. Patience…Forgive…Patience…Forgive…Patience…Forgive Ephesians 5:1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. (RSVCE) James 1:19 Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters! Let every person be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger. (NET) We are called to the patience of Jesus the patience to look upon our spouse and children over and over again with love and patience.  Forgive…forgive…forgive.
  7. Looks and Tone Matter– Proverbs 15:13 A glad heart makes a cheerful countenance, but by sorrow of heart the spirit is broken. (NRSVCE) I am really bad at this one.  I often neglect my tone and give of the impression that I am depressed when I don’t think I am.  And yet I am realizing that this wise adage can also be taken to mean that my face will affect those around me.  This is definitely true.  My sadness of heart often ends up bringing down the whole family.  I need to give it to the Lord and smile.
  8. “Venting” is Never God’s Way- Proverbs 29:11 says, Fools give full vent to their rage, but the wise bring calm in the end. I really believe venting is just a phony word used in order to complain and gossip without feeling bad.  The fact is that for the Sacred Authors venting to other people is not an option.  If we need to vent we can dump it upon God like the Psalmist.  He can handle it and will help us to overcome.
  9. Talk Less Listen More: Questions Lead to Understanding–  James 1:19 Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters! Let every person be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger. (NET) Simply put, ask more questions and you will learn more about your family and how you can serve them.  Talking too much can be a sign of over self-importance.
  10. Never Gossip in Front of the Kids…or Anywhere Else!  Sirach 19:7-8 Never repeat what you hear, and you will have no regrets. 8 Don’t tell it to your friends or your enemies unless it would be sinful to keep it to yourself. (GNT)  What happens at work should stay at work.
  11. Ask Before Correcting Proverbs 19:17 If you hear something that makes you angry with your neighbor, ask him about it before you threaten him. (GNT)  How many times have I walked into a room with my children fighting and immediately corrected the one I “knew” was guilty.  I have found that even if I was right my child gets the feeling that I don’t want to hear what he has to say.  This has consequences in other aspects of family life like when I ask him how his day went and he seems a bit uninterested in telling me anything because he thinks I don’t really care to hear.
  12. No Crudeness – Sirach 27:13 The talk of fools is offensive, and their laughter is wantonly sinful. (RSVCE)  I have set aIMAG3833 bad example with my boys in my humor and now I am trying to change this for their sake.  Rude jokes have no place in the Christian household.  There are plenty of things to joke about without resorting to the toilet.  I am still working on this one.  Remember what Jesus said about each and every word.
  13. Complaining Kills Your Light: The Missionary Can’t Be a Complainer – Philippians 2:14 Do everything without grumbling or arguing. (CEV)  The easiest way to kill your light is to complain.  As Pope Francis has said, “Complaining frequently can become an obsession that obscures the presence of Jesus in difficult situations.”  We need to give it to our Lord and keep our mouths shut or intentionally praise when we want to complain.
  14. Pray for Those in Authority Titus 3:1 Remind your people to obey the rulers and authorities and not to be rebellious. They must always be ready to do something helpful.  I Peter 2:13 For the Lord’s sake accept the authority of every human institution,[a] whether of the emperor as supreme,  How do I talk about my boss, my President, or others in authority at home?  Is my talk informed by scripture or by my favorite news station?

All of this is a way of dying to the self and it hurts and you and I will fail.  And yet this is the true missionary vocation— To follow Christ and share His love with others.  I Peter 2:21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. 

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Mission Impossible? by Teresa

Image   To those of you who feel like God is not calling and could not be calling you to missions, I’ve got a few things I would like to say.  Perhaps in your life you already do all the things that you should be doing.  You go to church, your family prays together before bed-time, and you may even attend a Bible study.  You hear about Jesus pretty regularly, and so does everyone else in the United States for that matter.  You see letters from God on billboards, sometimes hear encouraging words on the radio and television, and even receive tracks in random places reminding you that Jesus is your Lord and Savior.  You know all about God.  What could possibly be the point to missions, particularly in your state of life?  Let me ask you this question.  How often do you feel like you really encounter Jesus?  Do you find Him at your work? Do you find Him in the store?  Do you find Him in your neighborhood?  How about when you go out to eat?  Do you find Him then?  Do you find Him in your kids?  Perhaps more importantly, do they see Him when they look at you?  My dear friend, your primary mission field lies before you at every moment of the day.  YOU ARE JESUS TO THOSE AROUND YOU!  And they are Jesus to you!  The way you act, the way you talk, the time you take to really listen and care.  You may be the only way those in your sphere of influence can come to know a love that surpasses understanding.  You think you are not called to missions?  You are sadly mistaken my dear friend.  “MISSIONS” is the reason you exist.  It is why God gave you the awesome gift of life that you have.  Life is the opportunity to share HIM with everyone.  Your actions speak volumes.  Never forget that Jesus lives in you and you reveal Him in every interaction you have.  ”Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” (1 Cor. 12:27)  Hear your call, and act on it.  The time is now!  There is no time to waste!  Show everyone around you the joy that can be found in Christ and, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have!” ( 1 Peter 3:15)

           IMAG1473 To those of you who feel like you would like to enter into missions to a even greater degree but you don’t think it is possible, I want to share with you a quote from St. Francis of Assisi, “First do what is necessary, then do what is possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”  No, it is not possible to convert all of Asia in one day.  Even I believe that may prove to be a bit of a challenge.  But I also KNOW that nothing will happen if we don’t ever try.  Everything that was ever done was accomplished step by step.  Little by little.  First start with what is necessary.  You must be praying every day.  Every day.  It is necessary that you read the Bible, every day.   Every day.  My husband often gives talks to people we minister to and tells them the Bible is like a telephone.  It is how God talks to us and guides us.  I cannot tell you how many times Jesus spoke directly to me when I was reading the Bible.  Just read it.  I’m sure you will be glad you did. 

Those are the bear minimum necessities.  Next, do what is possible.  Go to Mass as often as you can.  Try to fit prayer in at times you usually wouldn’t, like when talking on the phone to your friend who had a bad day, or to a co-worker who is struggling with his or her family.  Pray for them, and ask God to use you in these situations.  Try to bring Jesus into your everyday world.  I remember one of the first days during our missionary training.  One of my children got hurt, and while I was kissing the boo-boo, our mission company director came over and prayed over my child.  Out loud.  Right in front of me!  I was shocked.  It was kind of weird, but then really impressive.  Why not invite God into situations like that?  It was an awesome witness to me, and from then on we have followed his example.  I encourage you to do the same.  Bring Jesus into as many situations as possible.  It might be hard at first, but like with anything else, it gets easier and easier with practice!

IMAG1822It is definitely possible to do these small things, but don’t stop there.  Ask God to guide you to whatever he has next for you.  Maybe it is giving a talk at your church, or leading RCIA.  Maybe it is going on a pilgrimage or a mission trip.  Maybe, just maybe, it is to become a full-time foreign missionary!  I know not everyone is called to this life.  It definitely has its challenges, but they pale in comparison to the privilege of sharing Jesus with those who don’t have access to knowledge of Him.    Years ago, I never thought I would be able to be a missionary while still raising my family.  Now I am surprised that could ever let this be a stumbling block.  If God wants you, He can find a way to get you where you need to be.  You just need to have faith in His plan, and take the first step, and then the next and then the next.  Keep trying to move forward and pretty soon, when you look back you will be shocked how far you’ve come!  We had no money to become missionaries (after all, we don’t exactly get paid for the work that we do).  When we sold our stuff, most of it went to pay off debt and the rest went to paying for our training (and we didn’t even have close to what we needed to cover the cost of training, much less our first year in missions).  Yet now, I look back and see all the people God sent us to help us on our way.  Most of which were people I barely knew.  Some of which were people we didn’t know at all!  God will open the doors to wherever he is calling you.  Don’t talk yourself out of it.  God’s ways are not our ways!  Many people told us that married people were not called to be missionaries, and look at us now!  Six kids and barely anything to call our own and yet we have never been happier! Have CONFIDENCE.  Our God is a BIG GOD! 

Everyone could use a little more Jesus in their lives.  Don’t waste your chance be Jesus to them.  Be the encounter they need.  Give more and more of yourself.  Love till it hurts.  Jesus did.  Together we can bring Jesus to the whole world!

 

 “I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.”  Mother Teresa

 

 

Welcome to the fishbowl! by Teresa

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I was told, or perhaps it is better to say, I was warned that living life as a missionary was much like living life in a fishbowl. Everyone watches everything you do. So true . . . so true . . .

My family and I, as a diversion during our month long Spanish language school experience in Guadalajara, decided to visit the local zoo.  It was priced right and what could be more fun than taking the fam to a zoo!  We even splurged and paid an extra couple bucks to ride the SkyZoo, which is the ski lift that covers the length of the park.  I admit, I was really excited about it.  It wasn’t one of those ski lifts you see often in the US where everyone is all inclosed, almost like a bus on a cable.  No, this was one of those ski lifts that just had a bar in front of you and your feet are happily dangling high above the earth and the whole time you are hoping your shoes don’t fall off, cause there ain’t no way you will be able to find them again.  And it wasn’t short either.  It took almost 30 minutes round trip!  I LOVED it!  I was blessed to ride with my 3 year old, Isaac.  He was so excited to see the animals.  He couldn’t stop telling me about everything he could see.  We had a great time!

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Isaac watching the buffalo!

As we were floating high above the world, I started thinking, as I typically do when I visit the zoo, just how weird it must be for these animals.  I mean, all day long they have hundreds and hundreds of people staring at them and wondering what they are up to.  Are they going to do anything cool, or are they just going to sit there sleeping the whole time?

After we dismounted, my family reconvened and we began our exploration of the zoo on foot.  As we walked, we could hear, as is common, people counting the members of our family, “Mira estos gringos!  Quantas personas. . . ?  Hay quatro, no cinco, no seis niños!  Verdad?!”  Yes, our family is quite used to having people notice us.  Our family size is a bit out of the norm for almost everyone alive today.  When walking around in Georgia, when we only had 5 children, we were used to looks and questions.  But now we live in Mexico.   And we have six kids.  Even in the US we were pretty white compared to everyone else.  Now we are a bunch of extremely white people, with 6 children whose hair is so very, very, blonde.  Do you think we stand out among the Mexican population? You betcha!

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Our family at the zoo. Back left to right: Gemma, Teresa, Ezekiel, Jonathan. Front left to right: Elijah, Micah, Isaac, Moses

As we passed the billionth person and heard them counting up our family, my husband leaned over to me and said, “We are a walking math problem!”  Literally everyone on this very crowded Saturday at the zoo took the time to look at us and count us up.  Out loud.  As if we couldn’t understand what was being said!  Some were incredulous, some were shocked, others were in awe.  It was quite obvious that we were one of the zoo’s attractions for the weekend.

Then I realized, this is a microcosm of our lives as missionaries.  We are a very large, very white family living in Mexico, where we obviously don’t fit in.  But we aren’t here to fit in.  WE ARE HERE TO STAND OUT. To be a, “light to the nations. . .  a city set on a hill . .  .” (Mt. 5: 14-16)  We cannot be hidden, and nor should we want to be.  We need to stand out, not be comfortable hiding in a dark corner, merely avoiding evil.  Instead we need to be out in the world.  We need to be an example.  We need to remember that we are Jesus to those around us.  This is our calling.  And it’s not just a calling for my family of missionaries, but for every baptized Christian.  We have the greatest gift, the knowledge of Jesus Christ.  We need to be out in the world sharing that knowledge.  We need to be ready and willing to share the reason for our joy!  Praise God our family, simply by virtue of what we are, stand out among the people in which we live!  It makes our work that much easier.  Ask us, come on, ask us why we have so many kids.  Ask us why we are so happy.  Ask us why we left our life in the United States to come here, to live among the poor.  Ask us why we brought our whole family, and even chose to give birth here with iffy medical care.  I’ll tell you why.  Because we have a God who is so great, who loves us so much, who provides for our every need, who can be trusted with every aspect of our lives, who comforts us when times are hard, who carries us when we can not walk on our own, who sent His ONLY son so that we can live with Him forever.  This news is too good to keep to ourselves!  Everyone needs to have the opportunity to know about our God!  My heart overflows with the desire to share this with everyone I can.

So the next time I hear someone counting up my family, I will be sure to smile all the more.  This is an opportunity! This is a gift!  This is the reason we are here!  Are the spectators of my life (or should I say . . . zoo, hehehe) gonna catch me sleeping?  Are they gonna think, man they don’t do anything?  Why are they even here? Or are they going to find themselves thinking, “Wow, look over here!  Everyone needs to see this,”  because when they look at us, they don’t see us, but rather Christ who lives and works through us.  It’s a challenge, and we are ready to accept!

Until the whole world hears!

The inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, `Let us go at once to entreat the favor of the LORD, and to seek the LORD of hosts; I am going.  Zechariah 8:21