One of the Many Faces of the New Evangelization
By Deacon Bill Vrazel
There are many paths in life, with twists and turns that constantly challenge us, and my wife Louise and I have certainly had our share of them. When life’s trials come to us, we make an effort, especially in recent years, to pray and try our best to see how—or if—God is present in them. We have six children, and recently our fifth child, Teresa, who at the time had five beautiful children, told us that she and her husband Jon were discerning whether they should serve God in the missions. Three months later, we were informed of their decision to give it a try and start with a two year commitment with the Family Mission Company who are Lay Catholic Missionaries.
Parents of Missionary Kids Shock Syndrome
So many things go through a parent’s mind when one of their children comes to them and says, “Dad and Mom, Teresa, the kids, and I have decided we are going to be full-time missionaries!” In all honesty, the first thing we thought was that they had to be out of their minds. The shock is numbing, and you begin to struggle with, “How can they do this to us?!” Then there are all the common sense reasons we parents come up with that are supposed to change our children’s minds. “What about the grandchildren’s education? How can kids be missionaries? How are you going to feed your family? Where will you live?” It goes on from there, but any parent who has experienced this knows exactly what I’m talking about. Then there are our friends who say things like, “You’ve got to be kidding—that’s crazy!” “How can they do that to you? Don’t they know it’s dangerous in Mexico?” And those are some of the more mild expressions I heard.
I could go on for the next hour but I think you get my point. I call it PMKSS: Parents of Missionary Kids Shock Syndrome. This might be humorous if it weren’t so very real. Most parents want their children to live close by, safe and sound, like other regular families with children do. But while those were some of my immediate feelings, I decided to let things unfold. Louise and I hoped that they might change their minds before they finished training. After all, we raised Teresa to pray and seek God’s guidance and to act when she was sure it was God’s plan for her. Anxiety, fear for their safety, worry for their children, and of course the fact that we would greatly miss our grandchildren were very real concerns of ours’. How could we cope?
To begin with, there is no set of guidelines that are going to make it easier to understand this decision. In fact, it took me some time to wrap my mind around what direction their lives were taking. So I offer the experiences that helped Louise and me make some sense of this new vocation our daughter and her husband were choosing for their family.
Job number one was to pray. I prayed for the understanding and guidance to know that this was God’s will for them. I asked them a lot of questions about how the mission family company works: Where are they are located? Who is a contact person I could talk to if something concerned me? Would they be trained for the mission they are going to do? As parents, you need to do your best to keep the lines of communication open. Try not to become confrontational; stay calm and keep an open mind. And remember, they’re going through a lot of changes as well!
A True Calling
In my prayer, I started to realize that God may have called them to this life. Both my daughter and son-in-law were very excited and positive about their decision to go forward. In fact, they were at peace with their decision and seemed to enjoy selling their possessions to ready themselves for the missions. Even though I was having a hard time understanding all this, being a person of faith, and knowing that God had called me to service as a deacon, I had no doubt He could call others to service. This is the face of the New Evangelization the popes have been talking about: clergy (deacons) embedded in the workplace and in the trenches of everyday life. Now I could see missionary families energized as the Holy Spirit inspires this new fire of God’s love. Woe be it to me to get in the way of God’s call!
Louise and I would talk to each other about our feelings as we processed this mission and that was helpful. I realize that getting over PMKSS is easier said than done, especially when it involves your kids. But if we are sincere in our faith, we must trust God when He challenges us to do His work. We raised our children to do the same, to listen for the voice of the Lord, and respond to His call. “Here am I, Lord, send me.” As my mind processed this farther, my prayer for them was that they answer the call for the right reasons, and I put them in God’s care. In talking with them about this new life, I wanted to be neutral at first, so that they wouldn’t feel pressure from my wife and me to do what we might want them to do. I prayed that God’s will be done, and if He called them to serve Him in this way, I knew He would take care of them and keep them safe.
Even though this was their calling, it was also a calling for Louise and me: to share them with the world. When my daughter Teresa said she was expecting her sixth child and the baby would be born while they were on mission, and that did not change their minds, I knew it was God calling. To be that courageous and trusting in God, and to be at peace, fully believing that it would all work out, was the kind of faith you would need to be in the missions. This was helping Louise’s and my faith to be strengthened, although at the time we did not realize it.
They were assigned to General Cepeda, Mexico, and I was happy about that because it was closer to the US. In spite of the fears of drug cartels, violence on the border, and them not knowing the language, I felt a little better. The peace I felt was God’s grace. “Thank you, Jesus.” I could not possibly pass up the opportunity to ask my daughter if Louise and I could come down after the baby was born and work with them in the missions. And while we were there I could baptize our new grandson Ezekiel! I wanted to see and experience firsthand what they were doing as missionaries. Teresa and Jon were thrilled.
Eyes Wide Open: the Beauty of Missionary Life Firsthand
What we experienced is hard to put into words. I have never been more proud of my kids than I was with what I experienced them doing down there. Our experience in Mexico as short term missionaries was a blessing indeed. I found out firsthand the work God was doing through this family, bringing the Gospel message to the Mexicans who lived in ranchos, and to the poor. But they also work with the people to help fix their homes, which are one or two room adobe huts. Some homes have dirt floors and leaky roofs and others just have pieces of plastic for a roof.
Jon had arranged ahead of time to put in a cement floor with me and two other Mexicans. We would be replacing the dirt floor in a one room house where a lady and her son lived. I learned how to mix cement on the ground by hand. But when the owner’s eighty-eight year old father came to help mix the cement, I felt Jesus had stopped by in person! He was so thankful we were helping his family and he wanted to do his part. All of this was hard manual labor, but all of it was done in the name of Jesus our Lord: putting into action His commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves. During this hard work, the discussion was about Jesus and how He loves us through them, and how He loves them through us. We talked about our Catholic faith and what it means to help one another.
At other times, we visited the ranchos out in the desert where anywhere from ten to twenty homes are clustered together. We went door to door and personally invited the residents to come and pray and hear the word of God. Jon would play his guitar and our grandchildren would help lead the singing while holding up song boards so the people could see the words and do hand motions to the songs. The children were smiling and having such a wonderful time as we sang songs about Jesus and the Holy Spirit in Spanish, which brought a lot of joy to the service. The people loved the children!
Many times we would pray over people and bless them, and I, as a deacon, would bless their homes. They truly wanted to hear the Gospel and it meant a great deal to them that the missionaries would come to their rancho. They would stop whatever they were doing, at whatever time of day we arrived, and come to the service. If the missionaries did not come to these people, they would never hear the Gospel message, nor would they learn about their Catholic faith.
A New Catholic: Baptizing my Grandson
I had the privilege of baptizing my grandson Ezekiel while in General Cepeda. During the baptism, in the reading of Matthew 28: 18-20 it said, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all I have commanded you.” This message took on a profound meaning while visiting my children in Mexico.
As I prayed the Rite of Baptism for my grandson Ezekiel, I felt the power of the words of Jesus. I fought back the tears as I realized how real the words had become. As I prayed the “Blessing for the Father” over Jon: “May he bless the father of this child. He and his wife will be the first teachers of their child in the ways of faith. May they be the best of teachers, bearing witness to the faith by what they say and do, in Christ Jesus our Lord,” I could hardly get the prayer out of my mouth as the Holy Spirit revealed His holy mission was being fulfilled in my children. But God was not finished pouring His Grace upon me as I prayed the final prayer in the Baptism Rite: “In His goodness, may He continue to pour out His blessings upon these sons and daughters of His. May He make them always [tears blurred my vision at this point and my voice quivered], wherever they may be, faithful members of His holy people. May He send his peace upon all who gather here, in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
In Ezekiel’s baptism, the Spirit spoke to my heart. “They are OK! I am with them.” I may not have understood how my children could just pick up and become missionaries, but it is not for me to understand. God’s ways are not man’s ways. God has called them and they answered that call and are indeed doing His work. To trust in God sometimes means we don’t know what God has in store for us, or for what purpose He has put us where we are. We are called to do what He asks with a trusting heart, and it is not for us to necessarily see success. We may never know, in this life, how our efforts may end up. Just to know we have served the Lord today is enough for me. It was a grace and a blessing for us to have worked in His vineyard in Mexico, in joy and in the spirit of love. As parents, we’re called to participate in our children’s work. To pray for them, love them, support them, and offer our separation from them as a sacrificial offering and prayer for their safety and success to their mission. Thank You Jesus!