In today’s post, Stephen F. Scott, Associate Director of United States Catholic Mission Association, reflects on the spiritual gifts he received last month during our Short Term Mission and Global Awareness Trip to Bolivia with FMS Associate Director Mariam Kaldas and Program Coordinator Natalie Helfrick. The following is an excerpt from an article previously published by United States Catholic Mission Association and is reprinted with their permission.
On my way to Bolivia, my mind felt that the training webinars, readings, and my time at United States Catholic Mission Association (USCMA) prepared me for my journey, but my heart was a different story. For the first time, I landed in a new country, without my family or chaperones, and my heart’s reaction was that I was the stranger in a new land.
The feeling I had of being a stranger while on mission would accompany me throughout the mission trip, though its potency would decrease as we journeyed to the various mission sites. Although I felt like a stranger, because I did not know the people or speak their languages, there was some solace in sharing this feeling with my fellow missioners.
Soon after our journey began I was reminded of how Jesus sent his disciples in pairs and it struck a chord (that would sound again and again) on the importance of journeying together, a journey that I am now sharing with you.
The encounter that broke my heart open took place not at a mission site, but at the La Paz airport. While we were in Cochabamba, I picked up an unwelcome infection. I had a running fever, chills, and some other unpleasant ailments that made my day more than miserable and were a cause for concern for my fellow missioners.
However, the next day was our travel day from Cochabamba to Coroico via a flight to La Paz and a bus ride on the narrow and curvy mountain roads. I was still in some considerable pain and feeling rather lousy, but I survived our trip from Cochabamba to La Paz. After landing in La Paz, I needed to sit for a while, but then I got up and began to walk over to where our bus was parked with the help of one my fellow missioners.
As I walked a woman saw me, left her family and friends, came over, and began to speak with me. It was clear from the faces of her family that her action interrupted the conversation they were having and they watched on as she came over to me. She was a slender grandmother who appeared to come from a successful family.
Though I did not understand what she was saying at first, I could see that she concerned about my illness. Without hesitation, she opened her purse, handed me some coca tea, and told me to drink the tea to feel better. Then she embraced my hand tightly before returning to her waiting family and smiled gently as I thanked her. This was truly a moment when I felt my heart burn, as told in the story of Emmaus, but even more so it was a moment when her heart and mine were speaking to each other.
As I turned and headed toward the bus, all I wanted to do was cry because here I was a complete stranger who was visibly sick and in pain, and she came up to me, comforted me, and did what she could do to heal me. Here I was a stranger, and she welcomed and comforted me in same action. Our interaction with each other and exchange of words and gifts opened my heart to the Gospel passage of Matthew 25: 31-46 in a way that my mind could not have anticipated.
That story, recounting how we would be judged based on how we treat others, took on flesh and blood through this experience and challenged me to go beyond my personal comfort. This simple encounter taught me more than any homily or scripture course had about this particular Gospel passage. True missionary discipleship calls us out of ourselves and is lived out when we act with charity and care for others, especially people we do not know.
Stephen F. Scott is Associate Director of United States Catholic Mission Association, the only association of US Catholic mission-sending and mission-minded organizations and individuals.