“Where are you going?”

It’s a familiar, important question for our missioners serving overseas, but also relevant for our year-long volunteers, who often arrive in DC for the start of their service program after considering various options for after college. At the same time, all of our missioners and volunteers come from somewhere, and connections to home help sustain all program participants during their year–or years–of service. In addition, the experiences of missioners and volunteers also have an impact on their home communities and families while they are serving with Franciscan Mission Service, often long before one becomes a returned missioner or alumni volunteer.

In this article, we consider the other side of “Where are you going?” and hear from family members of missioners and volunteers who speak to three of the many ways their loved one’s “yes” to service has impacted their worldview and relationships.

Click on the following to hear the stories and perspectives of several of FMS family members:

“A Better Understanding of the Whole Picture”: Visits to Mission Countries

SarahJane with one of the girls at Nuestra Casa.

Before Mary Cauzillo visited her daughter, SarahJane, in Cochabamba, it wasn’t easy to imagine what life in Bolivia was really like.  Mary knew that SarahJane was following her heart, and Mary, herself, had gotten more comfortable with loving her daughter from a distance, but listening to the ups and downs of SarahJane’s time in Bolivia just wasn’t enough. The picture that SarahJane’s family held of her mission life was unclear and incomplete.  And then Mary, along with her husband Bill, decided to change that by traveling a few thousand miles to spend some precious time with SarahJane in her host community.

Upon leaving the United States, Mary and Bill’s trip began to sound a bit like the travel narratives that get posted on blogs or published in magazines.  They both appreciated how frequent flier miles got them to Bolivia. Bill got lost in the city, and then found his way back home with the help of police officers that SarahJane later thanked with a two-liter bottle of Coca-Cola. Mary found the traffic “ridiculous” compared to what she was used to at home.  These experiences made for good anecdotes to share with family and friends, but other, deeper stories were being written at the same time, stories that spoke of ministry and deep relationships.

Visiting “Nuestra Casa,” the home for child survivors of sexual abuse and the place where SarahJane is in ministry, was particularly special.  While there, Mary, Bill, and SarahJane shared a meal with the girls that they prepared together, but Mary and Bill also got a glimpse of the girls’ struggles for healing when some of them went to counseling and came back with teary, red eyes. Though the girls mostly returned to what they were doing, Bill saw some of the girls comforting each other—a poignant reminder that pain and childlike joy often exist alongside each other, especially in places like Nuestra Casa.

“I can’t get over seeing what she walks every day,” says Mary, reflecting on her time in Cochabamba. “SJ wanted us to come, not just to see her but because her life is changing.  We’ve always been a part of all her changes and she wanted us to be a part of this. I have a better understanding of the whole picture.”

“It’s Beautiful”: Seeing Volunteers Grow and Thrive

Amy and Dena outside the US Capital.

“I wasn’t hesitant at all,” says Dena Brandt when asked how she responded when her daughter, Amy, shared that she would be moving from Seattle, Washington to Washington, DC to serve in FMS’ office as the organization’s Communication Associate.  Dena was comforted by FMS’ Catholic values and the fact that Amy would be growing spiritually and professionally during her year of service. “I imagined her being able to put her new knowledge to work and being able to discern where to go career-wise,” says Dena. “Rather than jumping right out of college into a job, I thought, here was an opportunity to discern through the year where to put her skills.”

Having been through the experience of saying goodbye to Amy when she studied abroad, Dena was also ready to manage the challenges of maintaining a relationship long distance.  In her heart, she trusted that the experience would be worthwhile for Amy, but she was surprised. Not only did Amy grow, but she really thrived in ways that college hadn’t necessarily given her a chance try on for size.  

By stepping into a position at the FMS office, Amy’s began to apply her background in marketing, communications, and graphic design in a new, very public way.  Her designs ended up on Christmas cards and invitations to thousands of FMS supporters. Her writing graced the FMS blog. Her “Welcome to Sunday” images continued a tradition started by the previous Communications Associate, Alessia Catena, and helped social media followers reflect on the Sunday Gospel readings.

But what made these experiences special and different from the jobs Amy could have jumped into was the backdrop of prayer, community, and formation–all hallmarks of the DC Service Corps program. “She questions us on things,” says Dena, referring to how Amy’s time in DC has strengthened her understanding of social justice and the countries in which FMS missioners serve.

Dena isn’t bothered by the questions, though.  On the contrary, they are affirmations of Amy’s choice to serve—and her parents’ decision to support her in that choice. “At home it’s easy to be comfortable and dependent on family and friends,” says Dena.  “[In DC] she has an opportunity to shine. I’ve been impressed. I had no idea the level of her savviness and business skills. It’s beautiful.”

“It Reminds Me of When I Was Going”: (Re)Connecting to Service in Light of a Loved One’s Ministries

When Troy was young, his father, Tim Shelgren, was very active in his church’s youth group and instilled a spirit of service in his children.  Given this history, Troy wasn’t completely surprised when Tim decided to become an FMS lay missioner and dedicate two years of his later adult life to living and serving in Kingston, Jamaica.

What Troy didn’t necessarily expect, however, was how this spirit of service would be reignited in him once Tim began his time with FMS. After all, the contexts for Tim’s and Troy’s lives were—and still are–very different.  Troy has two young children, while Tim, without dependents anymore, is now serving as “Uncle Tim” and mentor to dozens of boys in two different group homes in Kingston.. Troy served with AmeriCorps in his twenties, while Tim is in the middle of a serving with FMS in his late fifties.  Troy’s life is based in the Switzerland, where he established his life over a decade ago, while Tim is only temporarily living in Jamaica during his time serving with FMS.

Troy accompanied Tim to his daily ministries during his visit to Kingston, Jamaica.

And yet, despite these differences, Troy found himself inspired and changed by seeing his father support various ministries in and around Kingston. By accompanying Tim in his daily life in Jamaica, Troy saw the giving, compassionate side of Tim that he had always known, but he also saw something new in his dad.  Different from the service in which Tim had engaged with Troy’s youth group, lay mission in Jamaica was all-encompassing–a way of life.

Reflecting on his visit with his dad, Troy shared how he appreciated FMS’s approach to mission and to Gospel living, “I have a lot of respect for the way [my dad] is willing to test his faith that seriously…really reading these great characters we know and then trying to do things the way they did them and see what comes from it. There are not a lot of people doing it that literally. I am jazzed that he found an organization like FMS.”

Reminded of his time in AmeriCorps, Troy began to reflect on small, but meaningful ways to integrate service into his own daily life. Upon returning to his family in Switzerland, Troy became more intentional in instilling a spirit of service in his own family and cultivating gratitude. He now hopes to return to Jamaica with his eldest daughter so she can recognize the importance of compassion at a young age.

Speaking of his visit with his father, Troy shared one of the meaningful moments that emerged.  “Tim was preparing material [for a reading lesson] and he was saying, ‘Ok, first I am going to do this. Then I am going to do this, and my ten minutes per kid will be up.’ It was funny because whenever he gets like that it reminds me of when I was going off to service like that…it was wonderful seeing him serving in those ways.”

Conclusion: Where did you come from?

As an organization that values, respects, and supports the unique life journeys of its missioners and volunteers, FMS would be remiss if it did not acknowledge the amazing variety of stories that make up the lived experiences of family members of missioners and volunteers.  An individual’s decision to serve in a sustained way over a year or more has a ripple effect. Sometimes, those ripples are small and almost imperceptible, and sometimes they look more like waves. Nonetheless, this truth is one we honor as an organization and one that links the stories told here, as well as the many stories that are untold: the other side of “Where are you going?” is important.  It has meaning. It is sacred.