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Embracing Connections

Blog Headers 2023-24 (14)

Editor’s Note: As she waits for her time on mission to begin, lay missioner Susan Sarkissian reconnects with friends and family members and cherishes her relationships with her loved ones.

When the FMS Formation ended in November 2023, I knew I had a long wait for my Jamaican Visa to be approved. My heart and soul were filled with inspiration, and I was anxious to begin my walk as a missioner. Patience is a virtue that God has long been trying to instill in me, so I decided to embrace the wait and work on some unfinished business. I hoped to rebuild relationships I long neglected.

When my husband died in 2007, I put up a wall around myself that I thought would help me to feel safe. At the time, I was vulnerable and struggled to love or trust others. There were only two that I allowed myself to love deeply, and those were my young daughters. So many friends and family offered their time and support during that first year of mourning, but I was too afraid to let them in because loss hurt so much.

In the years that followed, I experienced moments of happiness, but the solitude of my existence became more unbearable than the loss that had created it. In 2019, I finally prayed to God to help me remember what joy felt like. Ironically, I got my answer during the pandemic that followed in 2020. 

Joy is now driving me to open my heart like never before, and I must respond. So during this past December, I went back to my roots in California and spent a month embracing my family and reconnecting with dear friends. The response was a vision of grace. So much love was remembered and my guilt of my neglect long forgiven.

I was so inspired that I bought an Amtrak rail pass to visit loved ones spread across multiple states. Two beloved friends in Phoenix welcomed me back as if I were one of the family. Then, I took an excursion to the southern border to visit with fellow missioners Julia and Kim. Kim’s embrace was that of a sister, and Julia was a breath of fresh air and a new found kindred spirit. The blessing of a winter storm led me to longer stays than expected in both Douglas and Phoenix. It was as if God knew that I needed this time with new and old friends, and while the earth froze, my heart was melting.

There were many stops and starts on my Amtrak excursion due to the challenges of weather, yet the door to meeting and being with people was now open. On a frozen morning around 4 AM, I met a young man, Allen, while waiting at the airport for a bus connection to Amtrak. It turns out he and I were both headed to Chicago. I thought it an interesting coincidence that the Amtrak conductor assigned us to sit together for the 53 hour haul. There was not a moment of boredom as we shared our experiences, philosophies, hopes and dreams. I never knew I could do that with a complete stranger! I met several other interesting passengers. On the final leg of my trip a young man sat next to me and I turned to him and said hello. It became clear that his English was minimal. He spoke Arabic, so we used Google Translate to converse. His name was Meme. He was new to the country and without resources. I worried that he was heading into the freezing cold of Chicago, so I phoned  my friend James who later was able to guide Meme to some support service. 

My last stop before heading back to DC was Chicago. I think of Chicago as the true beginning of my formation, and the visit solidified the truth that friendship transcends distance and time. My dear brother in Christ, James, loved me enough to challenge me to greater heights in my love for Christ. Dearest Sister Laurenci and her household overwhelmed me with their blessings and well wishes. Then I had to say goodbye to my youngest daughter. She is in school in Chicago, and parting from her for what might be two or more years was felt to the depths of my soul. That last look between us imprinted forever the love that we share, a gift truly from God himself.

Question for Reflection: Do you have any friends or family members who you’ve been longing to reconnect with?

Susan is from California and enjoyed her role as wife and mother for 17 years. When her husband died, she put her degree to work teaching math to high school students. She retired in 2022 so that she could dedicate time to nurture her newfound faith. Living simply was born out of necessity, but it also allowed for greater freedom in looking for new opportunities. FMS was one of many doors that opened for Susan in her journey to seek others who share her faith as well as a desire to serve. As a long-term lay missioner, Susan looks forward to the opportunity to build relationships in her new home, as well as develop a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by those marginalized in society.