Rhonda Eckerman Joleen Johnson Nora McMahon Domonique Thompson Jenny Tsui

 

Rhonda Eckerman – Overseas Lay Missioner

Hometown: Sioux City, IA

Path to FMS: Many years ago, I volunteered for a year in Grants, New Mexico living with pregnant teens and nuns from Adorers of Precious Blood. This program involved loving and supporting these young ladies before, during and after delivery. This was an amazing experience that changed my life. It taught me to appreciate and value water as I watched the daily struggles of living through chronic drought. I learned of the different local tribes and the importance of respecting their different traditions. But most importantly, I will never forget the unfathomable love that these young ladies had when deciding to provide their child a better life through adoption. I believed at the time that I had fulfilled a lifelong dream and that the pull to serve had been extinguished. But the urge to return to service work is strong. The attraction for me is to get out of my comfort zone, walk in someone else’s shoes, and learn about other people’s cultures.

Scripture passage meaningful to mission: John 19:28, “Jesus said, ‘I thirst.’” I first encountered this simple yet powerful quote when I was reading about Mother Teresa and her passion for these two words. She would plead with people to try to understand what “I thirst” means. She would explain that Jesus thirst for us to come closer, thirsty for our love. As I listen to F. Riccardo’s recorded rosary, I am touched to hear him address these powerful words as he reminds me that Jesus is waiting to be quenched. I decided to go on this mission so that I can show people the way to Jesus, how they can understand how God thirsts for them.

Catholic role model: Pope John Paul II has a special place in my heart as a Catholic role model. I was married and living in Denver during his 1993 visit for World Youth Day. My husband was not a Catholic and I recall I was extremely proud of my faith during his visit. The excitement was palpable, even within the non-Catholic communities. His interaction with President Clinton whom I had lost respect for, was a great example of loving someone despite their actions. Previously uncomfortable about talking about my religion, Pope John Paul’s visit provided me an opportunity to talk about him and my faith with non-Catholics.

Social Justice areas of interest: I am passionate in preserving the dignity of the elderly. I recall many times when I was out in public with my ailing mother she would be minimized as other customers or employees pushed past her or ignore her all together. I was heartbroken as she would express her feelings of inadequacy. I also recall as I visited friends in the local nursing home they would be treated like children as opposed to valued adults.

Next is the issue of human trafficking. I am passionate about preventing human trafficking because I strongly believe I was confronted with a situation previously while on mission in New Mexico that I did not do anything. I can still see the little girl and the fear in her eyes. I was surprised with what I learned in a continuing education seminar I took several years ago. I learned that trafficking is everywhere, not just in a big city and that the perpetrator can be a father or other family member. I learned the signs a health care worker can look for include victim tattoos and victim’s reaction to a health care providers. Since this seminar, my eyes were opened to a new awareness of someone in danger.

Last issue regarding social justice, is the lack of educational opportunities provided to women globally. I have been blessed to receive an incredible education that has opened many doors for me. I can’t imagine living in a country where I am refused an education.

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Joleen Johnson – Overseas Lay Missioner

Hometown: Brooklyn Park, MN

Why FMS? I discovered a passion for overseas service during my first mission trip in 2012 to Guatemala. Since then I have served in Haiti and studied abroad in India, teaching English in an elementary school, after which I began to feel the call to longer term overseas service. I am excited to see what God will teach me through FMS, and look forward to living out His call for me. I’m inspired by FMS’s humble and relational approach to ministry.

Scripture passage meaningful to mission: 1 Tim 4:12 (NASB): Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe. I’ve always liked this verse as an encouragement to do the right thing and not fear being too young to be impactful. It reminds me that God calls young people to greatness and equips His called. Perhaps in this FMS experience, the concept of portraying love will be the most prominent of those in the list of this verse.

Catholic role model: Mary Jo Copeland is the founder of a Minneapolis ministry called Sharing and Caring Hands, which serves locals who are experiencing homelessness. She has tremendous faith and is lead by it everyday when she loves on each person who walks through her doors. Mary Jo has been known to pray at church everyday before the sun rises and is deeply committed to her faith. Before each meal that is served at Sharing and Caring Hands, Mary Jo says a prayer with a microphone for everyone to hear and speaks of the redemption and forgiveness of God and just how much God loves each person there. She washes the feet of new people who come in and serves the homeless population in every way she can. Her faith and her heart for service to the Lord and His people is inspirational to me.

Social Justice areas of interest: The issue of global hunger is of interest to me. I would like to learn more about food distribution globally and locally. Likewise, I’ve been very impacted by the issue of access to clean water. Ever since a mission trip to Haiti and experiencing the lack of drinkable water in certain areas, I’ve never looked at water the same way. The reaction and appreciation of local Haitians when clean water arrived for them was a very moving experience for me. Clean water and adequate food are basic human needs and I’m interested in learning more about Catholic Social Teaching and it’s response to these issues. Another social justice issue that interests me is the pro-life movement. The dignity of each human life, no matter how big, small, or tall, reaches to many aspects of life, and opportunities to defend and uphold it are numerous.

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Nora McMahon– Overseas Lay Missioner

Hometown: Pearl River, NY

Path to FMS: What most attracted me to the long-term overseas mission with FMS was the emphasis on solidarity with the poor. A lot of other wonderful mission programs preferred to focus on other aspects of serving communities, but I love FMS’s commitment to being with the people they are serving. It is unique and adds a depth, that you are not only going overseas to provide a service but to understand.

Scripture passage meaningful to mission: (Matthew 25:35-36) “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” This passage always spoke to me because it always seemed so easy. Be kind to one another and you are not just helping a stranger or doing God’s work but you are helping God. It is its simplicity that is jarring a kind act is all it takes, but so often to the people asked to carry it out it is asking for so much more. A young mother considering visiting a friend in prison is worried about how it would look if anyone found out. Caretakers worried about catching a disease. Strangers walking by people in the street crying out for help because of a society that devalues those that are unable to work. People always have a reason and this passage is asking us to set aside our social standing, existential fears, political affiliations, and much more. This passage may seem simple but in carrying it out we have to confront the greatest obstacle in our lives, ourselves.

Catholic role model: I was introduced to Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati through “Frassati Fellowship of NYC” a Catholic young adult group in NYC that focuses on service, faith formation, and fellowship. This group aspires to follow in the footsteps of Frassati and through this and reading more about him as I got more involved I developed a deep appreciation for him. He was a man of great faith despite obstacles in his home life. He also lived out Catholic social teaching to the fullest which was especially necessary in his time as Italy was becoming increasingly more fasict at the beginning of the 20th century. The short life he lived was truly inspiring as he did all he could to stay true to the Catholic church’s teachings no matter the political or personal obstacles that were put in his place. Through everything in his life and even though he was born to privilege he never swayed from the knowledge that care and love for one’s neighbor no matter who they are or their circumstances is the most important part of living out one’s faith.

Social Justice areas of interest: Immigration is an issue that has always been close to my heart. My mother applied for citizenship when I was a teenager and it took her years to finally get it. This was a woman with 5 children with US citizenship, a husband with citizenship, no criminal record, who had by that point been living in the US for over 20 years and paying taxes the whole time. My mom’s struggles opened my eyes to issues of immigration and all of the different layers and struggles people face with it. Growing up in a rich and abundant country I never understood how people in it could be homeless or hungry. I’d drive by abandoned buildings and see tons of food being thrown out by stores and restaurants and nothing being done about these two conflicting facts. The waste I saw around me always left me feeling uneasy and it still does.

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Domonique Thompson – Overseas Lay Missioner

Hometown: Brooklyn, NY

Path to FMS: I have been moved by my international service missions in the past and believe that there is so much more to gain and learn that I haven’t during my short-term missions. I want to fully immerse myself into marginalized communities so I take what I’ll learn into my future career.

Scripture passage meaningful to mission: (Matthew 25:40) “And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’” This speaks to me and my call to service because it encourages all of us to see one another as children of God. It reminds us that we are all deserving of basic human rights and dignity.

Catholic role model: I do not have any saint that I have a special devotion to, but I do admire St. Ignatius because of the values that have been instilled into me by my school.

Social Justice areas of interest: I am most interested in violence against women and climate change. I am passionate about violence against women because this is an issue that persists worldwide. In many countries, women are oppressed and violence against us can be overlooked and even ignore. This further puts women and girls at risk by limiting our access to justice and safety. I am passionate about advocating about this because the effects of interpersonal violence are often lifelong. By advocating and raising awareness we promote education among young boys and girls and provide the proper resources for those who may have experience domestic or sexual violence. By raising awareness we allow for those who’ve experience to seek help and healing. By raising awareness we force perpetrators to be held accountable for their actions. By raising awareness we educate women that it is not “ok” or “normal” to be violated and/or abused. By raising awareness we allow for women to feel confident and comfortable in their own skin.

I am passionate about climate change because of the state our earth is in right now. It is the product of all of our mistakes and poor treatment. So, it is up to us to make the effort to fix it. I want to educate about climate change because many people believe that we are in too deep for there to be a change. I want to share that there is so much that we can do just by doing so little. I advocate for a more plant- based diet because it is something that we can all consciously do every single day. It is also because of the devastating effects the animal agricultural industry has on the environment. I completely understand that it can be very difficult for people to adapt to the change because it is something that we all grew up doing. Therefore, I advocate for the concept of weekday veg. It’s the idea that for half of the week, or half of our meals we eat vegetarian or vegan.  This would make a huge impact on the agricultural industry and the methane gasses released into the atmosphere. It is also important to note that climate change is something that will be felt first by the people in poverty, hence this is another way where we can use our privilege to make a change for others.

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Jenny Tsui – Overseas Lay Missioner

Hometown: Rochester Hills, MI 

Path to FMS: The Franciscan ideal of living so strongly reverberates with my own ideals and joy in living. My most formative and joyful experiences of God’s Kingdom have been teaching kids in Kyrgyzstan and teaching at Marygrove college. Both experiences taught me about social justice for marginalized populations and solidarity through “living with”, but more than that, I experienced such love for people and love from people in those places. I have been trying to continue this vision here in Los Angeles, but I now realize the culture and privilege I have in my current circumstances are driving a wedge between me and my joy in life. I feel a strong need to be a foreigner in a non-American culture which is permeated with heartfelt community. I believe other cultures, especially less wealthy ones, often have a strong gift of communal living and open love, and I love being immersed in those spaces. I also feel a strong desire to serve from below in a role that doesn’t carry authority over others. Being a foreigner with a language deficit definitely situates a person there! Finally, I’m attracted to the Spanish- speaking sites served by FMS. Immersion in a Spanish-speaking culture, perhaps especially in Mexico, is of particular interest to me because of my students here in California. I would really like to understand their culture of origin and become proficient in Spanish. I would also really like to understand issues around immigration and migration because they directly affect my students here.

Social Justice and population areas of interest and why:

Immigration: It’s personal because my parents were immigrants who benefited so much from the opportunities this country had to offer. However, they had the right level of education so their pathway to immigration was far easier than those our country decides are less desirable. Also, I suppose I deeply imbibed our American story that we are a country of immigrants who receive the tired, poor, huddled masses and when immigrants give their gifts to our country, we all win. I think it is a place where doing the right thing is also the best thing for our own country. I also think the Bible is full of immigrants and commands to be kind to the refugee and it resonates with my understanding of Jesus’ teachings to welcome immigrants.
Wealth inequality ties with structural racism: Since most of the world ascribes to some form of capitalism at this moment, I believe wealth inequality is the largest generator for all kinds of societal issues, from violent neighborhoods to substandard education systems to decreased life spans for those less wealthy. Wealth inequality is also where other vicious attitudes such as racism and nationalism find their most enduring expression. I think the Bible is also pretty clear on how hoarding wealth, depriving the poor of basic care, and a greedy attitude towards life is a dead end. Addressing wealth inequality would have a huge domino effect on other issues in society so I care because it is a great way to tackle many issues at once.
Climate Change: The wealthiest, most privileged parts of the world emitting most of the greenhouse gasses (see this link of each country’s emissions) and it will be the least privileged who pay the greatest cost as they don’t have wealth to insulate themselves from drought, famine, social disturbances, or rising coastlines. I care about this issue because as a scientist, I feel a need to apply the knowledge I know to my own life and support science-based solutions and public awareness to the very bad situation we are all in.

Scripture Passage Meaningful to Mission: (Luke 9:62) “Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.'” I have been wrestling with a desire to make a break with my life and express that break through mission living overseas ever since I became a Christian. However, I always felt conflicted and doubtful because of my attachments to my family, career, and security here in the United States. I never had peace to leave my attachments to follow this desire. However, over the past 2 years, I have felt steadily released from my attachments and a strengthened resolve to follow that deeper love and calling abroad. When I made a firm commitment to apply and go overseas, this verse came to my mind. It told me that God had changed me, from one who was looking back, to one who no longer will look back. I felt a great gratitude and awe at the conversion he had accomplished in me, and a new freedom to put my hand to the plow!

A Catholic role model: Richard Rohr’s writings have been a catalyst for several paradigm shifts in my thinking about myself, others, and God. I have been especially been influenced by his books “Immortal Diamond” and “Eager to Love.” He was my introduction to Franciscan thinking and it deeply attracts, resonates with, and inspires me. 

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