On October 1, 2017, Maryknoll Lay Missioners (MKLM), joyfully welcomed its 50th Lay Missioner candidate class as they began their orientation. The class consisted of a diverse group of candidates from across the country. The program, which began in 1975, provided candidates with a foundation for cross-cultural mission success when they embark on their new assignments upon completion.
The orientation program prepared this diverse group of new missioners with a foundation in Scripture and in Mission Theology, so that they will be ready to use their gifts in service to others, walk with people of another culture and accompany them on their journeys.
On December 9, 2017, MKLM was blessed to send forth this Lay Missioner class. Seven faith-filled missioners will depart for their respective mission sites in January 2018, bringing with them a gospel spirit of hope and joy. At that point, they will continue the next stage of their formation, including in-country language training and acculturation, before entering into mission service with our sisters and brothers in the countries to which they journey.
But who are these Maryknoll Lay Missioners? They are accountants, nurses and chefs.
What makes them so special? Nothing actually – they are just like you and me. They are us. We are them. They live among us. They are ordinary people called to mission.
Who is called? Is God calling me? Yes, he is! Me? But there’s nothing special about me. The Bible is full of stories about how God uses ordinary people. Our new missioners are ordinary people called by the extraordinary love of God.
What makes Maryknoll Lay Missioners so extraordinary? Nothing actually. Everybody is called by God to serve him from the moment of their baptism and onward. Each of us is unique. Each of us has unique gifts and a unique character. Remember, Jesus was human just like us.
How did these missioners receive the call? The call to mission is to a person, and this involves the heart, the mind, the conscience and the will. Of course, God calls in different ways to different people. But sometimes it takes a while to discover what God is saying to us. But we must always remember that we are ordinary people called to do extraordinary things for Christ.
The call is not mysterious. Let’s face it – we have all developed a form of mysticism around the idea of calling. We expect it to come in the form of a “sign” – a booming voice, or clouds forming messages in the sky. For some of our missioners, the call came simply from a feeling or by studying the Word of God and learning about the need to proclaim it around the world.
Are Maryknoll Lay Missioners “unsung heroes”? No, not really. Not all heroes wear capes, they say. But perhaps many “normal” people excuse themselves from mission because they don’t feel like saints or super-humans. Though it’s true that all missioners sometimes get put on a pedestal and hailed as heroes by friends, family and strangers alike. However, if everyone were to think that missioners are superstars and therefore in a league of their own, especially if they have never gotten “the call” then they would also be shutting themselves off from their own possibilities.
Missioners too have doubts and second thoughts. There probably comes a point that every missioner wants to pack up and move back home. But it’s at this point that the missioner’s firm sense of calling from God keeps them from leaving. The conviction of the call presses on in the years that follow, keeping them in their new home countries and pushing them even when it’s difficult.
Our missioners are just like everybody else. The call to mission in our lives extends even to our ordinary activities and relationships. Things like marriage, family, location and vocation, and church membership are not just the regular moving parts of the life of a disciple of Jesus, but aspects of God’s call on our lives to live for his glory.
In the end, there is no hierarchy of people with varying levels of calling. All followers are called by God to salvation, to holiness, to devotion, to suffering, and to service. The question is not, “Am I called?” but rather, “How am I called?” The specifics may vary over the course of our lives, but the fact of our calling remains constant.
And our Lay Missioners have answered that call.