Annette Mandeville

COUNTRY: El Salvador
FOCUS: Pastoral Ministry
PROJECT: Christian Base Communities

I grew up in a big Catholic family down the block from Blessed Sacrament School. I attended BSS from K-8 and also went to a Catholic high school. One thing I noticed early on though is that I liked to help other people. If the teacher needed a volunteer, my hand was the first one up. I was good at listening and offering comfort. Those characteristics were also modeled and encouraged by my family and educators. I remember as a kid saving coins for the “Rice Bowl” each Lent and remember my heart being tugged by the images of children who went without food. In high school and college, I had a lot of diverse volunteer experiences, such as spending a summer in Appalachia, which I really liked. After college, I joined the Peace Corps and later Maryknoll Lay Missioners. I was drawn to Maryknoll because their approach to mission was very relational and the missionaries seemed to be strong advocates for the poor.

As a Maryknoll Lay Missioner in Central America, I learned Spanish and experienced a very different culture. I worked with “Christian Base Communities,” which are small groups of people inspired by the Bible to live their Faith in ways that make their communities better, visiting the sick, educating about health, facilitating health based projects (such as building latrines), developing youth groups, and responding to natural disasters.

The material simplicity of life for most Latin American families was refreshing to me. While debilitating poverty is never ok, I personally enjoyed many aspects of simple living, such as washing clothes by hand, walking most places I went, eating simple meals, bathing with a few cups of water, and generally being more in sync with nature and a better steward of resources. The shift away from material comforts, toward relationships and nature, nourished my spirit and faith in new and life-giving ways. One of the biggest lessons I came away with is the importance of putting people first. Our U.S. mainstream culture often puts schedules and agendas before people. We also tend to think and make choices based on individual agendas rather than communal ones. Our culture too often keeps us in a hurried state of multi-tasking. In mission, I had the opportunity to slow down and encounter God in a profound way through simplicity, generosity, and relationships. Overseas mission is not for everyone, but mission is. Any time we extend a helping hand we are doing God’s work, and we are all invited (and commanded) to do this. Each time you mission to others, you will be blessed tenfold in surprising and awesome ways!