|One of my co-workers explaining the schedule on International Women's Day|
Who are we meant to serve? This question resounds in my heart as I hear the readings today and reflect back on the past 3.5 years of my life. When I left my home to travel to Cambodia in January 2014, a 57 hour adventure that is a tale for another time, I didn't know what I would be doing in Cambodia. I didn't know anyone in Cambodia. I, honestly, knew very little about Cambodia. I just felt a strong pull to go. One of the most common misconceptions about my work has been that I was there to work with Catholics or work to convert more Catholics.
For context, Cambodia is about 97% Buddhist and most folks are happy to remain as such. For that reason, I think the first reading really struck me. It says, "Observe what is right, do what is just; for my salvation is about to come, my justice, about to be revealed...for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples."
God's call, when I went to Cambodia, was just that: strive to do what is right and just for all people. It was not for me to decide who would be the beneficiary of my love or to set out some kind of requirement. All I could do was be a good example, live a life that demonstrated what I believe it means to be a good Catholic and if others chose to follow, maybe they would choose to live their lives in a similar way.
|Credit: C. Dittmeier|
One of my co-workers in particular comes to mind when I think about the effect we can have on those around us, usually without even knowing. My personal approach to work is to do whatever needs to be done and to try to meet needs I see arise but my passion is to help others to reach their full potential in whatever passion they choose to follow. For much of my time at my ministry, I thought this one co-worker was an undervalued asset in our organization. She had worked in various roles and excelled at any project she was given but was confined within the hierarchy of the society that said her job title was not that of great power. However, whenever it came to speaking out for the rights of our Deaf staff or ensuring they were included in decisions, she would step up to the plate, even if it meant compromising her own relationships with other hearing staff members.
I didn't realize how much she had been watching me for the entire time I had been working there until about the last year of my ministry. The moment for me that stands out was when we had an incident with another staff member and she came to me asking how best to handle the situation. She was visibly shaking at the prospect of having to discuss this with the higher-ups in our organization and we talked through her well-formulated plan.
At one point, I asked her if she wanted me to get involved and, although it would have made her life much easier in that moment, she looked me square in the eye and without any quiver in her voice said, "No. I need to be brave. You will not be here in the future and I need to practice being brave now while you are here to support me."
For me, this moment is one of the most profound of my experience in Cambodia. Had you asked me, "What is it that you do in Cambodia? Or, who do you serve?" I would have rattled off my normal elevator pitch, "I manage communications for the Deaf Development Programme, which has six different projects striving to ensure deaf Cambodians are accepted, respected and included as equals in all aspects of Cambodian Society. I specifically handle social media, the website, volunteers and visitors. I serve the Deaf Community" But, in that moment with my colleague, I realized that was not the only group I was meant to serve.
Like Jesus in the gospel today, encountering the woman of great faith who showed him his ministry was for more than just a select few, I realized that I was not just the communications manager, I was building the capacity of our staff not only through direct actions likes trainings but also as they observed how I lived my ministry.
|Credit: C. Dittmeier|
I think the actions of Jesus and the message of the first reading are a great reminder for all of us. We are not the ones who decide who is worthy or who should be helped. All we can do is live each day of our lives in a way that helps others to live through their own faith, to shine with their own light, to be brave. We can either help rub off some of their rough edges and polish them or we can tarnish their natural glow.
Who are you meant to serve?
This is an adaption of a 'church talk' presented in Allentown, PA on behalf of Maryknoll Lay Missioners, the thoughts and perspectives expressed are those of Karen Bortvedt.