(so as you will notice in the first line of this post, this has been sitting unpublished on my blog for some time now… but better late than never… right? hehe :P)
Dear family and friends,
Peace and joy in Christ! As I sit here, just a few days after Christmas, reflecting upon the recent celebration of Christ’s birth, I cannot help but be thankful for all of the blessings that Jesus has given me. Along with family, friends, and home, blessings that I have enjoyed my whole life, I am also struck by the amazing ways that my life has been radically changed and transformed these last three years. And after thanking my God, I must thank you. Thank you for making this new life possible. It is only by your prayers and donations that I have been able to follow the call to become a full-time Catholic missionary and evangelist that God has put on my heart.
After these thanks, I must also apologize and ask for forgiveness.
Forgiveness for not sharing with you the great things that God has been doing in this world through your generous support.
I want to take the opportunity with this newsletter, to fill you in on the last year of my life as a missionary, the life that you made happen. Forgive me if this letter is lengthy, but I want to share with you stories and experiences, not a simple outline. I hope that you will find time to read this whole update, whether it be in one sitting or in ten.
For those of you who are new to my list of benefactors, let me give you a brief ‘catch-up’. In my first year of missions, I was sent to serve for a few months in Spain and then spent the rest of my year serving in Mexico. If you want to know more about any of my mission posts, check out my older blog posts! www.missionaryjames.wordpress.com!
In both of these places, I lived full-time serving the local people, both physically and spiritually. We prayed with the sick, fed the hungry, built homes, and shared our faith in Jesus with all those we met! Following the end of my first year, I was asked by Family Missions Company if I would consider serving as the Short-Term Missions Coordinator. What this meant is that I would be moving myself to be based out of our stateside mission post in Abbeville, Louisiana. I would live stateside and then organize, prepare and lead groups from all over the United States into foreign missions for one week, two weeks or a month at a time, showing others the life of missions and what it means to fully live out the Great Commission. Upon accepting to serve in this position, I re-located myself and my possessions back to the States, but I kept my heart in full-time foreign missions.
As the STM (short-term missions) Coordinator I have been blessed to travel the world, showing others the beautiful life of missions and waiting upon the Lord to tell me how long I will continue serving Him in this way and when He will be calling me back into full-time foreign missions. As the STM Coordinator I find myself traveling, a lot, to many different countries, and then rightly being asked how I am funding my travels and if I am prudently using by benefactors’ donations. One of the blessings of this position, is that while I lead these many mission trips, my trip expenses and a small stipend are being covered by the groups that I am leading. This has allowed me to accept every donation from my benefactors and put it aside completely for the poor that we serve. As my food is paid for by the groups, I can then take your donations and feed Christ in the least of my brothers and sisters. I can put clothes on the back of my Savior and buy Him medicine when He is sick. So again, thank you for allowing me to serve in that way.
Visiting one of the local villages, we were able to catechize, share our testimonies, preach and of course… play with the children!!!
Waking up early for some personal prayer time on the roof of our hostel in Quito, the capital of Ecuador.
Taking a canoe to one of the local villages down the river. Padre Lorenzo, a missionary priest from Italy is leading us today!
As I already said, I have been all over the world this past year. And because of that, I have seen Jesus in so many different ways; with every color skin, alone, with a family, sick, imprisoned, joyful and in despair. I want to take this opportunity to share with you a few moments that touched my heart this past year and that will stay with me for quite some time.
Riding in Father’s truck to the entrance of one of the near communities to visit and celebrate Mass with them.
Our work project for the week was repainting the parish Church in the town of Misahualli, the town where our group was staying for the week.
Canoeing across the river.
Hiking to tres hermanos, one of the furthest communities from town. After a ride to the end of the road, our team then set out on a trek through the jungle up to the village.
Playing with “Baby Santiago” in Tres Hermanos.
Another mission post that I was blessed to spend time in this year was the Island of Saint Lucia. Traveling down to this nation, I was able to spend one month (on two different occasions) with one of our full-time missionary families. The Eckstine family (with their 10 children!) served this past year in Saint Lucia, serving with the local Church and Archdiocese, visiting the sick and elderly, working with local youth, and witnessing to raising a family with Christ as the center. Spending so much time at this mission post not only blessed me in the many different ministries we were a part of, but rekindled that flame of missions that the Lord lit in my heart almost 3 years ago!
Students participating in a program at the local elementary school.
Corpus Christi Eucharistic procession through the streets of Castries, the capital of Saint Lucia and home to our mission post.
Excited and newly animated with this Spirit of missions and of service, the Lord, as He always does, made an opportunity to give witness to what He was again doing in my heart. As the feast of Pentecost approached, we found ourselves attending the National Pentecost Rally at the Archdiocesan Cathedral. Having arrived late, I found myself sitting in the back of the packed Cathedral. As the homily began, Archbishop Robert Rivas began preaching and then abruptly paused. The next thing I heard from him caught me off guard: “Can I ask if James the missionary is here?” Raising my hand he called me up in front of the congregation. As I arrived at the altar, I was then asked if I would preach, if I would tell the Catholic population of this country what it meant to be missionary? What did Pentecost mean? What happened on that day over two thousand years ago?
Night one of our three night rally in a local outreach chapel Ti Rocher. We were able to preach the kerygma, share our testimonies, pray and sing praise with the people of this little mountain community.
Our Summer School of Missionary Evangelism group pictured with Archbishop Robert Rivas at his home in Saint Lucia.
Still in disbelief as to where I was and unprepared to answer… I let the Spirit take over and speak His words: “Pentecost was the fulfillment of the prophets, of Christ’s promise to His followers, that He would forever be with us! Twelve men, scared and hiding, confused and alone, were overcome with power from on high and went forth to change the world! These men were missionaries and we are all called to follow them into mission, to fulfill the Great Commission of Jesus Christ!” A few minutes later, Archbishop Rivas took the mic back from me, saying that I was stealing his homily. With a final question, he asked “How does your life as a missionary compare to the American dream?” The simple answer that the Lord spoke through me, to this nation that often idolizes America was this, “The American dream does not compare. It cannot hold a candle to the glory and grace that is, and that comes with, living as a true disciple of Jesus Christ.”
Feeding one of the women (99 years old) who reside at the home of the Missionaries of Charity in Saint Lucia.
The rest of this past year included leading a trip of priests and seminarians down to our mission house in General Cepeda for a week, participating in World Youth Day, helping to lead our first annual Summer School of Missionary Evangelism, taking our newest group of full-time missionaries down to Mexico for three weeks of training, and finally leading a life-changing three week mission trip to India. If you want to know more about any of these missions and how we served, feel free to check out my blog! I will be sending out another newsletter in a month or two to share with you everything that God did while in India, the way that He moved hearts and planted the seed of the Gospel in a land that is thirsting for more!
The group of seminarians in front of the Cathedral of Saint James in Saltillo on our day of pilgrimage.
Yoga fun on top of the mountain behind our mission house!
Again, I wanted to write this letter to thank each and every one of you for the great support that you have been for me these last 2 and a half years. The mission that the Lord has called me to, and then every mission trip that I have been blessed to lead, would not have been and will not be possible if not for your support, both in prayer and financially. May the Lord bless you for your generosity! I will continue to keep each of you in my daily prayers and I pray that you all have a blessed New Year, filled with love, joy, peace and happiness, all springing up from your relationship with Jesus Christ! God Bless!