When I am out of the country on mission immersion, my daily routine gets into a rhythm that feels so natural. I watch no television, rarely email anyone, and spend maybe 10 minutes per week on the internet. I spend much more time developing relationships, going for walks, greeting people on the street, listening to other’s stories. I eat healthy foods, go to bed early, get up early, and get more exercise.
Visiting program sites, schools, orphanages, and the like gives me a whole flood of ideas about what I could do if I lived there. I have always gone to Latin America where it’s hot, humid, the bugs are enormous, the dogs on the streets are wild, and the air pollution level is subject to the blowing of the wind. There often is no hot water, and during this last immersion to Esquipulas in Guatemala, often no running water at all. The sweat gets so intense I think I’ll never be able to peel my shirt off at the end of the day. I bunk with roommates and have almost no time to myself…and I feel more alive than in any other place.
I don’t miss any of the so-called ordinary comforts of home and am happy to spend the day with a bunch of loud, happy, and energetic children or to sit quietly with an aged person in a home just holding her hand. I’ll gladly walk a couple of miles in the heat just to be in their presence.
At home, I would be doing nothing but complaining about these conditions.
I have three televisions in my house, a couple of computers, a refrigerator that works, hot and cold running water whenever I want it. There is a family-owned Mexican market just down the street from where I live, yet I drive to Safeway. I have neighbors that I have never met. I pass the homeless in the streets and just give a perfunctory brief greeting. I don’t stop to inquire their names or to learn anything about them. I have a nursing home 4 blocks from my house but have only been there once to visit.
When I visit someone’s home on mission it doesn’t matter to me if the house is cluttered with a dirt floor or decorated a-la Martha Stewart, I feel I am on sacred ground. In my own home I spend time wondering if I should hang the brown or the white curtains at the windows, or if I should buy new carpet or polish the floors.
Am I using all of these distractions like the internet, computer, television, fastidious housekeeping to fill a void that’s only filled when I am on mission? My decision this time upon my return was to be in mission at home, wherever I am and regardless of whom I am with. I’ve walked to the family-owned Mexican market for groceries. I’ve started to visit more with friends and to take more time to talk to my neighbors. These are the kinds of activities that are life-giving when I’m on mission and they can be life-giving at home too. I seem to “find my true self” on an immersion experience only to lose myself again when I return home. This time, I brought myself back with me and I sense a new life beginning!
Kris East is a Mission Promoter for the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers working out of the San Lorenzo Regional Mission House and recently returned from guiding a group of catechists on an immersion trip to Guatemala.