Mission trips shows donors impact of gifts

Posted: 2/9/2017

By Molly Williamson

Judy Pearson of Mason, Ohio, attends one of the largest, wealthiest churches in her diocese. Yet, she was moved by the level of faith she witnessed at a storefront church in one of Glenmary Home Missioners’ East Tennessee missions.

“I met a lady who said she knew that there would never be a Catholic church in her part of Tennessee in her lifetime,” Judy said. “(Before Glenmary’s arrival,) she was traveling 45 minutes to an hour for Mass. Now, it is basically in her backyard. It makes you realize that maybe you don’t need a big church, you just need people with heart.”

Judy was one of eight people who traveled to East Tennessee in October 2016 as part of a donor mission trip led by Susan Lambert, Glenmary’s planned giving officer, and Jodi Mott, projects coordinator for mission education and ministry. In the last 11 years, Susan has taken more than 100 donors on mission trips to show them the missioners’ work in action.

Every participant is given a map of the area, itinerary, list of other participants, trivia sheet and information about Glenmary. The attendees stay and eat in locally-operated hotels and restaurants to give them a flavor for the culture and insight into the residents’ way of life.

“When they are educated about the missions and know what they do, it inspires them to be a part of it,” Susan said.

This year, the group saw the Toppa Joppa Group Volunteer Site and two mission parishes. They also met brothers, priests and coworkers, including Brother Craig Digmann, who recently began a Catholic presence, outreach mission in Hancock County, Tenn., and Father Steve Pawelk, who introduced the group to many residents of his mission comunity.

Seeing the missions is invaluable for the donors, said Father Steve, pastor of St. Teresa of Kolkata in Maynardville, Tenn. Donors can receive a report, statistics or pictures, but it is never the same as actually experiencing the mission.

“It is hard to explain the distance driving between the mountains or the housing conditions or the joy in people’s hearts,” Father Steve said. “When you encounter it, your gift is no longer abstract. You can see that your sacrifice is really making a difference today in people’s lives.”

Visiting the missions gives donors like Judy a better understanding of Glenmarians’ work. She said she never truly understood the meaning of the word evangelization until she went on the mission trip. To see how the Catholic Church wove itself into the community was “amazing.”

She was impressed with the way that the priests and brothers interacted with local residents. The donors met a man who was in a dance group with Father Steve. The man fueled his home with coal that flew off a train that passed by his house. Inside his rusted car, covered with vines, he kept drug-store packages of pictures he took.

“Father Steve acted like the man was the next Ansel Adams,” Judy said. “The man was not Catholic, and Father Steve was not trying to convert him, at least not overtly. He was trying to be a presence in and connect with members of the community.”

By recognizing that Glenmarians evangelize through building relationships, the mission participants had a keen insight into Glenmary’s mission work, Father Steve said. Glenmarians proclaim the message of Christ by being a brother and a neighbor to those in the community.

“It is not a program or knocking on doors,” Father Steve said. “It is speaking and living the word of God.”

Jeanne Schlagetter of Sidney, Ohio, said she learned a valuable lesson from one of the residents she met – they want to be seen as equals, not projects.

“They want people to see them, not fix them,” Jeanne said. “That really stuck with me, because it makes you approach it from their side. You think you are trying to help, but they just want to be seen as fellow pilgrims on the journey, fellow children of God.”

Part of the Glenmary mission is preserving the dignity of the individual, Father Steve said. Though the residents benefit from Glenmary’s assistance, most of them are not begging for help.

“We are all there to help each other through partnership,” Father Steve said. “One partner may be able to do more, and the people we serve are grateful for that extra assistance, but none of them are helpless. No one is there just to take.”

For many years, Mary Lou Cooper of Beecher, Ill., has made items for Glenmary mission residents, but she never realized the extent of the poverty in the mission areas. She was surprised by the level of need as well as the joy and gratitude she saw. Everyone she met was happy and appreciative.

She said the trip prepared her for the holiday season.

“You come back with the most special feeling that the world is not that bad,” Mary Lou said. “(After the trip), I have a better understanding of what it means to be a Catholic and what Glenmary does. Everyone I met was so nice. I know they will remember me and pray for me, and I will continue to pray for them.”

Photo: The October 2016 Glenmary Home Missioners donor mission trip attendees break for lunch at a locally-owned restaurant with guides Jodi Mott and Susan Lambert (second from right and far right). 

This story first appeared in the January 2017 Boost-A-Month-Club newsletter. To get access to one-of-a-kind stories from the home missions, join the Boost-A-Month-Club.