There’s a lot of talk these days on evangelization and how to make disciples. The how to’s, the right and wrongs, programs and curriculum and the silver bullets that don’t exist. All the while forgetting the one at times the Lord puts right in front of you. In the gospels there are no two encounters alike. Every encounter with Jesus is different; the woman at the well, the blind Bartimaeus, Zacchaeus, the paralytic etc.
We fool ourselves into thinking there’s only way to encounter God. A systemic, step by step approach much like the process of making widgets. Only these widgets are not widgets at all, but people who breathe and bleed the same color as everyone else. People made in the image and likeness of God, the imago dei. People with joys and sorrows. People who have been deeply hurt and wounded which has caused them to build walls around their hearts out of fear of further rejection, abandonment and shame. People Jesus loves and people we must learn to love.
Once upon a time, I was a barely breathing. I was spiritually bleeding out much like the woman in the gospel of Matthew (5:25-34) hemorrhaging for twelve years. If only, she could touch the hem of His garment, she believed, she would be healed. The of details of my hemorrhage no longer matter. It’s all small potatoes to the workings of the Lord’s grace in my life. Touching the hem of the Lord’s garment did in fact heal me, and it can heal you to. I believe that from the depth and core of my being.
At that time I was scantily holding on to the pieces of my broken heart when I first met Deacon Ed. Meeting Ed was nothing short of what those of us passionate about evangelization call a “divine appointment”. A time and place only the God of time and space can divinely orchestrate by His supernatural workings of grace.
Deacon Ed lead my very first mission trip to Peru almost thirteen years ago. In those days by all means I was Catholic. Baptized at six weeks old, received my first communion at 10 yrs old, and just confirmed at Easter Vigil two months prior to that first mission trip. Yet, dare I say…. I didn’t know Jesus. Honest Truth! I identified with all things Catholic, but I was missing an essential part of the mission, the person of Jesus Christ.
In the two months prior to that trip. I completed RCIA and received the sacrament of confirmation at the Easter Vigil. The vigil was beautiful, but I didn’t encounter Jesus during RCIA or at the vigil. I received a whole lot of catechesis on the teachings of the Church and the sacraments etc. but I had no idea who Jesus was because I hadn’t encountered Him up to that point (it was my pre-evangelization). To me, Jesus was a historical figure on the cross and not someone I could be in relationship with. My encounter and mystagogy occurred not only midst of my brokenness, but in the desert sands of Peru.
So there I was meeting Ed for the first time at his home for a ride to the airport to mission in Piura, Peru. Crammed into a mini man with him and two other men I didn’t know and no clue what I was about to do. I had no clue what it meant to be a disciple. In all honestly, I thought I was just going to do a good thing and volunteer. Oh and running from me was a big part too. Seriously, some how I got a plane ticket and all the vaccinations I needed three weeks before the trip. I thought I was taking a vacation with the severance check I received for being laid off.
I was on the run from all that was hemorrhaged from my life. A shell of a person with so many external identities. I had no clue, no idea, or plan on how to puzzle my broken heart and life back together. It was all so overwhelming and I had no energy or thoughts on how to piece the puzzle together. I was missing a major piece of the puzzle, Jesus.
What I did know, what it was like to lose everything. Additionally, I knew the desire to hide from the shame. The same shame of sin, and brokenness Adam and Eve endured when God called out to Adam, asking him “where are you” in the garden. We all foolishly think we can hide from an all knowing and powerful God.
Yet, God knows just what we need in our distress. His divine encounters provide another to walk with you. The art of accompaniment is something Ed did silently, in his own way, but very well. It was deeply rooted in the love of Christ. Pope Francis calls accompaniment an art in which “teaches us to remove our sandals before the sacred ground of the other” (EG, 169). Accompaniment brings healing, liberation, growth, and ultimately fosters freedom in Christ.
Deacon Ed’s discipleship approach was what I’d call a swooping mission. He swooped in with no notice, flash, or flair, yet took me under his wing in simplicity, humility, and care. This wounded bird found shelter and safety under his wing. There was no condemnation or judgment. Just love.
There was beating me over the head with the Catechism or teachings of the Church. Nope. Ed lead with presence and love. He was honest and direct, and never beat around the bush to my questions on the faith or the mission.
Ed was unbelievably hospitable in giving me a ride to the airport, keeping an eye on me during travel, checking in and asking me if I was ok daily throughout the trip. He bought me a drink in the Mexico City airport and never pried too much into the pain of my life.
I’m not sure what Ed knew about my life at the time, but a part of me knew, he knew the pain of heart break. Years later, I learned he lost his first wife to breast cancer after 45 years of marriage. It was not long after her passing that he found himself in Peru on his first mission trip.
Ed’s approach to discipleship included few words. He lead by example and invitation. On that first mission during the building of a home, he showed me how to dig a hole using an old, beat up, hand held, post hole digger. Only words of encouragement rolled off his lips. There were times, I stood on a ladder next to him as he showed me how to secure the corrugated metal to form a proper tin roof.
His leadership didn’t always include administration and organization, honestly he was sort of a disaster in that area. Just not his gifts. However, just about every new missionary learned to build. His mission was all about the build, the construction of just one more home to one more family in need. Looking back, I think that’s how Ed saw the Kingdom too, just send me one more Lord to build up and disciple. I believe that’s how Ed saw the building of the kingdom.
Ed’s passion and respect for the poor was always voiced in his speech on “what may look like trash to us is not always trash”. He would remind us all that in tearing down of an old home to rebuild, nothing is trash. He’d say, “they reuse everything so be cautious, be respectful of what it is you are tossing about and throwing around as you tear down”.
One message I understand, because when you lose your home, the smallest items become a life line of safety even if the life line is false security. At the time it’s the only life line one knows. How easily we forgot once on the other side. I believe the trash Ed spoke about was also the metaphor for one’s life and brokenness. Be cautious, be respectful, because the Lord will reuse everything making it all new for His glory. That trash, that heartache, that brokenness, those wounds never go wasted in God’s divine economy. For the Lord of the universe wastes nothing in the divine economy. He can make all things new for His glory. Therefore, proceed with caution.
Two years after that first trip Ed approached me about going on the trip again. When I told him financially it was not possible he did not let it go. He approached me again and again telling me he knew of an anonymous donor that would pay for me to go. Feeling so unworthy of such a generous gift I told him no, but he would not let it go. I finally said yes. It’s after that third trip that I felt called to more and made the decision to go back to school to work for the Church.
Ed also invited me to be a Extraordinary Minster of Holy Communion. When he approached me about it, the first words out of my mouth were “my annulment has not been granted.” Ed was not one to get hung up on process and procedures, he said, “come to the training anyway, you’ll be fine.” Of all the ways in which I minister this is one of the most life giving. Me – the body of Christ, giving the Eucharist – the body of Christ, to another – the body of Christ. That’s kingdom building.
In all of the things Ed did, and showed me, there will always be one moment that stands out more than any other moments. Before I started going to Peru alone, I went with my parish group. My parish group always went the first week of July. Part of that reason and decision to be in Piura during that time is for the monthly healing mass. This mass is celebrated the first Wednesday of every month and it’s always a packed church. The church is standing room only as people come with great faith that Jesus heals. They bring pictures and photos of loved ones who are home bound and not able to get to the mass. They come with expectant faith that Jesus heals. The atmosphere in the room is palpable with such faith. I’ve attended many healing masses in the states and still, there is nothing like it that compares to those masses.
At this healing mass when missionaries are present, Fr. Joe invites and commissions the missionaries to go into the congregation and lay hands on the Peruvians. That first mission trip was the first time I ever attended a healing mass or saw Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. When Fr. Joe commissioned the missionaries to go, I stayed in my pew. Of the thousands present that night, Ed came and laid hands on my head and prayed for a long time. I wept, and wept, and wept. Snot coming out my nose and all over my sweater sleeve. The stranger next to me cried too, as she rubbed my back in compassion. To this day, I’m not sure who was bringing healing to who among the three of us.
In that moment, I did not experience anything supernatural or mystical as some often do. I didn’t feel the warmth of God’s love fill me. I did not tremble, shake or see visions. What I did experience was a great awareness that Ed could of laid hands on any one of the thousands in the pews, but he found me. He choose me! The Lord sent him to me. Still to this day, my heart is moved by gratitude for the Lord using Ed to bring His love and mercy to my broken heart.
I have now attended more than twelve healing masses in Piura and laid hands on hundreds if not thousands of Peruvians in those masses, in visiting homes and walking the streets of the poorest villages. I’ve seen the miraculous, I’ve seen the healing of body, mind and soul. I’ve seen tears flow and laughter too. I’m astounded and humbled by the way the Lord has used me to bring His love, mercy and healing to so many. It brings me to my knees. I often wonder if the reason I’m so comfortable praying with others is because I’ve been in that vulnerable place of desperation and in need of God’s mercy and love. I get it, I mean I really get it. Jesus heals!
Since then I’ve had multiple encounters of the Lord’s love, grace, and power. Those close to me know I’ve seen and experienced God do so amazing things! Yet, there is nothing that’s had a greater impact in my walk with Jesus than that very first trip to Peru. This blog would not exist, my going back to school, the giving away of my belongings, my mission of six months in Peru, and my quest and thirst for more of God, none of it would exist without that first mission trip to Peru. Everything is hinged on the very first trip in which I encountered Christ.
That first encounter was so radical that I knew I could never go back. I was no longer the same. Much like the woman at the well (John 4:4-26). I was no longer a shell, but filled with life giving water. I wanted more and in receiving the more, I’ve been compelled to tell everyone about my Jesus and the water that over flows with peace and joy when you know Him.
This past weekend, I attended the funeral mass for Ed. I was moved with emotion beyond what I could of anticipated. So many tears flowed that I could not stop, nor did I want them to stop. I’m not sad Ed is gone. Oh no, he’s home in our Father’s house. The place we all long for. My tears where of profound gratitude for the goodness and mercy of God. A God who used Ed for a rescue mission. A God who sent Ed to rescue me. To rescue my heart and fashion me to the true vine. Any fruit I’ve seen in my own life is Ed’s fruit too, because without Ed there’d be no fruit of my own. We are connected to the same vine, the true vine, the person of Jesus Christ.
Deacon Ed you will be dearly missed. Yet, I celebrate you, your life, your love for the people of Piura and the mission of bringing Jesus to those who don’t know Him, but need Him the most. I will bring you with every mission trip I take and I do believe there are many to come. Thank you for teaching me to be compelled by love.
Some say when you find your people, you find your mission. I also believe that to be true. There is one place where the water flows, a village the Lord beckons for the Kingdom to grow, a people I love more than most, where the smiles of children shine like the sun, and the power of God is electric. An open heaven in the midst of desert sand like no other place I’ve experienced. Ed, much like your passion for the next build, I too know my build will be there when the Lord calls me back. It’s the place I’m fully alive and doing what the Lord created me to do. For that and so much more I thank you! I praise God for you!
Until I see you again Ed, please say hello to my Dad, tell him his girl is all good! I look forward to the day when I see you both at the the heavenly gates. When the sound of your infectious laughs welcomes me home. God speed my post building, dancing partner, hand laying friend. So grateful you showed me the way to the person of Jesus Christ.
During this time of crisis, reach to out the one that is lost, the forgotten, that elderly family member or neighbor, the one with anxiety and fear. For God did not give us a spirit of fear, no He did not. He gave us a spirit love and perfect love casts out all fear (1 John 4:18). So make the call, send the email, the text or video call, help the neighbor who ever that neighbor is and be compelled by love in all things. Show God’s love, mercy, and care to the one the Lord puts in front of you, puts on your heart, and brings to mind today.
Let us be compelled by love and come together in unity, compassion, and love for one another advancing the kingdom of God. That neighbor may encounter Christ in you which will changes everything, because the love of Christ always heals and transforms hearts.
Resources in understanding the importance of an encounter in evangelization I suggest two resources:
- Evangelii Gaudium: Joy of the Gospel by Pope Francis an apostolic exhortation
- Forming Intentional Disciples, The Path to Knowing Jesus by Sherry Weddell