Moving on down ... to the peripheries.
The other day I watched a story on local news about a family who moved out of their comfortable home into a trailer park - they actually chose to live in a trailer park. They bought a mobile home, and mom and dad and the boys downsized their lives and moved onto the peripheries. Sounds like something Pope Francis Catholics might do, right? They aren't Catholic though. I think they are Evangelical Christians - both mom and dad met in seminary at Bethel College - the same place some tele-evangelists went to school.
“The most terrible poverty is loneliness, and the feeling of being unloved.” ― Mother Teresa
I mention it because this is something Catholics usually do - or used to do. I'm thinking always of people Like Dorothy Day and Madeleine Delbrel, and the like - who lived with those they 'ministered' to. Our saints did likewise, Catherine of Genoa, Angela Foligno, and so on. How often do we associate Evangelicals with the prosperity Gospel, or missionary activity in South America or something? Yet this story shows how individuals, responding to the Gospel, can move out of their comfort zones to share their lives with others. Here is their story:
Jill Dejewski and her husband Brian had just made the decision to move their family from a two-story house in Maple Grove to a mobile home park in Corcoran.
"It doesn't necessarily make sense on paper," concedes Brian Dejewski. Decisions made with the heart often don't.
The Dejewskis' trip to Maple Hill Estates mobile home park actually began 18 years earlier, when Jill first arrived as a volunteer at a vacation bible school.
"I thought it would be a one week thing and we'd be done," says Jill. Instead, weeks turned into years, and then a life commitment.
"She fell in love with the kids right away," says Brian, who met his wife when they were both seminary students at Bethel University.
Brian received the calling to Maple Hill a bit more reluctantly, but over time came to appreciate the mission as much as his wife.
Minnesota is home to more than 600 mobile home parks. They are places more affluent Minnesotans often drive past, but rarely into.
"There's a stigma that lays over the community that lives in a mobile home park," says Brian.
Nearly 200 mobile homes line the streets of the Maple Hill community. Surveys administered by the Dejewskis indicate more than half the park's families are living near, or below, the poverty line, with the heads of some households unable to speak English.
That's where Jill and Brian come in.
Recruiting dozens of volunteers from churches, schools and civic groups, the Dejewskis have established or expanded a series of programs to assist the residents of Maple Hill, including after school homework help, English language classes, food distribution, legal assistance and summer camps for kids.
The couple has created a non-profit organization called "Mobile Hope," with a goal of instituting the programs at other mobile home parks as well.
But it was Jill's frequent trips between Maple Hill and her home in Maple Grove, which led her to conclude her family could serve the residents of the park more completely if they moved in with them. - Finish reading here.
There are few Catholics, so it seems, who go out into the highways and byways to invite others into the wedding feast. The Dejewski have followed an interior call to live amongst people who have usually been marginalized as 'trailer trash' - what a horrible thing to call human beings. I know Catholics who do this in their own way - the Catholic Worker may be the most famous example of lay evangelization, and I know there are other apostolates, but I'm not sure there are very many street evangelists.
“God doesn't require us to succeed, he only requires that you try.” ― Mother Teresa
Scott Woltze is one active street evangelist I know of. I also think, in his own way, Joseph Sciambra is another fine example. But first, something Scott wrote is very important, at least for me, to fit this type of idiosyncratic ministry, or witness into context for Catholics. From Scott's blog:
Many, many people hereabouts are not becoming Christians for one reason only: there is nobody to make them Christians. Again and again I have thought of going round the universities of Europe, especially Paris, and everywhere crying out like a madman, riveting the attention of those with more learning than charity: "What a tragedy: how many souls are being shut out of heaven and falling into hell, thanks to you!" I wish they would work as hard at this as they do at their books, and so settle their account with God for their learning and talents entrusted to them. -St. Francis Xavier, from a letter recently featured in the Divine Office
The saints have a way of getting our attention. Today the Church is blessed with countless laymen whom God has entrusted with "learning and talents", and yet so few take the faith to the streets. Pope Francis has even implored Catholics to go out into the world, but perhaps his call has gotten lost in the headlines. There is an abundance of Catholic books on seemingly every subject (with more published every year), and there is a dizzying number of online ministries and blogs, and yet all we see on the streets are Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses and the occasional fundamentalist. Yet St. Paul, the most piercing theologian the Church has ever known, was also her most tireless street evangelist.
The great saints agree that writing is secondary to the direct care of souls. St. John Marie Vianney, the Cure of Ars, writes, "St. Francis de Sales, that great saint, would leave off writing with the letter of a word half-formed, in order to reply to an interruption." In other words, any human need, any interruption by a soul "made in the image and likeness of God" commanded his attention over the demands of his writing ministry. He still managed to write his pamphlets and books, but they were secondary to his face-to-face encounters with his fellow man.
Writing a book or managing a website can be an enjoyable and rewarding use of our time, but it can also be a time-consuming process that only yields a small circulation among readers. I'm writing a book like everyone else (hopefully my only book), and whenever I have a block of free time I ask God, "Should I write my book, or do the street ministry?" I always get the same impression: I should walk the streets. - Scott Woltz, Urban Missionaries
Scott's witness is remarkable and important to ponder, and I think, support. He's a husband and father - such extremely important roles for a man in today's society... and he goes out to the streets in the name of Jesus caritas. His conversion story is very important as well - read it here.
“Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing.” ― Mother Teresa
Then the man went off and began to proclaim in the Castro what Jesus had done for him...
A different ministry, albeit it similar - is Joseph Sciambra's outreach. His story is remarkable as well - his experience, albeit hard to read at times, and perhaps difficult to understand, is all the more extraordinary since he also does a form of street ministry. He shows up at gay events in the Castro district of San Francisco letting people know, "Jesus loves gay people." That in itself takes guts. Telling his conversion story, takes more guts - especially since he is pretty much rejected by mainstream Catholics, gay Catholics, just as much as LGBTQ activists - who dismiss him as a sort of nutcase. He's not - his conversion story and his research into the very dark side of the homosexual sub-culture - especially as it relates to pornography, is a very important message for our times. Check out his website here.
His conversion story upsets many people, but it totally reminds me of what happened to the guy in the Gospel of Mark 5 whom Jesus healed and to whom Jesus called to witness much in the same way as Joe Sciambra:
As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed pleaded to remain with him. But he would not permit him but told him instead, “Go home to your family and announce to them all that the Lord in his pity has done for you.” Then the man went off and began to proclaim in the Decapolis what Jesus had done for him; and all were amazed. - Mark 5
That's what Sciambra seems to be doing. It's what Scot Woltze is doing in a similar context. It seems to me it is what Pope Francis calls us all to do within our particular milieu, or going further outside it.
“At the end of life we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made, how many great things we have done.We will be judged by "I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat, I was naked and you clothed me. I was homeless, and you took me in.” ― Mother Teresa
I think these people, and others with notable conversion stories, are brought to our attention to help us understand how single individuals can respond to God's call and follow Christ. Oftentimes without any evidence of making a difference in what they understand to be their 'vocation' or 'apostolate', or even when there are few who seem interested or accept their message and work. Yet as the parable of the Good Shepherd demonstrates, it is God's will, it is God's love at work in and through ordinary people ... It only takes one person to leave the ninety nine who are doing just fine, to go in search of just one who is lost. Heaven and earth rejoices over just one lost sheep who is found and returned to the fold. All the angels and saints in heaven rejoice over just one sinner who repents.
These people have a special place in my prayers and I thank God for the good work he has begun in them. They make me want to be a better man.
Song for this post here.