Reversing the mission
Sister Joyce Lehman • President, Sisters of the Precious Blood
Having had the privilege and opportunity to travel in several different countries of the world over the past 50 years, I have a heightened sensitivity to the question of what enculturation means. I’ve traveled in countries where the language was primarily English and the customs of the culture were similar enough to my American experience not only to cope, but also to feel a bit at home.
However, in countries where English was only rarely spoken and when I was not able to be with someone who spoke the primary language of the country, I felt a disorientation, a dislocation and was unsure of myself and what I should do, no matter how hospitable those I encountered tried to be. I can say “Good morning” or “please” and “thank you” in several languages, but trying to ask which gate I was supposed to be at when there was a gate change at the airport was far beyond my capabilities. Even the kindness of those trying to help me could not erase the fact that I was a stranger. Recognizing that many, if not most, people in other countries routinely learn more than one language made me realize a different kind of poverty.
These experiences, only brief in length, do however give me an inkling of what people who come to this country go through. Many come with their lives in disarray, fleeing from destitution, violence and lack of safety for themselves and their families. They often do not know the language, the customs, the money; how to navigate transportation; or find food that looks and tastes familiar. This dislocation and helplessness can be overwhelming even when met with hospitality and generosity. Finding someone to speak their language and help them understand new cultural customs is like a lifeboat in a hurricane.
This is where it is wonderful to know that our Sisters over the years have tried to go beyond our English language bias and our usual U.S. customs and to learn another language so they could minister to those who come here seeking dignity of person and life. This issue of Sharing & Caring features several of those Sisters who stand as representatives of the many others who have also served those coming from Spanish-speaking countries.
In a wonderful turnabout, we find that besides what we can do for others, we, as a community, have been greatly enriched by both our Sisters who bring back their experiences to our gatherings and our visitors whose presence graces our houses from time to time. In gathering with them we are also deepened in our spirituality. Some call this dynamic “reverse mission”: those who come from other countries are truly missionaries to us, bringing the gifts and the words of God to us in new and exciting ways.
We are glad to highlight these Sisters and their service, as well as the many others, who may not have known the language but who recognized their brothers and sisters and welcomed in the Precious Blood of Jesus. We thank them, surely, not only for all they have given to others, but also for all the many wonders of God they have brought to us.