Instrument of Christ

For a couple of months I’ve been accompanying a friend whom I met at a women’s shelter. We meet every Friday to chat about life and pray the rosary together. In getting to know her, she has consistently showed a lot of interest in her faith, specifically in receiving Holy Communion, Confession, and other sacraments.

One Sunday, we met her at Mass and she had the opportunity to receive her first Confession. Unfortunately she wasn’t able to, but her and I stayed for Mass and sat together. Throughout Mass, I was trying to explain things to her and periodically holding the hymnal so we could both sing along. At one point, while I was holding the hymnal for her, she began to cry. I wondered if she was crying because she wasn’t able to go to Confession. I gave her a moment, then proceeded to ask her what was wrong. She somewhat brushed it off and said it was nothing. We got a text from her that afternoon thanking us for being with her at Mass and thanking us for being in her life in general. We didn’t end up finding out what was wrong, but she seemed happy, so I wasn’t worried.

The following Friday, I was at the women’s shelter talking to her and seeing how she was doing. She confided in us about the ongoing conflicts within her family. We were about to join in prayer, when I was reminded of her tears on Sunday, so I asked her, “what happened at Mass the other day; were you upset that you couldn’t receive Confession?” She responded by telling us that she was so touched at the love she was receiving through us. She felt loved by us holding the hymnal for her; she felt loved during Mass when we would look back at her and ask her if she was okay; she felt loved when we answered her questions. She shared with us that she hadn’t felt loved like that for a very, very long time.

Holding the hymnal. Asking if she was okay. Answering her questions. That’s all it took. We all have the ability to give this love. This moment helped me to realize that I could be an instrument of God’s love in a way that I had never expected. So simple, pure and authentic. Our God is working in us and through us whether we realize it or not, and it is often in the ways we least expect it- in those small gestures done with genuine love. My friend was able to recognize the presence of God in me, and I was able to recognize the presence of the Lord in her. When she was able to recognize Christ in me, this opened me up to see Christ’s love being poured out to me through her. We were both able to become instruments of Christ to one another. God wants to use us as His instruments, and when He does, it is grand.

screen-shot-2016-12-14-at-10-36-50-amKatrina is a first-year missionary from Stonewall, Manitoba, Canada. She loves being Canadian, singing, being a twin, and striving towards sainthood.

Similarities that Make All the Difference

Most people tend to focus on the differences between themselves and those around them. Especially when the exterior differences are very obvious. When one considers the chronically homeless this is evident. The poor hygiene, substance abuse, mental illness combined with their status in life make most people want to avoid them at all costs.

I have one friend on the street who is almost as different as it’s possible to be. He has a very loud personality and refuses to be ignored. With mental issues, substance addiction, and constantly blaming everyone else for his problems, even the only people trying to help, there did not seem to be anything we really had in common other than enjoying card games. This is how I saw him for the first couple months I knew him.

In a single encounter everything changed. One day he was ranting to me about everything he had been through. Amidst all his experiences I couldn’t relate to, I noticed that almost everything he was saying was in some way related to his sister, and how all he has ever wanted to do is take care of her. All of a sudden my vision of him changed.

I realized for the first time how similar he and I are. We both care deeply about those close to us, and are willing to do anything to protect them. Anger issues, the ability and willingness to persevere through hard times, and so many other things seemed to unite us in that moment. Despite the plethora of differences, for a brief moment we were the same person.

This moment of unity changed how I see all my friends on the street. I have begun noticing the similarities more and the differences less. They are no longer homeless, not simply “friends on the street”, they are real people, real friends, who just happen to be on the street.

screen-shot-2016-11-14-at-2-05-16-pmDillon Armstrong is a first-year missionary from Montana. He enjoys ice-cream, pizza, apple pie, and breakfast. Besides eating, he likes grooving to some smooth jazz.

The Exchange

What’s in a name? On the streets of Denver, I’m learning that it’s more than I realized. We meet a lot of people with ‘street names,’ or nicknames, like “St. Louis” or “Texas,” “Dr. Mo” or “Rabbit.” With some friends, it’s a big deal for them to reveal their real name to us.

Once in September, just as my team was leaving a park we visit frequently, we briefly met a disheveled woman who hesitantly introduced herself as “Baby Girl.” I didn’t see her in that park again until nearly a month later, when she was passing through on a bicycle. Recognizing one another, she stopped to say hello; the greeting was warm, and when I asked how she was doing, she replied, “it’s actually Rachel, and a lot better than last time.” A few weeks later, she passed us again on her bicycle, and I could greet her using her real name and she looked up from under her hood and smiled with a returned, “hello, Jayne!”

It’s always a little zinger to the heart when a friend on the street remembers my name, too. Walking home after that encounter with Rachel, it hit me that it’s the exchange of names that is so important. We missionaries learn that to love is to will the good of the other, manifested in giving of oneself. Jesus commands us that “no one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Loving others happens through both words and actions. It’s simple enough (and good!) to give material things to someone you meet on the street corner. However, there is a deeper gift to humbly offer our words to that individual. By taking that risk to give someone your own name and going beyond the material, you are backing up action with words that show you truly care for him or her. With that exchange of names and the fuller gift of self (your love), the door to friendship is opened.

screen-shot-2016-11-07-at-7-48-22-pmJayne Pasternak is a first-year missionary from New Jersey. A rock enthusiast after studying geology at school in Minnesota, one of her major contributions to CIC community life is a rock collection on the kitchen windowsill.

Peace and Joy

“My heart is restless until it rests with Thee.” I’ve heard this so many times, it’s almost a tired cliché. Little did I know how quickly He would teach me the meaning of these words as a Christ in the City missionary.
A friend in the streets greeted me with “Hi, Joe! You look happy today.”

“You know what, I truly am,” I replied, slightly caught off guard by his statement.

“Any particular reason?” he inquired.

I thought for a few seconds before I answered, “I’m not really sure…”
I wondered about our conversation during our drive back home, trying to figure out what the reason could be. It couldn’t be my breakfast from that morning, that’s for sure (I completely burnt my poor bagel after ignoring the timer dial on the toaster)! The drive was just long enough to reflect over the past month.

It’s been a month filled with laughter, song, and community. It’s been a month that started with a random trip to Sonic that culminated with a bunch of strangers trying not to laugh at each other while playing a sad, sad, solemn game. It’s been a September spent waving at random drivers while having dance parties inside Christ in the City’s big white van and rocking out to Backstreet Boys while making pizza. Above all, the past month for me has been about making dozens of new friends on the streets of Denver and sharing with them countless handshakes, hugs, and laughs, hearing their stories and helping them in whatever small way I can.

How can I not be happy after gaining nineteen new brothers and sisters, all eager to grow in and live out their faith? How can I not be at peace when my every waking moment has been filled with joy and charity? How can my heart be restless when I’m exactly where I am called to be?

Joe Lugue is a first-year missionary from Rancho Cordova, CA. He likes puppies, babies, Oxford commas and irony.

Heavenly Fame

“I don’t need my name in lights, I’m famous in my Father’s eyes, make no mistake, He knows my name.” These are lyrics from the song “He Knows My Name” by Francesca Battistelli. I heard this song playing in the house the other day and I think a lot of us have wanted to be famous and for the whole world to know who we are at some point in our lives. Whether it’s famous for being a movie star, finding a cure for cancer, or being Pope, we all secretly want to leave our mark on this world somehow. But most of us have a group of people or at least one person in our lives that knows our name. What if no one knew your name? What if you haven’t been called by name in days or even months? Sadly, this is the case for a lot of our friends on the street. Thousands of people walk by friends on the street without even acknowledging them. The reality is that not everyone can know everyone’s name. But God does. And He calls us each by name, including and especially the people who don’t hear their name by other humans. Earthly fame shouldn’t matter, but we should do the best we can to remind each other that our Father does know each of our names.

Hannah Benes is a first-year missionary from Lincoln, NE. She enjoys cats, tacos, and laughter (in no particular order).