The call to mission rings out to all people of goodwill. Young people hear it with fresh ears and a desire to begin their lives with a spirit of service. Those entering the second half of their lives hear it through the wisdom gained from their experiences. Single people respond to the call to mission with dedication to Gospel values and service. Families respond with a passion to share the love they feel for each other with the world.
The Maryknoll Lay Missioner Class of 2015 represents the growing diversity of the Catholic Church in the United States. Of the 10 adults being sent by Maryknoll Lay Missioners (MKLM) to Bolivia, Brazil and Tanzania, five were born outside the United States. Four are under the age of 40, while the other six are over the age of 50. Each Maryknoll lay missioner has a unique story, demonstrating how the call to mission reaches laity from many different backgrounds.
Stephen Pope, a teacher and coach from Boston, first began to hear a call to mission when he was very young. His aunt Barbara Pope was a Maryknoll lay missioner before he was born, but she told stories of her time in Latin America with such passion and joy that Stephen could feel how transformative the experience was for her. “I’ll hopefully be a more loving, kind person who can think differently—more broadly and deeper—and think from a different point of view,” Stephen shared regarding how mission in Mwanza, Tanzania, might impact his life and the lives of those he will serve.
Sonny and Hong Nguyen responded to the call to mission later in life. The couple was deeply moved by a visit with children in orphanages in their native Vietnam. Sonny reflected on this experience: “When we were in the U.S., we thought that just raising money would be enough. But, no, the children also need love. That’s why we decided we needed to get involved personally.” Sonny and Hong are heading to Cochabamba, Bolivia.
Marilyn and Jim Kott, from Redlands, Calif., built their lives together serving their country as Air Force officers. After retiring, they felt ready to take another service step by responding to the Church’s call to mission. “Serving others in this capacity comes from the same desire that serving our country did,” said Marilyn. She and Jim participated in Church and service for years. They are inspired by the history of the Maryknoll movement and honored to follow in the footsteps of all Maryknollers. They will serve in São Paulo, Brazil.
Mission was the foundation of Guadalupe and Charlie Petro’s relationship. The couple met while Charlie, from New Port Richey, Fla., served for two years as a lay volunteer with the Edmund Rice Christian Brothers in Lima, Peru. Guadalupe and Charlie are going to serve in Mwanza, Tanzania, with their two children, Charles (6 years old) and Veronica (5 years old). Guadalupe, a native Peruvian, explains, “We want our children to understand the importance of mission in our lives—the importance of serving others, living simply and having an international perspective.”
An international perspective influenced Claire Stewart’s decision to become a Maryknoll lay missioner. After graduating in 2014 from Spring Hill College in Alabama with a degree in international relations, Claire, who was born in Nashville, Tenn., worked in Houston helping asylum seekers navigate the asylum process. Listening to the stories of asylum applicants inspired Claire to go on mission. “Each person had a different story about how they had suffered persecution in their country of origin. Those applications helped me realize there are a lot of people suffering from global injustice,” Claire said. “There’s a global need for a little bit of mercy.” Claire will work with MKLM in São Paulo, Brazil.
Tawny Thanh and Hiep Vu return to MKLM after a five-year hiatus to care for Hiep’s father. The couple, also natives of Vietnam, spent 10 years working as Maryknoll lay missioners in Southeast Asia. Their return marks the beginning of a new experience for them as they shift from Southeast Asia to South America. Living in California most recently, they met many friends in their parish who spoke Spanish. Tawny elaborates why they’re happy to serve in Cochabamba, Bolivia: “By the time we retire and come back, knowing Spanish and Latin American culture will enable us to help the diocese with many things.”
Hiep explained that he didn’t think he ever left being a Maryknoll lay missioner during his hiatus. In fact, Hiep feels he has always been a lay missioner in some way. “I think it’s in my blood,” he said. Hiep’s desire to serve others from the time he was young was the beginning of a path that led him to MKLM. Tawny added that now that they are Maryknoll lay missioners, everything they do to help others, whether at home or overseas, is a form of mission. “When we reach out to others, we do it from a missioner point of view,” she said.
While each new lay missioner is unique in the path that led him/her to join the Maryknoll Lay Missioner Class of 2015, they all go forth with a heart burning to serve God. MKLM’s Class of 2015 joins a committed force of Maryknoll lay missioners already working in the field who are striving to model Christ’s love and compassion as they offer much needed services and aid to economically poor communities around the world. The transformative nature of a response to this call to mission will help these newest lay missioners encounter Christ in new ways throughout their lives, whether they stay with MKLM for many years or return home after their first three-and-a-half-year commitment. When they became Maryknoll lay missioners, they became lay missioners for life!
Featured Image: 2015 MKLM Class (l. to r.): Jim & Marilyn Kott, Sonny & Hong Nguyen, Hiep Vu & Tawny Thanh, Charlie & Guadalupe Petro, Stephen Pope, Claire Stewart, with young Charles and Veronica Petro. (Courtesy of MKLM)