I always connected the word "missionary" (or "missioner", if you want to avoid the stigma of the past) to the foreign missions - to Latin America, to Africa, to Asia. The dream of becoming a missionary, of serving the poor in a foreign land, is what first led me to thoughts of entering religious life. And that same dream is what led me to Bolivia, the poorest country in South America, and fueled my two years spent there.
(Now before I continue, let me clarify - by "missionary", I do not mean "thump them over the head with the Bible and make them convert", I mean "following Jesus' mission in serving the poor")
However, last weekend, I experienced something that led me to change that mindset. I ventured back home to Maryland to attend a (most amazing) discernment retreat - "winter-coat" cold, Friday-purple-wearing, accentless (well, sort of), "why aren't people saying 'good morning' to me as I pass them on the sidewalk?" Maryland
The weekend passed by too quickly and Sunday evening, I was off on my way back to Georgia by way of the Atlanta airport. The trip was not too awesome, since I didn't feel well anyway. Luckily, God was watching over me and allowed me to sleep once my butt hit the seat on the plane and not wake up until an hour into the flight. Anyway, I arrived in Atlanta safe and sound and waited outside for the shuttle to Macon. When the shuttle pulled up, the driver put my bag in the back and I took a seat. As I waited, I listened to the conversations around me. I heard the driver friendly talking with a passenger, both speaking in very thick Georgia accents. I smiled and thought "Yup, I'm home".
The thought made me laugh but shocked me at the same time. I hadn't had that feeling in years, not since my various returns to Bolivia after trips home for funerals, visits, etc. And I realized that I had become a missionary here in my little city of Macon, Georgia.
My thought of "missionary" being connected to foreign missions shattered, as I realized that - just like in Bolivia - I had grown to love Macon so much that everything about it becomes "home", while still knowing and understanding I'm an outsider. In Bolivia, that meant understanding that my white skin, my non-native Spanish, and my hazel eyes made me stand out and an outsider. In Macon, that means understanding that my white skin and my bland accent make me stand out and an outsider.
I think that's what makes a missionary - being at home in a place that isn't truly your home. What's especially amazing is that God gives us missionaries so many different homes throughout our lives. Especially if you're a Daughter of Charity, whose whole mission is to be constantly on the move and go where the poor need you the most. While that, in some light, may seem like God is just moving missionaries about like pieces on a chess board, it's really like God is giving us the opportunity to be at home with the whole world, not just our tiny piece of it. And that is truly a blessing.
Not to mention, it is also amazing for me to think that I've already found some part of permanent home in the Company of the Daughters of Charity. Becoming at home in a place isn't instantaneous and isn't always easy, yet I know that, no matter where I'm sent on mission, as long as I'm with the Daughters, I'm home - whether that be Emmitsburg, California, Taiwan or France, whether or not I've known my housemates before. I'll be at home with the spirituality, home with the traditions, home with St. Vincent, St Louise and St Elizabeth Ann.
And for that, I thank God for the Daughters of Charity and I thank Him for making me a missionary. It's not what I expected when I first had that dream but it's more amazing than I thought.