It took me a long time to answer my call, even though I knew what it was from an early age. Growing up post-Vatican II meant that most of my ideas about Sisters came from pop culture rather than actual Religious. As time wore on, I had built up such a notion of what a Sister was that I could not imagine being able to live up to it. And so I went about building up my life until the inevitable happened and I entered the Maryknoll Sisters.
I was so sure that I had something to offer the world – and for me, the draw was to work with the poorest of the poor, and that meant leaving the United States and going on mission to Cambodia. And that is where my crisis of faith really kicked in – not in God, really, but in my interpretation of his plan. What could he possibly have been thinking – or rather, what did I just do?
The idea that I might not have it right started nagging at me in novitiate and now weighs heavily on me as I prepare to go into full-time ministry. For the last eight months, I have been in language training. It started out promising enough, but while I can express myself in Khmer (cuz I’ve always been a talker), I catch very little of what people are saying to me. Next month I go to the Cambodia-Thailand border to work in the Migrant Assistance Center as my language immersion. And I am terrified that I don’t have the language skills to do any good.
And that is my cross to bear, because I have always been a doer. I think about how competent I was in my own culture, how I could probably have chosen any of dozens of ministries and been effective right out of the gate. But here, I am nothing but inadequate. The language, the culture, the way in which things get done and who does them are all, literally, foreign to me. I have never been so humbled as I am every day as I negotiate day-to-day life. All I can offer these people is my love and my presence, things I had never given enough thought to before. And that is the most vulnerable part of being a missionary – not the heat, the disease, the loneliness - but being laid bare as nothing more than who – not what – you are.
The language will come. The ministry will fall into place. I’m not the first to attempt this. And the idea that I can’t do anything to affect this world is just as much of an ego trip as the belief that I would. Because it was never supposed to be about me. It’s about them, and it’s about God. I can only offer all that I have, and trust that will be enough.
Mara D. Rutten, MM