This is just one glory story from my time at the Great Commission Summit. I am sure there will be others that spill out of my heart as I continue to process all that took place. Also, this post will probably be lengthy. You have been warned. Lol.
At the beginning of this year, my soul brother Br. Malachy CFR sent me an email about some Catholic leadership event that he’d be attending and that he thought I needed to be there. Now a little background on my soul bro – whenever Br. Malachy and I meet up, crazy stuff happens, truths are revealed, walls are broken down, hearts are changed, etc. So when he sends me this email, I’m thinking to myself, I better get a move on it.
So I contacted the event organizer, Keith, and he tells me about his vision for the Great Commission Summit. We have an amazing, spirit filled conversation, and I know that something is in the works, though I don’t quite know exactly what is happening. I take it to prayer, move some things around in my schedule, and book my flight – still not having an exact idea of what I’m getting myself in to.
As the event approaches, we receive a list of confirmed attendees and I see the names of 3 friars who are near and dear to me – Br. Malachy (who I already knew was coming), Fr. John Anthony and Br. Mark Mary. I was super excited to see those names – they were all friars who I’d gotten to serve with in Honduras. Thursday night, I hop on a flight to Palm Springs still not knowing exactly what I was going to be participate in or who else was going to be at this thing, but comforted knowing I’d be with friars who are very familiar to me.
Fast forward to Friday morning, the summit is set to begin. We’re shuttled over to the Lago Vista Ranch, the beautiful oasis in the desert where we’d be spending the next 3 days. Over breakfast more people start arriving and we all start to introduce ourselves – it was then I knew this wasn’t going to be like any other church related summit/gathering/retreat/conference I had attended before. The participants were from all kinds of niches within the church – a Haitian Bishop, a Polish priest, the CFRs, the world’s leading expert on TOB, the Sisters of Life, entrepreneurs, musicians, marketing experts, film makers, artists, and more. As convinced as Br. Malachy was I was supposed to be at this event, I couldn’t quite figure out where the heck I fit into the grand scheme of things. I felt like a floater with no real pillar of expertise.
At the table I meet Cliff Azize, producer with Grassroots Films, and realize that we had met in Honduras when their team had come down to film Outcasts a number of years ago. To my surprise he recognized me, and even remembered the case of someone who I worked with very closely.
He tells me that we’d be watching the movie that evening, and I am half excited and half emotional. When he brought it up, I had a mini-flash back to the time they had come to film, and I remember myself and other missionaries being suspicious of the entire thing. As a person working in the trenches and walking with people in the depths of despair and brokenness, one can become very protective of those they love. The cameras seemed liked a disruption, an intrusion even – interviewing people who have been through trauma can reopen wounds – and for what end? To make a documentary? The idea didn’t sit well – but nonetheless they got their footage, and that was the end of that.
So Day 1 of the summit flies by and as the evening approaches, I’m telling Br. Mark Mary that I don’t want to watch the movie. One, because I know I’m going to be super emotional, and two, because I don’t know how I feel about the whole thing in general. He convinces me to stay and watch it and to cry if I need to.
The documentary shows the work of the friars with the poor around the world, and as we’re taken on a journey through the different friars, I sit on the edge of my seat, praying the rosary, as I wait for Honduras to come on the screen. The moment finally arrives – introducing Comayagua through news clips from the deadliest prison fire in the history of the world, which claimed the lives of 361 people. I pretty much immediately start to bawl, as I’m transported back to the aftermath of that fire – working with the moms, children, and wives who were unsure if their loved ones had survived. As the tears continue to flow, we watch clips of Br. Gerard, Br. Gabriel, and Br. Mark Mary minister to the men inside the prison. We’re then shown clips of the friars neighborhood – the place that I used to call home, and once again the waterworks begin. Reyna, a young woman who we worked with who was shot and subsequently paralyzed, is featured. She shares her story as she lays in bed at her house – a place that I had visited many times while in Honduras. She speaks of how she forgives the person who shot her, whom she knows, as she received physical therapy from two of my missionary sisters. The film continues on and I am a wreck, excusing myself to the back of the room to try and pull myself together.
By the end of the film, I’m completely overwhelmed. Truth be told, anytime I am brought back in some way to my time in Comayagua, I get emotional, so that was to be expected. The overwhelming feeling, however, was not entirely due to seeing the places and people I loved – I was overwhelmed because I realized that the filmmakers had done right by us – and I was brought to tears as every suspicion I had harbored from some 6 years previous was dissipated.
I take issue with videos that take on either of these two approaches when it comes to mission work, specifically with the poor:
- The Heroes: Highlight mission work as people who come in, save the the poor from their suffering and has a glorious, happy, and even miraculous ending.
- Poor Them, Grateful Me: Emphasize the desperation to make people feel sorry for the poor, and typically pitch some type of donation at the end.
Outcasts, was neither of those things. Truly, from the perspective of someone who served years alongside of the friars, what I watched was an honorable and faithful depiction of their lives and the beautiful people that they serve. There were many stories shared, yet no real resolution – Reyna did not miraculously begin to walk, the addicts were still struggling with addiction, and one even walks away from an opportunity to get clean and get off the streets. And yet in the midst of all the situations full of despair, the friars bring HOPE to those who would not know it otherwise….and I think the film depicts this so well.
After the screening, I am completely wrecked and take myself to the chapel where I do a Holy Hour with the Sisters of Life. As I pray and process what I had just seen, the Spirit insisted that I speak with Cliff and tell him what I thought about the movie. Obedient to the promptings, I found him at breakfast time and shared with him what an impact watching it had on me, and thanked him for his art. That conversation in itself moved me deeply, as he explained how as a producer he spends hours upon hours reviewing footage, trying to figure out how to piece things together, all the while being hit with the emotion of playing back and listening repeatedly the difficult and sad stories that they had captured. He shared that at one point in the editing process he spent hours crying over a specific clip that hit his heart in a powerful way…
And at that moment – it all started to make sense – the summit, the room full of 40 people that seemed to be randomly put together, that could not all speak the same language (flashback to Br. Mark Mary and I having to google “KPI”), that did not all understand each other’s worlds. Cliff revealed to me a part of his art that I had never even considered or thought of, and as protective I was of my ministry, there was also a sacredness in his.
In the grand scheme of things, I consider myself a trench worker. And as protective as I am of those that I serve, to let a filmmaker into our world allowed for something beautiful to be created that would allow the struggles of those I love to be known to the world. These endeavors need funding, and that’s where the business people, the entrepreneurs, the investors come in. Through their sacrifice and patronage, the creative process is often made possible. Then the marketing strategists come in and do their thing – making things go viral, giving what was created visibility, and ultimately making sure that the stories do not go untold. And those stories inspire others to continue to pursue the Lord relentlessly, and ultimately the new generation of disciples is raised and the message of Christ’s salvation and the mission of the Church lives on. Truly, no piece is important than the other – we all need each other. We are not all called to be trench workers. We are not all called to be artists, entrepreneurs, marketing and social media experts, priests, or theologians. But we are all called to bring Christ to the world through our gifts and charisms. I know that now in a very real way.
It took six years for this to come full circle – but for me it was truly a great display of the faithfulness of the Lord down to the smallest detail – the radical nature of the event itself, these 3 particular friars and I being reunited in the middle of the desert, Cliff being present and a screening being planned as part of the event… all of this ultimately leading to a greater understanding of the Church, her mission, and the importance of each and every one of her members.
“But as it is, God placed the parts, each one of them, in the body as he intended.”
1 Corinthians 12:18
May the Holy Spirit continue to break down the walls we have built around ourselves and move us from suspicion to appreciation and love.