In one of yesterday’s posts, I began replying to an inquiry about how I decided to go to Kenya and take up the mantle of missionary. Yesterday was about memories that persist, today’s post is about context in one’s life. As it happens, the story is part geography, part “betwixt and between,” part random question, and part taking-a-chance.
Upon leaving active duty in the Navy, I took a job in Northern Virginia with a tech company. The company’s offices were in Tysons Corner which seemed to me to be very congested and mostly concrete. So I thought to myself, “I hear the Virginia countryside is beautiful, maybe I should look for a house somewhere west of the office.” I ended up buying a home west of Leesburg and settling into a small town parish. The church was tiny with a seating capacity of 89 (according to the Fire Marshall). The Sunday 7:30 am Mass was in the Church; the other Sunday Mass was in the high school auditorium.
At the time the parish was staffed by Capuchin Franciscans. It was my first encounter with a Franciscan of any type and it was clear these were very different people than the Irish-born diocesan priests at my childhood parish in Orlando. The parish only had one priest and he only could have been ordained a couple of years. Now he was the pastor. A parishioner knew a Franciscan priest (OFM) who had been a missionary in Peru and Bolivia for a number of years, was active in the Washington DC area in several non-parish roles. She suggested that Fr. Joe contact the small town parish and offer to help – which he did – and the offer was gladly accepted. Over the years Fr Joe kept coming, while all the homilies were very different and engaging, Fr. Joe’s were the most memorable.
My career evolved. Several of us started a company, built it up, and then sold it to a much larger company, with an agreement to remain in the larger company for several years. The larger company’s other division had their own issues, executive management changed, I began counting the days until my agreement expired, and Fr. Joe had not been coming to the parish for several years. All the while I was involved in all kinds of parish ministries.
Then, in the course of one week, my pastor asked me about my career and work. He wanted to know if that’s what I wanted to do for the test of my working life. Then my friend Susan asked “Hey, do you know what Fr. Joe is doing these days?” As it happens, he was Executive Director of Franciscan Mission Service (FMS).
The geography of small town America, a career entering “betwixt and between,” random conversations in a single week – and so why not take a chance and kick-the-tires of going on mission overseas? It would be like a sabbatical, right? It’s not like it would be a career change. But as it happens…