For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Stephanie – aka ‘Steph David’. I am originally from Ottawa, ON, and grew up in a practicing Catholic family. My parents are Third Order Franciscans. We grew up with the Spirit of Francis and Catherine Doherty shaping our family traditions and shaping the way I saw the world around me. I applied for NET at the encouragement of one of my teachers – and getting to training my first year I felt extremely nervous and ‘unworthy’ as a lot of us do… was I good enough?
But Praise God for those times in our life where the Spirit gently pushes and we respond. My two years traveling on NET were full of laughter, a deepening in my relationship with Jesus…and CRs? (NET translation: Conflict Resolution). I am so grateful for the friendships that have come out of those years (and subsequent years living in Ottawa with the NET Community). Special shout out to my girls with their ‘proud faces’, long-distance giggles and cheery smiles that make me feel at home no matter where I may live!
Now, the question posed to me to reflect on had to do with Evangelization? What does mission look like in my life now? A lot has certainly changed since my years on NET. I was the ‘high-energy’ extrovert who rocked Meet, Greet& Mingle, never missed my personal prayer time and was really good at evangelizing ‘NET-style’. Now, I (praise God) still have my joy, but it comes out in an introverted kind of way. I long for a consistent prayer life and am consoled that Jesus loves my effort. And I tend to be more thoughtful in the way I spread the Gospel – with more listening and therefore awareness of the other’s story.
In the Pentecost Sequence, the Holy Spirit is described as ‘the sweet guest of the soul’. Someone who does not intrude, who is gracious and patient. Mission to me now is increasingly an action of laying the foundation for individuals to encounter Jesus in His gentleness and healing love. I don’t expect immediate change since I am well aware that, for many, change and a returning to our identity as sons and daughters of God can take time.
I want to now turn to a reflection on the words and spirituality of a holy woman and a holy man – what they have taught me – to try to give a glimpse of how I live out Mission in my life – always praying to be led by the Spirit and His graciousness.
Henri Nouwen wrote, “You are sent into this world to help your brothers and sisters know that they are as Beloved as you are and that we all belong together in God’s family” (Spiritual Formation, Nouwen, 2010).
I am by nature an inquisitive person – my husband is constantly bomb-barded with all of my questions. And so, when I first started reflecting for this blog posting, I wanted to get down to its root: in this current season of my life – what does evangelization mean to me? What does ‘spreading the Gospel’ mean? Nouwen’s quote above really cuts to the heart of it. We are all Beloved. There is so much suffering in this world. Rejection, disappointment. I feel my mission here on earth is to simply make known the Belovedness of all those I encounter. To remind them that they are loved, for their uniqueness, by the God of History. They are a son or daughter of God.
My life since NET has been immersed in journeying with those our society so easily rejects – people with Intellectual Disabilities. Beautiful persons who have been made to feel less or made to feel invisible when ignored because ‘we don’t know how to act around them’. I have also been blessed to journey with a wonderful man (aka my husband Dennis – aka that guy with the really great calves) who’s spent years working in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver with Individuals experiencing rejection because of their homelessness, poverty and addictions. Rejected because of the ways they cope with their trauma. This feeling of rejection extends to all humans, we all have felt that sting and the sense of ‘being alone’. I truly believe we all long to have our Belovedness revealed to us – to have this foundation laid so that we can encounter face to face Him who calls us by name.
Catherine Doherty taught me about the ‘duty of moment’ and bringing Christ to those we meet by the ‘chit-chat apostolate’.
On NET, I was a master-mingler. This is truly one of the best skills I gained from my years serving – the ability to strike up a conversation with anyone I meet! This skill has been a great gift to have not only in my professional career as Social Worker but also in my own personal life – someone who has moved from her hometown and had to “start from the beginning” in both Ireland and BC. This ability to respond to the ‘duty of the moment’ and to be present to the person in front of me – through at first seemingly insignificant ‘chit-chat’ conversation – has proven to break down walls and to build a foundation of rapport and trust.
How can I make known one’s Belovedness if I am not present to them? How can I lay a foundation that shows them they are loved if I am constantly thinking of my ‘mission agenda’ rather than taking an interest in their life, in all the mundane aspects that inevitably lead to what is deep within their heart? How can I share Jesus’ healing love without taking a sincere interest in the person standing before me?
Catherine Doherty’s Little Mandate says, “Listen to the Spirit. He will lead you”.
Since leaving NET, I have (praise God) retained and gained amazing Catholic friends – but I have also ventured outside of that ‘Catholic bubble’ and some of my close friends are not practicing of any faith. I have also been privileged to become a Registered Social Worker and to partner with the Vancouver Archdiocese in the area of Reconciliation with Indigenous People. The relationships that come with all these experiences have brought me an awareness that has grown and matured since my NET days. An awareness that people have been hurt by the Church – by its members, by things that have been said ‘in the name of Jesus’, and by their own ideas of what the Church teaches. And so, sometimes when I use ‘faith words’ it can be a real trigger.
When I think of the words attributed to St Francis, “preach the gospel and when necessary use words” it shapes my experience of mission. Remember, it is not saying “never use words” – but instead invites us to seek the guidance of the Spirit by asking ‘what does this person need right now?’. In this moment, is graciousness and listening more important than my own thoughts? My experiences outside of the Catholic bubble and as a Social Worker have taught me an important lesson: to live my faith – but not flaunt it. To be gentle in my approach, always listening to the other’s story and to the Spirit’s promptings on how to respond.
Overall, as I reflect on Mission and Evangelization in my life, I am comforted when I think of my ‘littleness’. Through me, (please God) Jesus is planting a seed with those I encounter. He is laying a foundation for healing – and I rest in confidence that others will come after me to harvest.
So Alumni, and others who may be reading this, as you come to the end of this glimpse into my life… what about yours? Who in your life needs to feel Jesus’ gentleness and healing? May the Holy Spirit, the sweet guest of our souls, guide you as you preach the Gospel by making known your neighbor’s Belovedness.
Our Lady Full of Grace, Pray for us.
Stephanie Kim, NET Alumna, 2007-2009