I remember it like it was yesterday; the day I was invited to join a mission trip to Puerto Rico with my employer back in 1998. I returned to my office, checked my voicemail, and there was a message from one of the coordinators of the annual staff mission trip. She said they had an open spot for the upcoming trip and thought I would be a perfect fit. I was confused, to say the least, but she had definitely triggered some intrigue in me. There was also a feeling, in that very moment, of being touched, chosen.
It was a time in my life when I thought I had it all figured out. I had a great job working in the computing center at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, where I had studied. I had worked as a staff member at the university while working my way through college, and one of the perks of the job was that my tuition was paid. I remember when I was first hired thinking how great it would be that when I completed my degree I would already have 5 years of work experience under my belt which would surely help me land a great job. I purchased a house, a new car, my social life was good; what else could I have asked for? But looking back now I guess God had a different future planned for me.
The trip that we were going on was to help some Dominican Sisters with an annual festival that they held every year to honor the indigenous people of Puerto Rico. As we prepared for the trip I remember thinking: why in the world did they invite me? I felt so different than the others in the group. They had all had some sort of history working with the Church in different areas. During our preparation I learned that I really was different than the others in that they had all applied to go on the trip and I was invited. I really thought: Why did they choose me? I have always considered myself a Catholic, but at the time I was not even a regular churchgoer.
So the trip came, and we arrived in Puerto Rico. I had traveled internationally in the past, but that was my first trip to Latin America. It was so different than anything I had ever encountered. When we arrived at the convent in the mountains we were greeted by the Sisters, but they were so different than I expected. They were young, and many of them were my age (at the time I was 25).
As the week went on I was changing by the minute. I think my fellow travelers even saw the change in me. I remember at one point one of the younger Sisters invited me to pray with her before the Blessed Sacrament, and I wasn’t even sure what that meant. She explained to me that praying before the Blessed Sacrament is a wonderful opportunity for us to sit and talk to Jesus while he is physically present. We went, and I was dumbfounded by the closeness I felt to Jesus at that very moment. The rest of the week I spent countless hours with the Blessed Sacrament, and God called me to mission.
As the trip came to an end, and we were saying goodbye to the Sisters, it was very hard to hide my tears. As I hugged one of them, Sr. Margarita, she whispered in my ear, “I love you,” but it wasn’t her that was saying it, it was God.
I went home and tried to go back to my routine, but I couldn’t because I was different. God had called me and there was no turning back. Since that time I have spent several years abroad on mission and for the last three and half years I have been a Columban lay missionary. All because of a little voicemail.