1 John 3:18-24
This weekend’s readings are a gold mine for missionaries.
When we travel to faraway lands to bring Christ to the poor, amazing things happen if we heed Christ’s words,
“I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit.”
We see this with St. Paul in his mission to spread the Gospel to the world of his day.
We witness St. Paul’s debut as a disciple in today’s first reading from Acts of the Apostles. Eventually, the disciples will Saul-Paul has a deep connection to Christ.
“If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you.”
You see for missionaries these words drive mission. These words turn worlds upside down. These words can change lives and how we see the world forever. St. Paul understood that.
I am praying these words as we form our parish’s Guatemala Mission team. I’m praying we will have a life-changing experience in San Lucas Toliman in the Lake Atitlan area of Guatemala this summer. I’m praying our hearts will be touched by what we experience and the doors of the Kingdom will open to our young people, their parents and grandparents.
Young people today need a mission experience to see the face of Christ. They need to unplug from this comfortable culture and experience life without their Smart Phones, without their social media, without their constant connectivity to a less than divine source.
When we unplug from this world and plug into Christ’s work with the poor and marginalized, we are branches connected to the true vine and we produce much fruit.
I want to thank all of you who donated to our Guatemala mission trip at Mass a few weeks back. You are helping to bring Christ to a broken world. You are helping to extend branches from the true vine. You are helping to forever change the lives of your fellow parishioners.
For a young lady about the age of several of our Guatemala missionaries, a senior year trip to Uganda changed her life forever and turned her world upside down. Christ called her into mission.
Katie Davis was born and raised in Brentwood, Tennessee, a suburb of Nashville. She was senior class president, homecoming queen and preparing for graduation and college.
But her journey to Africa opened her eyes to a world so different from her own and put a face on the plight of the poor that would seer into her soul and plant a seed of mission.
She said, “Slowly but surely I began to realize the truth: I had loved and admired and worshipped Jesus without doing what He said.” Without taking care of the “least of these” our sisters and brothers.
But in Uganda, she was faced with the overwhelming need and her heart ached to do something to be Christ to these people.
So, after returning to the United States to finish her senior year, Katie started planning to return to Africa after graduation. She promised her parents she would only for one year before returning to go to college and fulfill the dreams they had for her life.
She told friends she was quitting her life.
But she promised it would only for a year.
Early on, she admitted to being, as she put it, “overwhelmed by the magnitude of the need and the incredible number of people who need help. Many days I see the destitute, disease-ridden children lining the streets in the communities I serve and I want to scoop up every single one of them, take them home with me, and feed and clothe and love them. And I look at the life of my Savior, who stopped for me."
Blessed Mother Teresa said, “Intense love does not measure, it just gives.”
That’s just what Katie did.
She started out as a Kindergarten teacher, but saw so many children unable to attend her school in Uganda because their parents didn’t have the money for school fees.
For those able to attend school, many were hungry because their families had little to eat. And most of them were filthy because they had no place to get clean.
So, she prayed for guidance and asked Jesus what to do. Christ planted in her heart a desire to give more.
First, she used her life savings to rent a house near her school. There, she opened its doors to over a hundred children providing a daily meal, a place to get clean and started fundraising to pay school fees for many left out of the educational system.
As Katie was running her burgeoning ministry, she had the help of some young Ugandan women who had hearts as big as hers. They introduced her to children who had no parents, no guardians and no home to live in.
Katie slowly began to adopt these children and make them her own. She became their “mommy.”
By the time her year was coming to an end, Katie’s ministry was helping 150 children go to school and taking care of their needs.
She was 19-years-old and was now running a thriving non-profit. She chose the name “Amazima” which means truth in the native language of Uganda (Support Amazima Ministries).
As the first Letter to St. John reminded us today,
“Children, let us love not in word or speech, but in deed and truth.”
Katie says, “People are people. They all need food and water and medicine, but mostly they need love and truth and Jesus. I can do that. We can do that. We can give people food, water, medicine, love, truth and Jesus. The same God created all of us for a purpose, which is to serve Him and to love and care for His people. It is universal. We can’t do it in our own strength or out of our own resources, but as we follow God to wherever He is leading us, He makes the impossible happen.”
I’d like to share a story that captures Katie’s heart for the children of Uganda:
“The night in 2007 was cold and rainy. I was walking out of the supermarket on Main street … on my way home. Then I saw him. Huddled on the street corner, drenched and shivering, was a little boy. At that moment, all I really wanted to think about was getting home, getting dry, and crawling into my warm bed. But a voice inside told me to stop.
I took the little boy inside the supermarket to dry him off a bit and bought him some biscuits and juice. I gave him my sweatshirt, a small wooden cross I carried in my pocket, and some change so he could get a ride home.”
As he left, he called out, ‘What is your name?’
‘Katie’ I responded, ‘Auntie Katie.’
‘Me, I am Daniel,’ he shouted and disappeared into the wet chilly night.
About a year later, I walked into the supermarket to buy food for my family and got caught in a big hug. Two small … arms wrapped around me as a child’s voice excitedly proclaimed, ‘Auntie Katie!’
I looked down to see Daniel. Beaming.
‘Wait,’ he urged me.
He hurried to the nearest street vendor and bought me a Popsicle with the little pocket change he had. He then dug his little hand in his pocket and pulled out the small wooden cross. Looking at me with a wide grin, he spoke words that pierced my heart. ‘I have never stopped praying for you every day.’"
Katie writes, "To this day, I think of that story and stand amazed at the goodness of our God and the enormous things He can accomplish if I am obedient to his command. To stop and love the person in front of me. That rainy night, I really just wanted to … go home. But I stopped, because that’s what my heart told me to do. I only gave him a sweatshirt… I only gave him some cheap biscuits… I only gave him enough money for his ride home… But Jesus gave him hope that night. And he remembered. He didn’t just remember my face; he remembered my name. He prayed for me. He prayed for my safety and for the opportunity to see me again. I blessed him just one cold night, and he blessed me every day after that for an entire year.”
Katie did come home to fulfill her parent’s wish to go to college, but only attended one semester before returning to her thriving ministry in Uganda.
Today, Katie helps over 500 children to get an education, cooks them a daily meal, offers them a place to get clean and most importantly she gives them hope.
You can read Katie’s story in the New York Times selling book “Kisses from Katie” or support her ministry through her popular blog.
“I am the vine, you are the branches.
Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing…
By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”
Pope Francis is calling on all Catholics to be Missionary Disciples.
26-year-old Katie Davis is a textbook example. She’s become the Mother Teresa of Uganda.
But we don’t have to go to Uganda to be missionary disciples. We can be missionaries right here in our own parish if we follow the Holy Father’s lead and take care of the poor and marginalized in our own community. Just stop and love the person in front of you.
Katie was raised a devout Catholic and is living out our Catholic Social Teachings in amazing ways. And because she is a branch connected to the true vine, she bears much fruit.
May we bear much fruit this summer as we travel to Guatemala to be Christ to others. May our lives and our hearts be changed forever. Thank you for keeping our efforts in your prayers.