Ragusa, Sicily. Find it on a map, and you see it’s not even part of Italy’s proverbial boot. Not even the boot’s toe. It’s more like the southernmost point on the underside of some clot kicked westward by the toe of that boot. As far south as you can possibly go without hitting ocean and swimming as fast as you can to Malta.
Like any fleeing Mafioso.
Little, quiet hilltop Ragusa is reputedly Italian Mafia headquarters, where the narrow streets seem eerily tame. That is, except when the ticked-off fruit vendor and irritated barber yell at each other in Sicilian (the region’s spicy dialect), and their insults ricochet off walls like bundles of barbed wire tumbling and scratching away at the dusty limestone.
This is where our daughter Claire (aka Sorella Bradford) earned her Sicilian stripes by beginning her full-time voluntary service as a Mormon missionary. It’s from here that she sent weekly letters that describe missionary life as it is: challenging, educational, humbling, exhilarating, hilarious, rough, purifying. Work.
Today I’m particularly grateful for the work of people like Claire. For the past two months, we’ve had missionaries (who’ve served here in Switzerland, who’ve served in Italy, Finland, Japan, the U.S.) and their families visiting in our home. Our conversations have revolved often around lessons learned, lives changed and reservoirs of gratitude filled for the life-altering work missionary service can be.
So before Wednesday comes – the day when we exchange our weekly emails with our missionary – I’m listing 10 (of the 100) reasons why I love that Claire, recently transferred to Rome, has taken 18 moths off of university studies to serve her God and His good Italian people.
10 REASONS I LOVE MISSIONS
1- Missionaries are expected to live within the world (“Mom, we worked the Ragusa ghetto today, and taught English to 41 refugees tonight,”), but to hold themselves outside of what can be vulgar, trendy and materially distracting.
2- Missionary work is about focusing on the wellbeing of others. The ego is reduced, the heart enlarged.
3-Prolonged immersion in another culture can forever alter one’s world view. These kids learn a new language to the level of functional, fluent, and in some cases, near-native mastery. Cultural immersion can be rough, and such roughness can smooth corners of xenophobia, bigotry, lop-sided patriotism, and cultural smugness.
4-Missionaries get to penetrate and observe the heart of any culture: the home. Visiting homes lets young people learn at close range what works and what doesn’t in family relationships. Some homes are models. Some are real-life cautionary tales.
5-This kind of work is rigorous training toward independence and self-motivation. Missionaries don’t simply opt out of a day of work because they’re tired or crampy or have swollen ankles. Or if they have a bad companionship…
6-Because missionaries are always assigned to a companion (you don’t choose where or with whom you serve; these are considered sacred assignments and you learn to make the best of everything), they learn to compromise, communicate, work as a team, and plan in tandem. They might also learn why someone else finds them obnoxious. Great prep for any future relationship.
7-Ever met more ridiculously optimistic young people? Missionaries, with their focus directed outside of themselves, wanting to bring joy to others, are brought on a daily basis to the sometimes painful interior of others’ lives. And they are happy. Claire’s letters have more exclamation points than any other punctuation. I’ve never known her so “up”, so fulfilled.
8- Unpaid and sometimes ridiculed (“So today this lady on the bus screamed at us and tried to rip off my nametag! No one takes my TAG”), or even stoned (“They were just bored gypsy boys, Mom, but when that rock hit my companion, my tiger side kicked in”), missionaries are liberated from the natural tendency toward selfishness. At 18-22 years old, that’s a sheer miracle.
9-Right when many are sowing wild oats, testing (bucking) boundaries, deceiving parents and institutions and perfecting the popular sardonic posturing of the rising generation, missionaries are committing themselves to a life based on deep principles, high values, moral discipline, volunteer service and a world view that extends far beyond YOLO.
10-At the heart of this all is love. To learn to love – differences, others, God, self, truth, life, prayer, work, sacrifice, eating raw octopus, being stoned by gypsies, seeing a human heart and a whole life change – is, for me, the essence of the miracle of a mission.
In the words that ended Sorella Bradford’s last letter: I LOVE THE MISSION!!!!!…!!…!!!…!
What pluses would you add to this list?
What experiences, missionary or non-missionary, have you had that have resulted in similar pluses?
What questions do you have about this whole missionary program that Sorella might answer herself?
(I’ll share this post and all your comments with Sorella Bradford. Go ahead. Write in Italian, if you wish.)