Before joining the Assumption Mission Associates (AMA) Program, I was a young graduate working full-time in a comfortable job and living in the heart of Philadelphia. I felt driven from finally being out in “the real world” after college. It was a new environment with its own set of challenges: adjusting to new roommates in a new house, settling into a routine, and finding new comforts. Despite these, it was also freeing to have more leisure time, money of my own to spend and a whole lifetime ahead to decide what to achieve next. I spent a lot of time traveling to see friends, trying new hobbies, and exploring interests I didn’t have time for before. My life was full of blessings left and right.
Even with all the positive things surrounding me, somehow I wasn’t fulfilled. One question continually lingered – how do I fit into this world? After graduating, it seemed I slowly lost sight of a purpose. I had been so focused on the degree, the job, and the image of success. So I turned to my faith and asked myself how can a stranger tell that I am Christian?
To me, being a Christian starts with following Jesus’ example of serving those on the wayside. I had been doing well for myself, but I knew I could be doing more for others. Around me, people were in constant protest over the Trump administration, sexual abuse survivors were declaring #MeToo and gun violence was upending schools, churches, entertainment venues and entire communities. I was reminded of the quote by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” I no longer wanted to be silent in my opinions and my actions. With that, I began looking into volunteer programs, although not sure what kind of experience I was looking for. Instead, I tried to find a program where I could contribute my skills best.
When I came across the AMA program, I knew right away it was well-suited to my talents. I would be running art programs for kids at an after school centre. So once again, I threw myself into a new world, this time packing up and flying across the Atlantic to serve in Newcastle upon Tyne, a city in northern England. For a while, I wasn’t sure if this was the answer to the fulfillment I sought. If I spend my year of service abroad, am I neglecting the issues that plague my communities at home?
Through the few months I’ve spent here in Newcastle, I found out the answer to that is simply no. Everyone on this globe is connected. Opinions and beliefs can cross borders more freely than people. By living with other international volunteers and serving abroad, I have this unforeseen opportunity to influence attitudes in a larger context. The long-standing, global reach of the Assumption mission is a testament to that.
What I’ve been most surprised by are the growing relationships I have with the Assumption Sisters. I knew I would be living next door to them, but I didn’t put any thought into how that could influence my life. I couldn’t see how we might relate to each other, and I was not all that concerned.
Every Friday, the other volunteers and I join the Sisters in morning prayer and have breakfast together. As weeks have gone by, I’ve been more and more inspired by their experiences. They have lived in different communities of Sisters throughout their lives, worked in various schools and programs, moved to different countries, learned new cultures, and continually commit themselves to justice. I was drawn by their strong sense of purpose, only wanting to learn and hear more about their path to service.
Often, I was particularly inspired by Sr. Christine, who at age 91, still travels the UK regularly representing the Assumption. She was also one of the Sisters that founded Kids Kabin, the organization where I volunteer, and is an active board member. She shows no signs of slowing down with a new centre scheduled to open later this year. Her steadfast commitment and passion seemed to be products of understanding one’s purpose, and that was something I wanted to find in myself.
When Sr. Christine tells the story of how Kids Kabin was formed, it is remarkable to imagine the simple and humble beginnings it had before it turned into this larger, influential organization. When the Sisters were living in an apartment in the area 25 years ago, they would see neighborhood kids having nothing to do after school and often getting themselves into trouble. Some kids would visit with the Sisters and they offered them a few coloring markers and paper to keep them occupied. After time, more kids started to arrive and it turned into a functioning after-school program. Today, the kids come to the centre to learn cooking, pottery, art, drama, woodwork and sewing. I think of how Sr. Christine may not have ever imagined she would be called to build a program like this. Simply put, Sr. Christine followed her call to embed herself into a community and listen to the needs of its individuals. Her story showed me that discovering purpose can come in unexpected ways, it will take time to pursue, and it starts with opening yourself up to others.
I had questioned myself early on in my program: was it worth it to halt my life and try something completely different? It turned out I was asking the wrong question. I am not halting my life at all— I am living it. I am taking small steps on my own path of purpose, answering to a mission every day. Four months of service have gone by and a short six months lie ahead. In addition to putting my best foot forward at my service site, I am looking forward to drawing out more inspiration from the Sisters, relishing in the unique opportunity to be so close to such strong role models.
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Myra Villas is a volunteer with Assumption Mission Associates and a CVN Serving with Sisters Contributor. This blog series is sponsored by our VOCARE Initiative, thanks to the support of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation.