Up until this summer, I have not been aware of any of our brothers and sisters from the diocese working overseas doing mission work. Rachel Gillman is from St.Timothy parish in Lutz and hers is an interesting story which with her permission I would like to share with you. By pure chance, one of our seminarians, Dan Angel, wound up at a remote mission in Liberia where Rachel has been working as a teacher for a year and a half. That obviously is how I learned of her existence and missionary commitment. She comes from a family quite well known in the parish of St. Timothy and her father, a member of one of the youngest parish mens’ clubs in the diocese has worked long, hard and diligently on the vocation to the priesthood promotion campaign known as “Fishers of Men.” Rachel attended Furman University in South Carolina where she majored in both sociology and biology. The latter major required that she spend the summer between her junior and senior year somewhere working as a volunteer and gaining knowledge both learned and practical. She spent that summer in Ghana and worked with those with HIV-AIDS. Returning to Furman for her senior year found her wrestling in a way with a desire to do more for the poor. Immediately after graduation she spent a year with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps working in Brooklyn, among some of the most wretchedly poor right here in our own country. With a wonderful sense of social justice and still yearning to do more, she wound up going to Bomi and St. Dominic’s school in the war ravaged nation of Liberia where she has been teaching for what will be two years in December. Rachel intends to remain there for one more semester or until mid-June, 2012 helping her students learn through a whole school year, teaching biology and chemistry. The assignment came through an organization which I have not heard of called the SMA or Society of Missionaries to Africa. Rachel is joined in Bomi by a religious sister and another lay woman, all working under the most challenging conditions. Believe me, using a bucket to shower every day in incredible heat and humidity sans air conditioning is no delight and that is just the tip of the iceburg of hardship which one has to endure working in most places save the large urban areas of Africa. In Bomi even electricity is a luxury.
Upon learning of her presence, I wrote to her to tell her how proud I was of her commitment and devotion to serving the poor, especially in a country which is just now finally coming out of years of armed conflict and civil war which saw Bomi as a major theatre of activity. I also asked if there was anything which I or the diocese could do to sustain and support she and the other two women at St. Dominics. Rachel wrote the following to me: I think I will probably be here for one more year. My contract is finished in January, bit I have asked for an extension to finish the school year, which will probably go till June, depending on the election [Liberia will have important presidential elections this Fall). I would be happy to receive any donations. The school is trying its best but really struggles. School fees are always a problem for local people to be able to pay. But the school fees alone (if they are paid) are not sufficient to run the school, much less implement much needed improvements and renovations. There are also very few opportunities for girls and young women. Teenage pregnancy is staggeringly high and it is a struggle to keep girls engaged and active in school. We started a soap making project last year which has been a big success. But it is only benefitting a few girls. There has been a lot of interest to try some more projects to keep the girls engaged, busy, feeling proud of something. . . .But while donations would be wonderful, if there is one thing I have learned since being here, as cliche as I used to think it sounded, I would most appreciate your prayers for my students, the school, Bomi and Liberia. They are approaching a difficult time and it can be so discouraging. I thank God every day for letting me know these people. Sometimes I wish I could be the one to change their worlds, to be able to do more, but I know that it will be God. I’m just grateful for being able to witness it.
Rachel’s beloved St. Dominics will be getting a donation from our diocese and she and her students have been in my prayers ever since I received her email. She is one special person to be sure and one of our own about whom I would have known nothing were it not for our seminarian being assigned by CRS to St. Dominics. I began to think that some other people whom we know are also working in remote and challenging areas of Africa. My personal secretary Andrea McSorley and her husband Spence who worked as Youth Minister at Espiritu Santo parish are with the Comboni missionaries in Malawi and they just had their first child, who will be called Seth, while working abroad. If you know of others whose names and places could be listed here, share them with me and tell me a little about them which I can share with my readers. After all, as I said above, I am not omniscient, never was and never will be.