St. John Paul II’s 1990 encyclical, Redemptoris Missio, sought to remind every Christian of his or her call to be a missionary. Even 30 years later, we can still ask: What does that mean? How can we evangelize in the contemporary world?
I’m no expert, but some very simple occurrences in my life lately have made me reflect on a better sense of how to live out the vision of St. John Paul II.
When my wife and I moved to our current house, we soon discovered that our street is a magnet for stranded motorists. The street we live on is just off the main thoroughfare in Tallahassee, so people with car trouble often pull down and stop — right in front of our house.
I know how to jumpstart a vehicle, but that’s about the limit of my automotive expertise. However, because my house is in plain sight and motorists have sometimes caught my wife or me outside, we have more than once been put into a situation where we have to make a deliberate choice: try to help, with whatever limited resources we have, or go inside and pretend like we aren’t home.
My lack of qualifications in assisting with the mechanical problems seems to provide extra impetus to help with the human side. I can’t get their radiator working, but I can provide them some sort of companionship while they wait for help to arrive.
Rather soon after we moved in — in fact, while we were still hauling boxes — we had our first stranded motorist. A college-age student was having car trouble and then made matters worse by locking herself out of her car. My wife made this young woman comfortable in the shade, offering her company and something to drink. Was her service heroic? No. But that’s precisely the point. She did something. She did what she could.
The Good Samaritan couldn’t prevent the violent attack and had no magic to heal the abused man in the road, but he did offer some immediate help and got things going back in the right direction.
We can do the same thing if we are willing to take a chance every now and then.
Just a few days ago a man knocked on our door around noon. His car was at the curb with the hood popped up, but my wife was supposed to take the kids somewhere soon. He needed gas, had four dollars on him and was hoping someone could drive him to the nearby gas station and bring him back to his car. I obliged, and within about 20 minutes he was back on the road.
Something the man said while we were driving to get him some gas made me realize that it is precisely these types of situations that can have a big impact on people: “Hey man, I don’t mean to be racist or anything, but I really appreciate your doing this for me. I was really worried that, given the neighborhood, and being a black man, I might not even get anyone willing to answer the door. You and your wife are really helping me out here, and I really appreciate it.”
While missionary activity does take grander forms, even small, ordinary acts of kindness to others can be a form of missionary life that needs to be kept alive.
Luke Arredondoand his wife, Elena, live in Tallahassee, FL, with their daughters Faustina, Chiara and Therese. His family relocated recently from New Orleans after he earned his MA at Notre Dame Seminary, studying under Dr. Brant Pitre and Dr. Nathan Eubank. He is currently enrolled in a PhD program in religion, ethics and philosophy at Florida State University. Find him at www.lukearredondo.com.