Missionary reflects on helping in Ghana and Philippines

Fri, Jul 8th 2016 08:00 am
Special to WNY Catholic
Sarah Noonan (back center) with some of the barrio children during the Multiplication of Loaves feeding program of the Sisters of the Poor. (Courtesy of Sarah Noonan)
Sarah Noonan (back center) with some of the barrio children during the Multiplication of Loaves feeding program of the Sisters of the Poor. (Courtesy of Sarah Noonan)

Mother Teresa was quoted as saying that the problem with the world is that we draw the circle of our family too small. This quote may not be true for everyone, but it definitely was true for me. 

"Small" is a relative term. I have parents and grandparents, seven brothers and sisters, six loving siblings in-law, and 40 nieces and nephews, with one more on the way and six angels in heaven. That is just my immediate family. Not too many people would consider my family to be small. The thing is, the scope of my love for the world consisted of my family. To me, that seems pretty small.

As I look back, I can see places where God tried to nudge me to life in the missions. However, my love of family and fear of the unknown, great big world kept me safe and sound at home. 

Don't get me wrong, I think I've had a missionary's heart for years, giving to others and availing myself to those in need when I could. That didn't really stretch far beyond the border of my own community.  For some people, that is just what God is asking of them. But for me, He was asking that I stretch out the arms of my love to include many more, including far away more.

In 2013, my very good friends Tom and Paula Radel asked me to go to Africa to a mission in Ghana with Paula.  I think God chose Tom and Paula because they didn't give up asking me when I said "no." Every single roadblock I constructed to keep myself here was easily moved out of the way until my path was free and clear to go. The only problem was my lack of courage. 

A curious thing that I have discovered is that the more I cling to tangible, earthly things, the more fear and caution I find bubbling inside myself. However, when I am able to summon the courage and faith to let go of my surroundings and offer myself to God, the more freedom and joy I feel.  So I did just that. I said "yes," put myself in the hands of our Loving Lord, and since that day, have never had any regrets.

I twice traveled to Ghana, West Africa, to a mission called the Nazareth Home for God's Children. This orphanage cares for children who are abandoned by their families because of disabilities, the death of the mother at birth or any number of other reasons. 

I spent two weeks there in my first mission and three months in my second. Without a single doubt or hesitation, my arms widened to include the beautiful children at the Nazareth Home within the scope of my family. 

It just took that first child I saw crying, lifting him into my arms and, in that moment, seeing his smile and feeling his tiny arms encircling my neck, he, along with the rest of the children, seeped into my heart. 

A few months after returning from Africa in 2014, I traveled to a mission in Peru called The Missionary Servants of the Poor of the Third World with a group of students from the Children of Mary homeschooling group of Buffalo. This mission trip was a short one of just a few weeks. The priests and sisters who care for the sick and abandoned children of Cuzco, Peru, educating them, loving them and tenderly caring for them, taught me how to see Jesus Christ in every child. Whether they are cognizant or not, each one is Jesus. 

When I look at a person and can see Jesus, no matter his or her state of health, beauty, size or mental acuity, he or she becomes infinitely precious and worthy of every bit of my attention and care, and a most important person in my growing family.

My latest mission trip was to the Philippines, to a mission called The Poor Household of God. This mission is run by the Oikos Sisters, who live their lives according to the teachings of St. Francis. Although only five in number, the Oikos Sisters serve the poor people living in the province of Eastern Samar. The sisters provide the poor with catechesis, food, livelihood enrichment programs, educational sponsorships, construction of new homes, medical and dental care and much more. 

In this mission where I spent six months, I learned that the work you are able to do and the amount of people you are able to help, is not based on how much you can carry or how far you can reach, but on the size of your trust in God. It seems impossible that these five sisters could reach so far and help hundreds and hundreds of people, until you realize the amount of faith they have in God is immeasurable. 

They trust in the Lord with every bit of their being and He comes through for them every single time.  In this mission, I finally learned that if I believe with everything I have that God is indeed my Father, then all of His creation is my family. 

Mother Teresa said, "I can do things you cannot, you can do things I cannot; together we can do great things." All of us cannot leave home to go work in the foreign missions. Mother Teresa was also famous for saying that we need to find the needy within our own communities, within our own homes. 

But together, we can do amazing things. I plan on returning to The Poor Household of God Mission in the Philippines and continuing my work there with the Oikos Sisters. Before I go, however, I am holding a fundraiser to help fund all of the amazing work that the Oikos Sisters do. 

I wish I could take a ton of people with me to help us. I would be happy to speak with anyone who feels any nudge to work in the missions. Anyone can be a part of the Oikos Sisters' mission to bring God's love to the poor in the Philippines. 

A fundraiser for the Poor Household of God Mission in the Philippines will take place at St. Aloysius Gonzaga Parish, 157 Cleveland Dr. in Cheektowaga on Saturday, July 9, from 5:30 to 9 p.m.  Included will be a spaghetti dinner, basket raffles, games, music by the Apen Family Band and more. Please come and meet one of the Oikos Sisters, Sister Clarissa Abella, and be a part of the fun and love. Together we can do great things.

For more information or to donate a basket contact Sarah Noonan at 716- 479-2498 or email at sarahen6@gmail.com. To read more about my missionary experiences visit my blog at www.godsgloryamongthepoor.blogspot.com.  

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