Stories of Nonviolent Service

Michael McCarthy’s story

In the summer of 1966, when 19 years old, I came to Capac, MI to work with Fr. Joe Melton from the Detroit diocese in migrant farm ministry. He spoke fluent Spanish having accepted the invitation of Cardinal Dearden to live in Puerto Rico and learn the language to be able to better serve the growing number of Hispanic Catholics.

That first year I made frequent visits to the camps, forming some young adult discussion groups, with the help of members of the local parishes, volunteer groups from Marygrove College, and a Quaker service agency. It was an ambitious project with high enthusiasm and little experience to guide us—the meeting of different cultures in their small shacks, and the town’s church, was the tortillas y frijoles of the project. Two and a half months of stretching across language, life style, and economic barriers. Fr. Joe was a constant encouragement, and I’d come often to daily mass for the prayer with him and other members of the parish, and to then go over our ongoing activities.

It was such a good summer, with great hopes in shared service, just sitting down with young people who were always on the move, learning how we were alike and different. I returned the two following years. Those times I lived in the migrant camps, and got up at 4:30 am with them to travel in old school buses to often distant fields to pick pickles, or hoe sugar beets, from the cold dew before daylight to dusk. I contributed my scant earnings, they invited me into their homes, coffee, warm tortillas, and more always offered. For me money wasn’t an issue. Fr. Joe had arranged for support from the local Deanery of Catholic Women, enough to cover my college tuition the following year. Fr. Farrell and Fr. O’Neill of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, pastors of his main parish, opened their doors also to my efforts.

By getting to know the people of the camps better, and each other’s needs, there came trust, and some new job training opportunities were created so some migrants could find more stability. My friends Junior and Paulina after six years common law marriage and four kids [she was one year older than me] celebrated a church wedding. Ten years later he was dead—someone from a vendetta from an earlier fight or marijuana deal. It was a very hard life for some of these workers. My first ventures into disarmament were 2 scimitar pocket knives, handles carved from cows’ horns, and a 10 gauge sawed-off shotgun—going away presents from the few that had such things, at end of season. Fr. Joe was a constant servant of us all, making things possible, from church liturgies, to farmworker and farmers union support, to rummage sales benefiting the migrants.

This opportunity was such a blessing in my life. I began to have a working knowledge of Spanish—becoming bi-lingual as most of these farmworkers already were. My faith was strengthened, my horizons were expanded—such an important gift for a young adult to feel the beauty, difficulty, and rightness of service, and Gospel beliefs. Fr. Joe had shared part of his ministry with me. It is prayer-study-action Holy Spirit fire that keeps me going to this day. The hope now is that this experience of service, and similar stories from many others in our local faith community, can invite and inspire a wealth of opportunities for our next generations. We are asking the many more members of our parish who’ve been on mission and service projects, to tell us their stories, and join in support of this young adult faith formation.

For more information on current Youth Mission Service opportunities, and to help, contact Michael [810 982 2870] and this committee under Holy Trinity’s Christian Service Commission.

Bunny Anderson’s story

My husband after suffering from mental depression for many years committed suicide. Can there be a death more difficult for loved ones to accept than that? I know it took me much time and counseling before I could even begin to come to grips with that catastrophic event. I felt as if a speeding train had hit me and I was conscious during and after the impact. My body, my mind, my very soul were battered and bruised.

One of the biggest struggles after my husband’s death was to find meaning to a life which seemed to have lost all reason for being. I was 51 years old and my whole world appeared to lie in pieces around me. I turned the problem over to God and started to pray that He would show me what to do with my life. Not a day went by that I did not ask for His help.

God heard my pleas and answered them. One day, a year after my husband’s death, a voice in my head said, “Volunteer your services to a mission hospital.” Now in all my wildest dreams I had never thought of doing anything like that. In fact, I had never even known anyone who had.

Thirty days after that voice told me to volunteer my services, I said, “Yes.” My decision touched off seven months of paperwork, red tape, frustration at snails-pace progress and amazed reactions from friends. My family, though, was encouraging and supportive.

I worked through the Catholic Medical Mission Board in New York City and when the placement director finally wrote and told me about a hospital in Papua New Guinea that needed a tutor nurse, I was delighted. Little did I know as I happily filled out forms and sent them along with my passport to the Papua New Guinea Embassy that my world would once again come crashing down around me.

A year and a half after his father’s death, my 23 year old son, Mark, was killed in a motorcycle accident. Once again I was plunged into the very pit of despair.

It never once entered my mind after my son’s death to cancel my planes to go to Papua New Guinea. Ten weeks after I buried Mark I left all that was near and dear, and headed into the unknown.

I ended up staying in Papua New Guinea for a total of four and a half years and I know now that God sent me there to heal and to learn. If I did any good – and I like to think I did – it’s nothing compared to what I received. The simplicity of the life-style and the childlike faith the people had in God was a revelation to me.

The one big thing I learned is not to limit God in His answers to prayer. We never know what rewards that first step can bring until we take it – in faith.

Cheryl Pergande’s story

My name is Cheryl Pergande; I am originally from Texas nevertheless have been living in Michigan for the last 17 years. I migrated back and forth to Michigan from Texas and back, for several years. This was how my family made ends meets. I worked the fields, for a few years prior to me staying here in Michigan, while the rest of my family migrated back home to Texas.

Sooner than later I was married and had two beautiful boys. After a few years more we began our divorce papers and it twisted my life upside down. Never thought that my marriage was going to end so soon. I was going through a very hard time in my life and needed guidance to what was to come in my near future. Deep down I knew Jesus was my savior that he would lead me out, but at the same time I was very scared.

In 2010 Fr. Art from St. Christopher called me for the first time and asked if I would be interested in working on a Mission trip to the Dominican Republic as a translator, by recommendation of Deacon John Connors. He explained that I would be a great asset to the team since I was fluent in Spanish and that they could use my help. I happily accepted the challenge with pleasure and nervousness. I was nervous about the trip out of the country and leaving my two young boys behind for a week. They had never been without me for more than a day. However “I let Jesus take the wheel”; let my faith in him take over and assure me that it would all be a good experience. This trip would allow me to focus on something else more positive.

My first trip to the DR was the best trip I could have taken that year. Just seeing what a week could do to your Faith. And to learn that in just 1 week of our time we could do so much for so many others. We arrived at the Hermanas “Franciscanas Bernadina’s Convent”, eager to begin our Mission as well as becoming a family. I believe that St. Christopher’s largest mission is to supply them with medications and supply them with money to help the Sisters and their communities. We all volunteered our time in different areas. The women of the team, team up and help out at their Catholic school, “Colegio San Thomas”. We take each grade at a time and give a lesson on Lent, and how we celebrate Easter in our culture. Two or three times during the week we help the English Professor with his class as well. Which is all so beautiful to see our entire group interact with everyone and evangelize. While the women work in the classrooms, the males in the team work outside. They usually are assigned to some job dealing with, painting, and fixing up things. On some of the trips they have helped build homes for people in the community.

Being there with the Sisters, children, and the community for a week made us feel comfortable enough to make us feel like a family. Learning how they live and what they go through to get things done, was a real eye opener. They have so little, but so much to give. And we have it all, and don’t even know it or realize it. We also took walks and visited people in the community, had short visits and shared some stories back and forth. While at their humble homes they wanted to offer you anything they had, and accepted you with great pleasure. Spending time with the community really helped us understand their way of living and brought us closer to them as well. We learned how they made ends meet and how they appreciated what we as a Mission Group meant to all of them.

These Mission trips made my faith grow and made me stronger as a person for my children and inspires me to teach my children about third world countries. Money isn’t everything—happiness, family, safety and having Faith in God and having God in your life is what really counts. God does it for us and we should all follow his example. God Is Good…