I decided to do the year-long Emmanuel School of Mission in New York in October last year.
The School is run by the Emmanuel Community, one of the new ecclesial movements in the Church which was established in France in the 1970s and emerged out of the charismatic renewal.
It seemed like a great opportunity for many reasons.
I wanted to strengthen my faith, learn how to be a missionary and spread the love of God with everyone I met.
It also sounded like a great year to be formed more in the Catholic faith and to serve the poor – in this case (and especially) in the Bronx.
It wasn’t an easy decision, but when all the doors opened and I couldn’t find any more reasons for not doing it, I quit my job, moved out of my house and tried to prepare myself for what lay ahead.
Within six weeks I flew halfway across the world and found myself in what seemed like a different universe.
Settling in, I learned to love things such as community Praise (which I had never experienced before) and even the ceaseless background noise of the Bronx.
We were nine missionaries from eight different countries, with two priests. We lived in community – one of the best experiences of ESM.
Yes, it was at times challenging and, despite the initial language barriers (especially between myself and the French speakers) we spent nine months laughing, cooking, cleaning, leading missions, studying, eating and praying together. Life-long friendships were made and now I have friends all over the world.
A big part of the year was obviously mission life. We were based in the South Bronx in New York – one of the toughest neighbourhoods in the city that never sleeps.
Yet it was probably the best place for us to be because many people there were poor and hungry – physically hungry but especially spiritually hungry.
We visited the Missionaries of Charity in their mother house, a five minute walk from where we lived, and volunteered in their soup kitchen a couple of days per week.
There, the Missionaries feed 40-80 homeless people everyday. We also did street evangelisation in the Bronx every week where we had so many beautiful conversations with people from every possible background.
I definitely felt more evangelised by the end than the people we went to evangelise. I especially remember one lady I spoke to who told us she was dying of cancer and that she had lost hope. She then took a Word of God from us which was about hope and trusting in God.
She started to cry and told us that we were God’s messengers sent to her and that we had given her hope. This is just one of many stories of the people who Christ touched through us in the Bronx.
We also went on various missions overseas and within the US, from running retreats in highschools, to leading ‘Mercy’ nights and parish missions.
Through daily Mass and adoration, plus retreats throughout the year, I learnt to love prayer and have a deeper love of God. You can’t go to daily Mass and have an hour of adoration everyday and not be changed.
I also learnt many new things through our intellectual formation and the classes that we received every week on various topics from Moral Theology, Scriptures, Spirituality and Art History, to name a few.
When I arrived at the beginning of the year, I didn’t know what to expect.
Looking back now on an amazing nine months I can say that ESM was an amazing opportunity to serve others and to be a witness to the Faith. It completely changed my life.
It also taught me the need and duty for every Catholic to be a missionary.
Somewhere along the way, I received more than I ever knew I could. When you get out of your comfort zone and are open to what God is asking you, many beautiful things happen.
I learnt during these nine months how wonderful it is to be Catholic. ESM taught me the importance of friendships in a way I never fully experienced before. It helped me to pray and to always incorporate God into every aspect of my day.
The motto of the school is ‘Give all, get more!’ This, I found, was so true.
Looking back I can say ESM will change your life. My life will never be the same and for that I will be eternally grateful. A year given fully to serve God through everyone you meet is abundantly rewarded. I have met Jesus this year and come to know Him like I never knew Him before.
If anyone is ever thinking of doing a mission year I would highly recommend it.
With permission. This article first appeared on www.catholicweekly.com.au