Laughter. Learning. Community. Reflection. If I had to sum up what the Salesian Lay Missioner orientation was like in just a handful of words, these would be the words I choose.
Despite being thousands of miles away from Orlando and being surrounded by people that were mostly strangers, I felt like I was right at home from the moment I arrived. We stayed in New Rochelle for our first week, where the Salesian provincial house for the eastern U.S. and Canada is located, as well as the headquarters for Salesian missions.
We spent our time during this week sharing our journeys, learning more about the SLM program and Salesian life, and going through cross-cultural training. It was a good way to get to know one another better, as well as to know ourselves and our respective purposes for going on mission. We spent plenty of time with the Salesian community there, joining them for morning prayer, daily Mass, and breakfast, and evening prayer and dinner on most days. This was the most content-heavy of our three weeks at orientation, and as such, there just isn’t that much to share about it.
We spent our second week in the town of Portchester serving the community of Don Bosco parish. This was the most difficult week in my opinion, not because the work we did was hard, but because we spent a good bit of it just wandering around wondering what to do, especially early on, even while at our various service sites. The biggest thing that the community needed help with was setting up for the parish carnival that was set to take place the next week.
Most of the work that they wanted our help with was dependent upon other people arriving to set up the big tents, or to run power and water lines through the area. So we did whatever tasks we could find while waiting for that to happen, which mostly turned out to be cleaning things and organizing the area, and then waiting to see if there were other things we could clean and organize, or looking for other ways to help.
One day I was put in the group to go down to the soup kitchen, which ended up not being busy that day. We completed the task we were given within the first hour, and just mingled with the people that were there until the next task came along. There was a great deal of waiting and this “in-between time” that went on throughout our service week, at least until work started picking up at the carnival. The director of the SLM program and the returned SLMs that served as our orientation guides told us that we will most likely experience this every so often out at our mission sites, that it can be frustrating, and that it’s good preparation for those occasions.
After our week of service we made our way out to the Marian Shrine at Stony Point, where the Salesian brothers and priests had congregated for their annual retreat. This week served as time to rest, to continue deepening relationships with one another, to spend more time with the Salesian community, and to learn more about our sites. This was a wonderful way to cap off orientation and recharge from the past two weeks. Some highlights from this week included a day hike and Mass, spending a night at the carnival that we had helped set up, and our actual commissioning as SLMs.
I really enjoyed this week and feel like I received the most from that hike and Mass. After having spent the previous weeks in the city, it was good to be able to step away from that, enjoy a nice hike, and experience the Mass as the early church would have. There were several caves and natural shelters along the way, and during a brief stop in our hike, I went off with a couple of the others, spotted an opening, and explored it with them. This path ended up rejoining with the path we were going to take, but we got to do a little bit of rock climbing through it, and though it was but a small detour, there was a part of me that was just a little bit more satisfied because of this adventure.
As I look back on orientation I’m left with a feeling of contentment. There’s a part of me that wishes I could have spent another week or so with the Salesians and the other SLMs, building up my own personal relationships with them, but the rest of me is ready; ready to depart from the world that I know, ready to experience what life in Africa is going to be like, but most of all, ready to see how I encounter Jesus as I set out for my mission site. I don’t know what it is that he has in store for me there, but I’m excited to encounter him, to encounter the people of Lungi, and to hopefully figure that out along the way. And thus a new adventure begins.