When asked to reflect on my past year serving as a missionary in Hong Kong, I find it hard to express how transformative this experience has been. It has been a time of personal growth that has reshaped my idea of what it means to be part of the Body of Christ. When you answer the call to be a missionary, you are asked what gifts you have that can be shared with others. But what I have come to learn is that the gifts and knowledge I have received from others far surpass what I have given in return. This might come off as selfish, but I see it as a sign of success in the communion Jesus has shared with every one of us.
My journey with the Young Adult Service Corps (YASC) began as I was questioning the next step after finishing my undergraduate degree. During my summers as a college student, I grew very passionate about the work of The Episcopal Church and the relationships that can be created as a summer camp counselor at Shrine Mont. Like any typical International Affairs major, I yearned for something that would push me out of my comfort zone and allow me to explore the world. With my experience working at Shrine Mont as a camp counselor and my dream to travel to far, exotic places, YASC seemed like the perfect fit.
Through a discernment process, YASC chose to send me to Hong Kong to work as the Chaplin’s assistant with the Mission to Seafarers, a program that operates in over 200 ports in over 50 countries to provide practical, emotional and spiritual support to seafarers operating large container ships. Before arriving in Hong Kong, I had little knowledge of how the maritime shipping industry operates, or how seafarers are treated. Over the past year, I have learned about the sacrifices seafarers make in order for our global economy to operate, and how important it is to support them.
The conversations I’ve had with seafarers have made my work so rewarding. While language and cultural barriers can be obstacles, once I find something that we can both relate to, seafarers tend to open up. I’ve learned about their difficulties being away from family, how they struggle with their work and how they can be very lonely. These are all the same struggles that I have had as a missionary on the other side of the world, away from my friends and family. There is something very humbling in finding that others have faced similar challenges. While I am not trying to say my struggles are equal to what seafarers have to face every day, I do think there is something we can all learn from sharing our experiences.
It would be easy for me to visit ships every day, feel bad about the seafarers’ living conditions, try to help, and then return home to my bed feeling fulfilled in my work. But that’s not what it means to be a missionary. Being a missionary means sharing God’s love and creating connections with others and the world around us. While it is important to support others when we can, I believe it is more important to learn each other’s stories so that we can gain a better understanding of why we are all here. We are all part of the Body of Christ. While we may have different beliefs and practices, we will always be able to find common ground if we are patient and willing to hear each other’s stories.
I don’t think I will be able to process how YASC and my work in Hong Kong have changed my spiritual journey with Christ until I am home and removed from my current environment and work. What I do know is that I have learned how to stop and listen to others without judgment. I have learned to try to find Christ in everyone I meet. I have learned to be true to myself so that I can be true to others. I believe everyone has a journey with Christ and I don’t think it takes a year of being a missionary to realize that. Archbishop Desmond Tutu says, “We are all missionaries, or we are nothing.” I think if we can all discover and use the gifts God has given every one of us,, then we can create the Body of Christ that Jesus shared with us.