Quantcast
You have permission to edit this article.
Edit
Faith Into Practice

On a Mission

Acadiana families answer a deeper calling

  • Comments

Twenty minutes south of Abbeville is a 100-acre tract surrounded by a wooded swamp called Big Woods that is off the radar for many outside of Vermilion Parish. But the work of Family Missions Company located there has brought the area a quiet and profound notoriety. It’s where people from all over have chosen to redefine their identities and worth by learning to do mission work.

Since 1995, Family Missions Company missionaries have worked stateside and around the world fulfilling what they consider the holiest duty of the Catholic Church: proclaiming Jesus Christ and His Gospel to the poor – while embracing lives of poverty themselves.

Executive directors of Family Missions Company Kevin and Sarah Summers-Granger define what a mission-driven life focused around giving back should look like, and have dedicated their lives to spreading the Word of Jesus to the poor in foreign countries.

Sarah, an Abbeville native whose parents Frank and Genie Summers were the founders of Family Missions, was born into mission work. Kevin, who is a registered nurse, grew up in Baton Rouge, worked with Missionaries of Charity, and studied music at UL. When he was 22, he took a short mission trip to General Cepeda, Mexico in 2007, and as soon as he crossed the border said he knew mission work was what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. It’s also where he met – and eventually fell in love with – Sarah who was leading the mission trip. “It’s been a glorious adventure as a marriage,” declares Sarah.

Growth of a Movement

Ten years ago, Family Missions started out with 20 to 30 foreign missionaries and, over a nine-year period, Kevin says participation grew an impressive 900 percent. He attributes the spike in part to the work of their predecessors Joseph Summers (Sarah’s brother, who is now the advancement director) and his wife Brooke, as well as a push by Popes John Paul II and Frances to awaken the urgent need for foreign missions.

Today, there are over 250 missionary parents, children and singles preaching the gospel on behalf of Family Missions in Mexico, Peru, Ecuador, Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, Haiti, the Philippines and Asia, as well as the U.S.

Surprisingly, there isn’t much recruiting done. Since it’s a radical life to be called into, Sarah and Kevin feel it has to be a calling that prospects hear from God.

Among their seven children, the Grangers’ 20-year-old son has been undergoing training, since September, to be a third-generation missionary with Family Missions. By January he will be taught the basics of evangelization, cultural awareness, community life, language and sharing the Good News. He is joined by three families, two single men and five single women. Missionaries in training live within some of the 17 housing units at Big Woods for the entire period.

Embracing a Culture of Service

In the field, the essence of the missionaries’ work is the same wherever they go. “You enter into the culture that hasn’t heard of the gospel and make it accessible,” Sarah says. “In open countries, you’re working with a parish and a priest and start a prayer meeting or a charitable outreach. You live there, make friends and invite them to ask questions and help them grow in their faith. It’s a battle between apathy and lukewarmness. Our goal is to make disciples of Jesus who can make other disciples.”

Sounds pretty straightforward, until you consider the challenges. Shedding some light on a few misconceptions, Kevin says, “It takes a lot longer than you think to learn another language and the culture well. And new missionaries often have an expectation of community in the American sense, but there’s a lot of isolation in missions; you might be the only American for 100 miles. The point is to make a community with the people you serve.”

Then there are other challenges of mission work: possible illnesses, harsh environments, lack of comforts, feelings of inadequacy, and separation from extended family and friends. Back in the states, very few family members understand what mission work involves; it’s a concept that sounds crazy to many.

Missionaries Katie and Matthew Glafcke can confirm, “Some people who heard we were becoming missionaries, thought we were in a mid-life crisis. Now three years in, some still can’t relate to what we’re doing.”

The couple, who came to Family Missions in 2018, gives talks and testimonials as part of the Intake Program. There’s no sugar-coating what to expect as Katie shares, “We thought we’d fall right into the lifestyle without much difficulties. Our first mission was in Haiti. We had five children at the time. Some of the struggles were finding food and water for the family. We didn’t have a water filter and there were no stores in our town. We didn’t have a car. There was no power, so we couldn’t have refrigeration.” It was an experience that taught the Glafckes to turn to others when they need help.

Matthew is a theology teacher at Vermilion Catholic, and Katie is editor for Serve magazine, which helps support their, now, six children. Like other missionaries, they are expected to do their own fundraising to meet their expenses. “Missionaries are advised to raise $3,000 a month to cover expenses,” says Matthew who shares that they get most of their funds from family and friends in Wisconsin, where they’re from. (There are some generous donors in the Abbeville area, as well.)

Purpose-Driven Life

Contrary to what you’re probably thinking, these missionaries are feeling anything but deprived, as they lead rich, full, happy lives spreading the Word of Jesus.

“A lot of people have a hard time putting their faith into practice, but we’re following others who are following the Lord,” says Thomas Vehige who, along with his wife Genevieve, has been a missionary for nine years. Like their peers, the couple is familiar with hearing friends urging them to “get a real job.” But, Thomas says earnestly, “This is giving us a way to practically live a life of faith.”

Genevieve, who is expecting a baby that will join their 16-month-old, shares that feeling of purpose. “This is a great unity for our family,” she says. “Thomas and I have the same goal of serving the Lord wherever he calls us to go.” She says their experience has been realized by her extended family, as well. “My mom left the church and 15 years later has returned, and my sisters have seen the change in my life.”

For Ben and Natalia Schumann, the American dream wasn’t what they thought in Colorado where they lived. “We had our first child and bought our first home; Ben was looking for a different job. We wanted something else for our family,” says Natalia.

While attending an evangelization conference at Family Missions in 2014, the Schumans were inspired by the speakers and have been there since. For Natalia her prayers have been answered, witnessing how mission life has brought “Jesus to her family.” She goes on to say, “It has brought our three children a deeper understanding that they are part of a plan for this world far beyond what they could conceive.” She sees it, for example, when her 8-year-old daughter and two other girls in the community have awoken early routinely to pray for the families of the Intake Program.

It’s a prayer of all the missionaries at Family Missions. The more people participating in the intake program, the closer the ministry becomes in fulfilling the Great Commission: when Jesus told his disciples to go into the whole world and make disciples of all nations.

Working towards that, Sarah and Kevin Granger say they sat down together and decided, “We want 100,000 missionary disciples in 10 years – and for them to reach out to others. That’s the only way everyone will get to know about Jesus.” Like everyone at Family Missions Company, they “dare to pray big."

Load comments