August 6thwas a weird day to start with. I typically wake up early and go to mass with my family but I didn’t, I slept in. Instead I had my very strong cup of coffee and went for a run. After working in the office for a few hours the AC turned off (weekend hours) so I begrudgingly returned home. I had been planning on going straight to mass later but decided that might as well go to an earlier showing, and picked another mass close by.
Please don’t think I “hate” Mission Sunday, but the problem for me is I want to sign up and go every time I hear a missionary come and talk about their project. My heart aches and I sit on the edge of my seat desperate to move to all corners of the world. So, when I heard it was Mission Sunday I slumped. “This is going to be a hard one” I thought. I was relieved when I heard our missionary was from Ecuador, “oh good, I’ve been there.”
That is when Sister Anne, from the Father Damien House got up to speak. My mind quickly becomes alert, “How many Hansen’s hospitals run by Sister Anne’s can there be?” Yep, just one (I Googled it during mass). Now I am faced with the huge coincidence that this happened to be the one I have been to in 2005, 14 years ago. This very missionary and place she is describing truly changed the course of my life. I am gob-smacked and sitting in mass now with flashbacks to everything she is talking about. Not only is this such a small world, it feels like God is sending me a pretty clear message – “Go Talk to Her”.
In 2005 I went on a mission trip with the Immersion Program at Santa Clara University. It was the summer entering into my 2ndyear. I had no idea what I signed up for other than a fun trip that would get me back to school and away from summer school/chores sooner! I also love volunteering, so this was a great trip to sign up for. The school had never done it before, so they didn’t really know what to expect either. I was thrilled to be exploring the world.
On the trip we had so many eye-opening and life-altering experiences. I met people who squatted in trash dumps and children who played in the streets alone everyday. The most moving experience were our two visits to Father Damien’s House. Now Sister Anne is in front of me again 14 years later and I have the rare opportunity to thank her for setting my life in a crazy trajectory largely responsible for what I do today.
Sister Anne is a nun from New York. She moved to Ecuador over 30 years ago to spend 3 years teaching. She had no idea that a year into her mission she would be switching course and running a Hansen’s Hospital, but she was obedient and had the support of her sisters and now over 30 years later she is a world expert on the disease (she might not realize it but she is).
When we visited as students we were not there to provide any real support. However, Sister Anne was so open, welcoming, and hospitable to our group of students who wandered through her doors. We actually came twice! The first time I think we were just all overwhelmed and shocked by the reality of Hansen’s (Leprosy) that we needed a couple days to soak it all in. Then a few days later we were given the opportunity to return and actually spend time with patients. This is when she had us use our hands and just touch the patients.
The patients have all suffered physically and emotionally. They are ostracized or rejected from their communities for being “cursed” or diseased. It’s understandable with the lack of education around the disease but the feeling of being disregarded is strong. Then Sister Anne had us touch. Yes, you read that correctly. I cannot explain the electricity of the Holy Spirit that occurred that day. It was magic. We sat and held hands or rested a hand on an arm and just spent time together with the patients.
Sister Anne must know now after many years of visitors that her residents give more than they receive. The hospitality of all and opportunity to change our lives keeps them welcoming more, changing one life at a time. So now I am in front of Sister Anne telling her she changed my life and thanking her for those visits (14 years late, oops).
She asks me about what I am up to now so I tell her… “I sell things for nonprofits”… our eyes lock and she just smiles. I explained to her “You told me to go and use my gifts and talents to make the world a better place, that’s all I have been trying to do since. You changed my life.” She asked if I recall her patients make beautiful crafts and I said yes, she doesn’t know but I still have a peace dove hanging at home from one of her patients.
I met with Sister Anne the next morning to go over Branch Out Market and a partnership that would work for them. The hope and sense of purpose that we can give to these patients is life-changing. Today she is also able to care for patients living at home, they also are able to make things but not sell them on their own due to the stigma and transportation problems (it is hard to walk).
God has a funny sense of timing and 14 years to Him is nothing. To think I have been going about my life with ups and downs and then starting Branch Out Market, having a cup of coffee, and all the while God knew I would meet Sister Anne again. The world needs more love and now we have a chance to give it. Not just for the patients of Father Damien House but for all our partners at Branch Out Market.
The lesson is, I am the missionary I always wanted to be. I just get to be one at home, bringing all these beautiful stories and products back to share.
Stay tuned for peace doves, pins, crosses, and more coming to Branch Out Market in September!