Sister Mary Henrich, I.H.M.

Today’s world is challenging, exciting, at times dangerous and well worth exploring. What motivates iGeneration college students to participate in mission trips? Many young people have good hearts and simply want to give back.

Pope Francis wrote, “An authentic faith — which is never comfortable or completely personal — always involves a deep desire to change the world, to transmit values, to leave this earth somehow better than we found it.” Perhaps that is exactly what the missionary disciples of our colleges are doing on their mission trips.

When the Immaculata University van pulled out of the parking lot on our way to the airport for our departing flight to a missionary trip to Peru, one of the moderators asked, “What did you pack?” One student responded immediately, “I packed an open mind and an open heart.” I smiled and was delighted by the spontaneous answer — no expectations, just openness to a new adventure.

Recently I returned from that two-week mission trip to Peru with nine students from Immaculata University. Why Peru? Because the IHM sisters from Immaculata have been serving in Peru since 1922; we have a connection and a place to live.

The students who have gone to Peru these past five summers have seen the IHM charism of love, creative hope and fidelity lived and have embraced it in deeper ways. They see that our sisters have served the people of Peru mainly through education and our students are joining them in the charism of love, giving joyful service and hope to students and teachers.

Each morning, we boarded the bus to journey over to a poor area of Manchay to assist students in grades one through six to learn English, helping especially with pronunciation. They need to hear the language spoken by native speakers. Our presence provides time and opportunity for practice and the children work hard to get the proper pronunciation.

Late morning we depart for another school that serves children who are physically disabled.  Many of the children in this K-12 school are in wheelchairs and some are unable to perform basic physical movements for themselves.

The school depends on adult volunteers to feed the children at lunch time. The children particularly enjoy the college students who feed them one-on-one and talk to them the entire meal. Together they laugh and enjoy the personal connection that the students make so joyfully. The younger students appreciate the attention and goodness of their new friends.

Each evening we gather to pray, reflect, share conversation and journal after spending our day ministering at the two schools and enjoying a meal time. This is a favorite part of each day because it matters and anchors us. We process together what we are experiencing, feeling and noticing. We ask: What is God doing? Where did I experience God today? What am I learning about myself? What am I learning about people through this experience?

Hearing the students’ responses to where they are noticing God during their selfless giving to children in classrooms and lunchrooms is deeply moving. Our students slow down, pay attention and thank God they are spending a part of their summer vacation far from home, in a country that speaks a different language and meeting people with an entirely different experience who want the same things: to be educated, to love and be loved, to be respected.

Our students were of various faith traditions and their reflections were rich. One student said questions were posed that invited her to go deeper in her faith to discover her own answers.

As part of their educational experience, students go on mission trips with open minds and hearts and are transformed. They return with hearts and minds that open wider for a world filled with wonder and awe and the appreciation that we are indeed called to be on mission and take the joy of the Gospel into the world both at home and abroad.

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Sister Mary Henrich, I.H.M., is vice president for mission and ministry at Immaculata University.