The Missionary Life

By Marianna Schmiesing

I’m a full-time missionary. It’s easier to say that I’m an inner-city youth minister, or even an inner-city van driver and poor Kool-Aid maker, but the job description says, “full-time missionary.”

I used to assume that, in order to be a missionary, you had to have answers. You had to have a wealth of knowledge about everything Catholic, about every emotional swing, and every twist and turn of the road.

But here I am. With maybe a single post-it note of half-baked answers.

In his first letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul writes: “When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God.” (1 Cor 2:1). The teenagers I work with help translate this sentence when they laugh at me and say, “You’re weird.”

Because, despite the official job title, I don’t know what I’m doing. There is little to no eloquence when I respond to these kids telling me about their struggles. I don’t yet have the wisdom to know the balance between being firm and being kind. I don’t even know all the kids’ names.

But St. Paul goes on to say, “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling.” (1 Cor 2:2-3)

He had resolved—decided—to go and simply love. For my part, there was no decision; this is just where I found myself. If I had it my way, I would have trained longer and harder for mission work. I would have studied theology, psychology, social work, nursing, and education. I would have waited and entered a convent first to attain a level of holiness that would have me levitating and bi-locating every other week.

But here I am. Barreling along downtown streets in a diesel van, wondering how many expletives I can allow before I tell the kid in charge of the aux chord to change the music.

The other night, we took a group of teenagers to adoration. Half of them had never even been in a Catholic church before. Only a handful knew what adoration was.

It was so easy to approach the night in “great fear and trembling,” as St. Paul says. How were we going to explain the Eucharist? Christ’s presence under the thin veil of bread? Transubstantiation? The Trinity? His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity?

Thankfully, I was not the one who had to introduce this crazy Catholic practice.

Instead, a more experienced missionary simply told the distracted group of teenagers, “Jesus is coming.”

Jesus is coming. He is here. He loves you.

St. Paul continues, “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.” (1 Cor 2:4-5)

I think anyone who does ministry eventually comes to realization that they didn’t enter ministry because they had all the answers (or at least, they quickly realize they don’t have all the answers). They had only one answer: Jesus.

When we say yes, our simplicity—our lack of answers—leaves a great space for the Spirit to breathe into.

Someone old and wise once told me (and a bunch of other students, actually), “The Christian life is simple. Not easy, but simple.”

And it is.

It is overwhelmingly simple to know nothing but Jesus.