Jim Graves is a Catholic writer and editor living in Newport Beach, California. He previously served as Managing Editor for the Diocese of Orange Bulletin, the official newspaper of the Diocese of Orange, California. His work has appeared in the National Catholic Register, Our Sunday Visitor, Cal Catholic Daily and Catholic World Report.
Ad Gentes Mission (www.adgentesmission.org) was established in 2017 to assist independent lay missionaries with planning and executing missions throughout the world. Founded by Franciscan University of Steubenville graduate Heather Perry and headquartered in a home minutes away from the university’s campus, in its first year the organization has helped nearly 50 missionaries on trips to Russia, Peru, Ireland, Alaska and Ukraine.
The following are profiles of two missionaries who worked through Ad Gentes Mission:
Jessica Dowling of Rhode Island was a full-time, year-round missionary to Magadan, Russia (June 2017 – Nov. 2018). She was forced to leave the mission due to a health issue.
What did you do on your mission?
I taught English through Bible and saint stories to children, ran a young adult group, started and hosted an art club for local teens, helped out at a Catholic parish, visited and assisted a prison camp survivor and attended the local university for Russian lessons, relational ministry and friendship evangelization. God used me to bring the light of Christ to my friends there, and open them up to the beauty of the Catholic Church and the dignity of each person. I was blessed with some incredibly deep friendships that I will carry and cherish the rest of my life.
How did Ad Gentes Mission help you?
Ad Gentes helped make my fundraising effortless. They are an incredible organization, whose mission is beautiful. Heather Perry and Nadia Kramer, the operations manager, are so supportive and always there to help.
Ad Gentes is going to shape the future of Catholic missionary work. They will enable and foster the spread of the joy of Christ through their work. I cannot wait to see what the future has in store for them!
Elizabeth Tkacik of Upstate New York served as a missionary in the Diocese of Anchorage, Alaska in summer 2018. She will lead the Magadan Mission in summer 2019.
What did you do on your mission to Alaska?
We did seven weeks of Vacation Bible School. We had a program for students from 1st-6th grade and 7th-12th. In the evenings, Fr. Michael Shields, our priest, would preach and we would have a time of prayer and praise with the Blessed Sacrament.
Much fruit came from all of this, so much so that the Diocese of Anchorage is now starting a Totus Tuus summer program to continue the work that we began over the summer. The following is one of my personal favorite stories of how the Lord worked through me this summer:
The first week we were in Alaska, we helped out with the Alaskan Catholic Youth Conference (ACYC). We gave some talks, but mostly we were there to just be with the youth and do relational ministry. One of the days, we were able to hike up Flat Top Mountain with the teens. I ended up climbing it with a group of middle school-age girls.
For a lot of different reasons, I ended up heading back down early with only one of the girls, Rosie. At first I was very frustrated because we weren’t able to make it to the top of the mountain, but I pushed this aside and continued to have a pretty average conversation with Rosie. Suddenly, she started to talk to me about how she has always felt the call to religious life and shared some of her struggles with her family and her home parish and what it meant to her to come to this conference. And then she turned to me and said, “It is so amazing to have someone who I can trust to talk to about all of this.”
I was completely floored! All of my frustration immediately dissipated and I realized that the conversation we had was truly ordained by God. Even though I had made plans for hiking the mountain and having fun, God had the plan to give this young girl comfort through me. This set a beautiful precedent of how the Holy Spirit worked through me and my teammates this summer. I got to catch up with her when we went to her parish, and I am very grateful for every encounter we’ve had.
What help did Ad Gentes provide?
Having led an independent mission without Ad Gentes in Ireland in 2017, I was hesitant to agree to leading again last summer. Without the help of Ad Gentes, leading a mission was disorganized, stressful, even frustrating. I was expecting all of this to happen again, but Ad Gentes helped to provide the organization necessary to help make our mission more fruitful.
By helping us take care of logistical elements, Ad Gentes allows the mission leads to be more concerned with things such as team formation/bonding, and even doing more direct work as a missionary themselves. Ad Gentes specifically provided help with the formation of our budget, a comfortable place for our team to meet, as well as certain aspects of our team’s formation, not to mention the ability to fundraise through a nonprofit organization. Their help was invaluable to us and our mission would not have been the same without them!
What else would you like to share about your mission?
We are a team of American college students who will be spending the summer evangelizing and serving our brothers and sisters in Russia. From June through early August, we seek to serve our fellow brothers and sisters through acts of love, service and sacrifice.
This is the sixth year for Magadan Mission. It was started in 2013 when three students at Franciscan University felt a call from God to do mission work in Russia. They sent out an email to several Catholic priests in Russia, expressing this call they received on their hearts. Fr. Michael Shields, an American priest from the diocese of Anchorage, Alaska, responded. That summer, the three students assisted Fr. Michael at his parish in Magadan. They sought to be a light in the community by bringing joy and love to those they encountered. In essence, they shared Jesus with the people of Magadan through acts of love, service and sacrifice.
For the past five summers, the mission has continued. On mission, we missionaries feed the hungry, repair homes, visit the elderly, share English and catechize. Our primary focus, however, is to bring Jesus to God’s people of Magadan through friendship evangelization. By entering into deep friendships with those in Magadan, we bring Jesus to those we encounter, thus bringing them hope, joy and peace. Please pray for our mission, because prayer is the driving force and the strength of all our missionary efforts.