November 8, 2013

Learning a lesson in love

Sisters grow in lives of faith through missionary service around the world

Lauren, left, and Erin Gahimer of SS. Francis and Clare of Assisi Parish in Greenwood share a rare moment together during a year when the two sisters have traveled to different parts of the world to help others. (Submitted photo)

Lauren, left, and Erin Gahimer of SS. Francis and Clare of Assisi Parish in Greenwood share a rare moment together during a year when the two sisters have traveled to different parts of the world to help others. (Submitted photo)

By John Shaughnessy

Erin and Lauren Gahimer are like many sisters: They have their own unique qualities, but they also have a bond that connects them at their core.

One connection that binds the sisters from SS. Francis and Clare of Assisi Parish in Greenwood is the way they live their faith through service around the world.

So it seems fitting that there was a certain sisterly serendipity in the defining experiences they each had recently as 23-year-old Erin did a three-month missionary stint in South America while 21-year-old Lauren spent a month in Ethiopia teaching English to children.

Both experiences involved interactions with little girls who cared enough to reach out to a stranger during an unsettling time.

“One particular Tuesday, I was walking to the market when a little 9-year-old Ethiopian girl in my class saw me and approached me,” Lauren recalls. “We both entered the market and began shuffling through the large crowd of people. At one point, I became extremely overwhelmed. There were animals on all sides of me, children yelling at me for money, and pressure to keep moving. However, I was at a standstill and did not know what to do.

“Suddenly, a little hand grabbed my own. Zubad was her name. She was my student, and she led me through the market safely. She also helped me make purchases and ensure that I was being treated with kindness and respect from her country people. It was truly a moment I will never forget. It really renewed my faith in the human spirit.”

Erin had a similar experience while working with students at a mission in Argentina. A little girl—a stranger—helped her navigate the streets of Buenos Aires during her first week there in August.

It was among the moments that led Erin to note, “These instances have just blown me away and given me a renewed sense of the human capacity to love and open one’s arms to the stranger.”

It’s the same gift that Erin and Lauren have been trying to share through their service this year.

‘God’s got it’

Erin describes her missionary stint in Argentina as “a complete leap of faith.”

After graduating from the University of Dayton in May, she wasn’t sure what direction she wanted to follow in her life, so she decided to do something “new, adventurous and meaningful” with her Spanish degree—volunteering in a Spanish-speaking country.

From early August through early November, she worked for a Catholic organization called the Marianist Mission Foundation. She served as a teaching assistant in two schools, one in the heart of a slum. She also helped at-risk college students.

“Coming to Argentina was a complete leap of faith,” she says. “I came by myself to a place, a continent to be specific, I’ve never been to in my life—to work with people I had only met via Skype. And it was just me, hoping it would all work out OK.”

The experience not only worked out better than she expected, it reinforced in her the Catholic sense of community that she felt as a student at Dayton, Roncalli High School in Indianapolis and Our Lady of the Greenwood School in Greenwood.

“The opening of people’s houses to me as a complete stranger, the hospitality to strike up a conversation with me, or the offering to help me navigate my way around Buenos Aires are all examples of how I felt right at home [thousands of] miles away from the U.S.

“This experience has also strengthened my faith in God and his plan for me. While I still am not 100 percent certain about my future career and study plans, this experience has helped me realize that everything will work out in its own time. When I was stressed out earlier in the year about my post-graduation plans, God knew what was waiting for me in Buenos Aires.

”This faith experience has been a reminder to me that, as a popular Gospel song says, ‘God’s got it.’ Do your best, have faith and God’s got the rest.”

Learning a lesson in love

As she taught English to children in Ethiopia in August, Lauren soon realized that she was also receiving an education from her students.

“The young girls, barely 9 years of age, had such a great influence on me,” she says.

“One day, while I was sitting with them, each one reached into their pocket and removed a hand-stitched bracelet. They each said they had spent their nights making the bracelet specifically for me. In addition to the bracelets, I began to realize that these children would give me anything and everything they owned. It really showed me that those who have the least give the most.”

The bracelets became a symbol of the kind of love and generosity that Lauren doesn’t experience often in her homeland.

“From my experience in the United States, I know that many people are very slow to truly love and trust another human being. Americans are very individualistic and therefore take a longer time to give of themselves to another human being. In Ethiopia, this is not the case. These children were so quick to love.

“I believe that this quality translates to their steadfast devotion to their faith and God. For me, I find it difficult to trust and give my everything to God, but watching the people of Ethiopia do this so naturally and effortlessly was inspiring. While watching the children pray, I wished that one day I would have a faith such as their own in which I could give of myself so willingly and effortlessly.”

That search for a deeper faith also led Lauren on a different journey in the past year.

Living outside the comfort zone

During the 2012-13 school year, the nursing student at St. Louis University studied in Madrid, Spain. During her time there, Lauren walked 100 miles along the ancient pilgrimage path that leads to the cathedral of St. James at Santiago de Compostela. The path is known as the “Camino” in Spanish and “the Way” in English.

“Toward the end of my 100-mile stint, I was aching from discomfort,” she recalls. “My feet were covered with blisters, muscles throbbing, and tendons swollen. Each step was a tremendous effort.

“I decided to take a break. As I was sitting there, I realized that there were many pilgrims sitting and taking a rest. To my right, there were people speaking Spanish. To my left, people speaking French. In front, people speaking German. Behind, people speaking English. Like myself, these individuals had removed their shoes to observe and tend to their aching feet. For me, that was a moment of comfort. I was hurting, but not alone.”

As she rested, she noticed the message printed on a T-shirt worn by one of the pilgrims: “Sin Dolor, No Hay Gloria.”

“This translates to, ‘Without pain, there is no glory,’ ” Lauren says. “After reading this shirt, I made the connection to the Camino and life on Earth and eternal life. Life on earth is like the Camino as it can be painful as a result of sin. Likewise, the cathedral is a metaphor to eternal life as it is the ultimate goal.”

Lauren’s journey on the Camino also reminds her of a lesson that she and Erin have learned in their efforts to live their faith through service.

“I never understood life on Earth and eternal life more than when seeing the eclectic group of individuals on the Camino—all suffering and walking toward a common goal,” Lauren says. “This really went to show for me that simply studying and being surrounded by religion would not offer all the answers I need.

“Sometimes, we have to go outside our comfort zones to really find those answers—and come to a better understanding of our purpose in this life.” †

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