January 18, 2008

Faithful Lines / Shirley Vogler Meister

Understanding mission work vicariously

Shirley Vogler MeisterRecently, when I learned through media reports that a new wave of violence broke out in Kenya, I immediately thought of my longtime friend, Rosanne Pirtle, professor emeritus of Marian College in Indianapolis.

There, Pirtle was director of early childhood education and director of student teaching, and was also involved in special education.

She is engaged in four foreign mission efforts: in El Salvador with Marian College; in Ghana with a group from Sea Island, S.C., through Habitat for Humanity; in Zambia with a group from McLean Baptist Church in McLean, Va.; and in Sierra Leone with her place of worship, Carmel United Methodist Church in Carmel, Ind.

She has also worked in the Appalachian Mountains in Kentucky, in Mississippi for Hurricane Katrina relief and in Johns Island, S.C.—all through Carmel United Methodist Church.

When she is away, I pray diligently for her safety and success. Through the years, I have also prayed for Catholic priests, nuns and lay people on similar trips.

As a girl, I wanted to be a missionary, especially in Africa. My vocation took another turn, but I am still keenly interested in mission work, especially in places like Kenya that struggle toward democratic freedom.

During the recent holidays, I read a book that reminded me of my lost vocation—Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust. The book reveals the horrors of oppression when Hutus slaughtered more than a million ethnic Tutsis, burning nearly everything in their path.

The author, Immaculeé Ilibagiza, is a devout Catholic as were her parents and siblings. She was “left to tell” what she witnessed and experienced as well as dedicate her life into a positive force that now helps children of Africa build better lives.

I finished the book with a deep respect for this woman, who also shows by example the blessedness of forgiveness toward others even after such horrors.

The author credits her survival to her deep faith in a loving God, even during the 91 days that she and seven other starving women were hiding in a tiny bathroom where they couldn’t even talk for fear of detection.

Her Catholic faith sustained her. She literally prayed and meditated during all waking hours, also silently praying her father’s rosary. She remembered Bible verses she knew by heart, later begging the man who hid them to give her a Bible—and he did. The irony: He was a Hutu and she is Tutsi.

Recently, I was pleased to read in my parish bulletin that Immaculeé Ilibagiza will be speaking at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Parish in Carmel from 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Feb. 16.

Tickets can be ordered by sending a $10 check and self-addressed, stamped envelope to Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Parish, 14598 Oak Ridge Road, Carmel, IN 46032. The parish phone number is 317-663-4005.

(Shirley Vogler Meister, a member of Christ the King Parish in Indianapolis, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.) †

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