“Every person IS a Mission in our world, by the very fact of being in this world.”
Sister Mia Dombrecht is a Missionary Sister of Our Lady of Africa. She shares with us about her missionary vocation; what it means to be a missionary, joys and challenges of missionary life and the place of God in her life journey.
1. Sister Mia, can you tell us something about yourself?
I arrived in our community in Lublin, Poland on September 17th 2018, after having spent 27 years in different countries of Africa as a Missionary Sister of Our Lady of Africa. I started Polish courses at KUL University on October 1st.
2. Who is God for you?
God is our Creator and Saviour. He dreams of a new world where all people are living together as brothers and sisters in one Human family and He invites us to become co-creators and collaborators with Him. He wants to have a unique relationship with each one of us and waits patiently to reveal Himself and to enter into a friendship with each one of his creatures through Jesus. He has a dream for every person and for our lives and has the desire to communicate this dream to us. If we discover God's dream for our lives and we follow it, we become happy and fulfilled.
- After many years walking with the Lord and serving as a missionary, what have you seen about God? What major things do you believe about Him more firmly, more deeply, and more passionately after all these years?
We are made for Him and our hearts can only be deeply fulfilled in Him. We long for love and He is the One who can answer this desire, because He put it into us.
A fulfilled life for a Christian is a Christ-like life. The more we follow Jesus in his attitudes, the more we will be fully alive. In Jesus, all the events of our lives receive a new meaning, joys as well as sorrows. What is important is to discover this hidden meaning of so many events that we don’t understand well. In Jesus, everything receives a new meaning, because Jesus shared everything in our life by the fact of his incarnation in our humanity.
What is the most important for me as a disciple of Jesus is to become like Him in my feelings, actions, words, reactions and to receive little by little this new way of living. As a missionary, as I am experiencing Jesus’ love for me in my life, I have a great desire that others also may discover his friendship in their lives. As I discovered the dream of the Father to transform our Humanity into God's Kingdom of love and peace, I desire to collaborate in order to make of this dream a reality, there were I am sent by our congregation.
- Can you tell us how God has called you?
The desire to be a missionary for African countries was in me since I was a child. When missionaries came into our classes at school to share what they were living in their mission countries, I told myself: when I bcome an adult, I will do as they are doing. The words of Jesus: “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1, 8) These words have come back again and again and made my heart burn.
The call to become a religious sister came later, after I had finished university. I had the desire to get married, but I discovered Jesus’ personal love for me, and then, I felt deeply the call to give my life to Jesus through religious life in order to respond to his love for me. I discovered God's words for me as He spoke to me in a very personal way: ‘You are precious in my eyes, and I love you.‘ (Is. 43:4)
- How did you meet the White Sisters?
Since I was a child, I knew that they existed and that they were working in African countries as the White Fathers were doing. I first met them in Rwanda. Then in Belgium I asked to know them better and I started my formation with them.
- In which countries have you worked?
I have been sent to Rwanda, Burkina Faso, Tunisia and Mauritania. As a congregation leader in North-West Africa, I lived in Algeria and I also visited our communities in Mali, Ghana and Chad.
- What does it mean for you to be a missionary?
I see that this word has many meanings today. I like to say with Pope Francis that "every person IS a Mission in our world, by the very fact of being in this world." Every mother, father, doctor, teacher, worker … IS a Mission for our humanity.
Then, I believe also deeply that every baptised person is a missionary and is called to bear witness to Christ there where he or she lives.
Among all the baptised people, God calls some of them as missionaries--what we call “Ad Extra.” This means to go out to people of other cultures and religions to bear witness to the gospel and to work together with them to build God's Kingdom in the world. That is our special call as MSOLA sisters.
- What are some essential qualities of a good missionary, and how can believers cultivate these qualities?
We can only receive these qualities by God's grace through prayer and by contemplating Jesus, our Model. I pray that all missionaries might receive the grace of universal love for the people we are sent to. Only love can touch their hearts.
I ask also for the grace of faith and prayer. Without Jesus’ grace working within ourselves, we cannot do anything.
As missionaries, we want to follow Jesus in his going out to meet Humanity in his incarnation. Another important quality for a Missionary is to take a step towards the others, who at times are different from ourselves, in order to meet them and to build through these relationships a new world according to God's dream.
Then, as our founder Cardinal Lavigerie taught us, the importance of learning the language of the people; to love and respect their cultural values, their food…
The gift of being able to live together while experiencing as a richness the differences among us. To love and respect other ways of doing, behaving, working…
But all these qualities are the fruit of a whole life!
- What is the best bridge to the gospel in Mauritania/Algeria?
For me it is the deep belief that God's Kingdom is much broader than the Christian community and the Church. We don’t ask Muslims to become Christians. But we wish to work together in daily life in order to realize something of this new world where people live together in love and respect for one another.
In those Muslim countries, the bridge to the gospel is the witness of love, especially towards the poor. For example in Mauritania, Caritas--the social service of the Catholic Church, is the biggest NGO in the country and 99% of the workers are Muslims. When the bishop speaks to them, he calls them ‘his collaborators’. Marvellous, isn’t it?
10. What was for you the biggest joy in being a missionary?
To know that I have followed God's call in my life and to experience this day after day, by the confirmation I receive through my friendship with the African people in the different countries where I was sent. To experience God's faithfulness towards me during my life and to see that this joy is increasing with time.
11. Some challenges?
To follow Christ as the One who is sent by the Father and agree to be sent at any time by the congregation there where is a need--And this, over and over again; To leave the countries where I was known and where I knew the people and the language and to start again in a new mission country, new culture and language…
12. What guidance would you give to those who are considering missions but are unsure?
Look for someone, a missionary, to talk with and who can help you to recognize God's call in your heart. This is very important. You are always welcome in any of our communities where you can find a sister with whom you can share. We are often so blind for ourselves and for God's work in us and we need guidance from outside.
Don’t remain with this uncertainty, but take the step and try! As long as we are not in the reality of a mission context, we cannot know what it is like. Our imagination creates from every small difficulty a real mountain and we see only the difficulties and the questions and we are not living in reality. For example: Shall I be able to live in a hot climate? Shall I like the food? How will it be to live so far from my home country? Often these are questions we have before going and once we are in our mission country, we see that these fears have disappeared. So, my advice is: If you feel an attraction for mission, don’t hesitate, don’t wait too long but go with God's grace and you will see how beautiful mission is!
- And now you are in a new country of mission- Poland. Can you tell us something more about this new mission?
As MSOLA, we have been in Lublin for 27 years. The aim is to bear witness of our missionary life towards African people in the local Church here in Poland; to make Africa loved and to accompany young people who want to be a missionary either for a short time or for a whole life. You can say that we try to be bridges between cultures and religions. I will take my part in this work, together with the other sisters of our MSOLA community: Anafrida from Tanzania, Gosia and Anna from Poland. For now, I have begun to learn the Polish language. You can consult our activities for the year 2018-2019 in our website and you can come here to our house in Lublin to participate in one or more of them.
- What can we wish you?
I would be happy to receive some feedback or reactions from people who are reading my witness and to share something with them!