Guest Outpost blog by Ainsley Herrick
Recently a friend loaned me her copy of “Gracias! A Latin American Journal” by Henri Nouwen. The book chronicles Nouwen’s six months spent in Bolivia and Peru, while he attempts to answer the question: Does God call me to live and work in Latin America in the years to come? Although there are many differences between myself, a 23-year-old Presbyterian seminary student from the U.S. who currently lives in Colombia, and Nouwen, a 50-year-old Catholic priest from Holland who lived in Bolivia and Peru in 1981, I feel a certain kinship with him. I chose to take a year off before my final year of seminary to do international service for the same reason Nouwen chose to spend six months in South America. I am trying to find the answer to a very similar question: Is God calling me to be a mission coworker?
My friend gave me this book after I expressed to her my frustrations, particularly over my language difficulties, but also my feelings of inadequacy and uselessness. As I struggle to adjust to a new lifestyle, culture, language and job, I sometimes feel as though I have accomplished nothing. I wonder when I will start to feel useful, like I am actually doing ministry. And then I look around me and wonder, what do I even have to offer?
In the midst of all of these frustrations I found comfort in Nouwen’s words, but I was struck by one passage in particular. Near the end of his time in Bolivia, he was asked to bless the grave of a 16-year-old boy who had been run over by a truck. As he prayed with the boy’s mother, he wished he had something more to offer her, and lamented that he could not call the boy back to life. He concludes the passage by saying, “But then I realized that my ministry lay more in powerlessness than in power; I could give her only my tears.” He reminded me of the many times I have already felt this in my first two short years of ministry. How many times have I sat with someone in their grief or doubt or pain and wished I had something to more offer them than a hand to hold and a few words of comfort?
But after reflecting for some time upon Nouwen’s words, I realized that in this instance, maybe he was wrong (may God forgive me for suggesting such a thing!). Yes, we are powerless. And it may seem as though we have nothing more to offer than our presence. But that doesn’t mean that our ministry is powerless. Sometimes, as we get caught up in the day-to-day struggles, we forget that ministry is not the work that we do, but the work that God does through us. In ministry we bring the presence and power of our greatest Comfort to those in the places of greatest pain.
And so as I reflect on my frustrations and the work ahead of me, I give thanks for the presence of the One that is greater than me. Although on my own I am inadequate, I give thanks that I don’t do this work on my own. The goal of my ministry is not to fix all of the problems of the world, but to allow God’s light to shine through me. Because although I might be powerless, God never is.
Ainsley Herrick is an M.Div student at Louisville Presbyterian Seminary. She is currently serving as a Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) in Pital, Colombia.