An Unexpected Journey
I love J.R.R. Tolkien, the brilliant stories he wrote and the movies that followed. Recently, I was reminded of the opening scene from The Hobbit. In it, Gandalf approaches Bilbo on his front lawn. After a witty back and forth dialogue, an uncomfortable silence falls. To break the quiet, Bilbo asks: “Can I help you?”
Gandalf replies, “That remains to be seen. I’m looking for someone to share in an adventure.” Slowly realizing Gandalf is inviting him, Bilbo responds, “An adventure? Now, I don’t imagine anyone west of Bree would have any interest in an adventure. Nasty, disturbing, uncomfortable things. Make you late for dinner!” He then runs into his house to hide from Gandalf attempting to escape a challenge he didn’t want to partake in.
I mention this because I, too, have been like Bilbo. When confronted by the Lord with something that would alter the safe plan for my life, I’ve hid. Leaving behind my schooling to serve with NET Ministries was one of those things I’d wanted to hide from.
Before I share about my time with NET and how it’s aided my journey toward holiness, I want to give you a little context. Growing up, I was raised in the faith, but had little understanding of what the Church taught or of what a life of faith looked like. My senior year of high school I remember being asked in a small group at my parish what my favorite Bible story was, and honestly, I didn’t know what to say. I answered with shame that Noah’s ark was my favorite story. I wasn’t full of shame because Noah’s ark is a bad story, but because I didn’t read what we believe to be the revelation of God to be able to give an honest answer. I never had actually read the story, just heard about it, and if I wanted to read it I had no idea where to find that story in Scripture! I said it because it was the only one that came to my mind. I was sure everyone in my group knew I never picked up the Bible.
My freshman year of college was a critical time for my faith. In some ways I was drawing closer to the Lord before college, but the dorm floor that I happened to live on played a vital role in going deeper. There were several men who were great examples of living a life of faith. Two of the men I became close friends with had served with NET Ministries, which was something foreign to me. Through them I heard a lot about how serving with NET had changed their lives. I saw something unique in the way they lived and spoke that made it apparent. It was attractive, and now I wanted to serve, too! Although that wouldn’t happen until after college… or so I thought. Then Gandalf came in with an adventure!
Spring semester of my sophomore year I was stuck with a dilemma. I could either study in Rome next year with some good friends, or take time off college to serve with NET. Practically, staying in school made more sense, but trying to visualize being in Rome with my friends seemed somehow incorrect. I’d also gone on an interview retreat weekend for NET and had a lot of peace and excitement about potentially becoming a missionary. It wasn’t clear to me right away what I would do, but the day Pope Francis became the successor of Peter was the day I made my decision and gave a ‘yes’ to serve with NET.
There’s a LOT that happens on a year with NET. For any Dragonball Z fans, it’s like going into the Hyperbolic Time Chamber.
You come out of the year trained and experienced in a way that one year of normal life can’t give to you. I want to highlight a few important gifts I’ve been given from my year with NET:
- My knowledge and love for Scripture increased drastically. During training we took time to pray over one another and I asked for an increase in my desire for Scripture. God definitely said ‘yes’ to that prayer! Throughout the year I became much more familiar with the Word and spent each day reading and listening to what the Father was sharing with me. I actually read whole books of the Bible, and could quote dozens of Scripture verses! Both things I’d never done before.
- Being on a team taught me how to lead and initiate. I’m usually the guy who sits back to go with the flow of what’s happening, but much to my discomfort and benefit I was asked to co-lead a team. I had to act in ways that sometimes were received well and other times people didn’t like. It’s easier for me to go along with things, but I learned that method wasn’t always loving. I needed to take charge, make decisions, and put myself out there at the expense of possibly being rejected. The summer after my year with NET Ministries, I worked the same job as the previous summer as a day camp counselor. Because of what I’d just done, I had a stronger drive to do all I could for the kids to make their experience great and the confidence to be an initiator among my peers. My ability to be a good day camp counselor vastly increased and it was clear to the kids, my co-workers, and my employer.
- I met men who inspired me by their striving for holiness. I found men here who have a quality of character that concretely displays who I want to be. My own imaginings of greatness are different and less satisfying than seeing the real deal. Tolkien writes some great heroes that I can aspire to be like, but having an example I can dialogue with is much more valuable. Through the work of NET Ministries I have come to know heroic men who have shown me what a life with Christ looks like.
These are just a few ways my life has been changed by serving with NET. So I turn it to you, how is the Lord calling you deeper into a life with Him now? What adventure is He leading you through as He seeks to bring you into His Kingdom? We know that the Church “exists in order to evangelize… in order to preach and teach, to be the channel of the gift of grace, to reconcile sinners with God, and to perpetuate Christ’s sacrifice in the Mass, which is the memorial of His death and glorious resurrection” (Evangelii Nuntiandi).
No matter what you’re doing, being part of Christ’s Church, you have the responsibility and gift to share His life with others. The Lord has you somewhere to bear witness to His love. I realize NET Ministries is just one place to evangelize, but as we look for men willing to serve this year, ask Him: are you calling me to do that here?
Written by Allen-Michael Muench