“Faces of Mission” is a bi-weekly blog series produced by the United States Catholic Mission Association highlighting our membership and all their work in and for mission. This week we feature Hady Mendez, a laywoman with Franciscan Mission Service.
Journey to Mission
Hady pictured with an alpaca. As part of Hady’s fundraising efforts earlier this year, she promised to “kiss a llama” if she got 5 donations before a certain date. Hady got the donations she asked for but could’t find a llama to kiss. This baby alpaca was the closest thing Hady could find (several months later).
Hady Mendez began a new life in Bolivia last year when she left her twenty-year career in corporate America, donated her car, and sold her belongings to become a missioner with Franciscan Mission Service.
The journey that led her to Franciscan Mission Service began in Orlando, Florida in 2012. After experiencing the passing of her mother four years previously and the passing of her sister just one year before, she noticed in herself a desire to live more intentionally. Upon moving to Florida, she found a home in a parish active in social justice ministry, and accompanied the parish on a trip to Haiti. Witnessing the extreme poverty compelled her to action, and when she returned to Orlando, she began a 9-month course called JustFaith (www.justfaith.org). It was during this course on social justice, which encourages Christians to more fully live out the Gospels, that she decided to take a more active role in the missionary activity of the Church.
Franciscan Mission Service
Hady’s organization, Franciscan Mission Service, has been around for over twenty years and is based in Washington, DC. Franciscan Mission Service trains missioners in the spirit of St. Francis and Clare of Assisi to walk in solidarity with poor and oppressed communities all over the world. Since 1990, they have sent missioners to over nineteen countries.
A Compassionate Heart and A Creative Mind
Hady’s engagement in mission brought her to Bolivia. Working closely with six other missioners from Franciscan Mission Service in Bolivia, her ministry encompasses a wide range of volunteer activities. She supports the non-profit Manos Con Libertad (www.freehandsbolivia.org) which works to support prisoners, ex-prisoners, women in need, and their children. “Honestly, I’ve never worked for a place like Manos before,” says Hady. If someone in our circle is sick, we visit them in the hospital. If someone in our circle is going through financially hard times, we bring them food. It’s like extended family and I love it.”
Hady (second from left) and fellow instructors with graduates of the first ever life skills workshop offered by Manos Con Libertad to women in the community.
In addition, she spends two afternoons a week at an ethical manufacturing company called AHA Bolivia (www.ahabolivia.com), helping to tell the stories of the artisans and knitters who work for AHA. “Through working at AHA, I’ve learned how small the world is. And how hand-knit items, made in Bolivia with a lot of love and care, soon are enjoyed by hundreds of people all over the world. Too cool for words.”
Of all these experiences, the most rewarding part of her week is when she accompanies the women at San Sebastian Prison for Women. “It is here that I feel I am truly making a difference in the lives of others. Not because I am teaching the women anything or giving them great advice but because I am present to them. I listen to them. I let them tell their story and I don’t judge them.”
For example, one Friday, she encountered a woman who seemed downcast. After some coaxing, the woman shared her story. Like most of the other prisoners at San Sebastian, she wanted to leave. Recognizing that she could do nothing to fix this situation, Hady inquired about her family, her life outside of prison. The woman shared that she has seven kids who are living alone in another city. Her husband passed away four years ago, and with no family or friends willing to care for her children, her eldest son of twenty-three was raising his other siblings. Her son worked to support the family but sometimes the money did not go as far as is needed. Sometimes the children simply did not eat. It was a hard story for her to share and for Hady to listen to. However, Hady continued to learn more about the situation and began thinking about what she might be able to do to help. “I asked if she had ever considered exchanging letters with her children,” she said. “She said there was no way to mail them from the prison. I can help with that, I said. I can mail the letters to your children and you can have them send letters back to me that I can bring to you.”
Hady (left, second row) along with the students and staff at Manos Con Libertad during the “Day of Friendship” / “Dia De La Amistad”.
This small action meant so much to this woman. “To tell you she was elated is putting it mildly. Through this experienced I realized that I can do a lot for these women without having to do very much. What they need the most are ears to listen to the difficult stories that are their lives, a compassionate heart to share their pain and sorrow, and a creative mind to come up with new ways to approach their reality.”
Finding a Way to Live the Gospels Every Day
This way of being in the world, offering a compassionate heart and a listening ear, ready to see if there is something more that can be done, is inspired by Hady’s commitment to mission, which she sees as “finding a way to live out the Gospels every day.” Mission will always be necessary because “mission is all about bringing God’s message of peace and hope to the world. The world will always need that. Especially in certain parts of the world that deal with enormous amounts of injustice, poverty, and corruption. It will never get old to go into these global communities and say ‘What’s happening in your life right now is not fair, but God is with you and His promise is that you will have everlasting life with Him in paradise. Believe in Him and His promise.’”
Growing Deeper in Communion
Hady with Caitlin, a Maryknoll missioner, during their first climb to the Cristo statue which overlooks the city of Cochabamba.
When Hady returns to the U.S., Franciscan Mission Service will encourage and support her to live out the Gospel by the way she lives and works. For her, this will mean continuing to live simply, continuing to accompany others, and being a “Lifelong Missioner to North America,” as Franciscan Mission Service succinctly describes life after mission. “Most of all,” she concludes, “I see myself growing deeper in communion with a God who gave me the courage to give up everything I had and then gave me what I didn’t know I wanted or needed, plus more.”
Part of being a missioner for Hady has been sharing her story with others. You can follow her regular blog posts published by Franciscan Mission Service (www.franciscanmissionservice.org/hady_mendez). She also writes bi-weekly notes to her supporters and prayer partners. She is most proud of her missioner page on facebook (www.facebook.com/hadylamendez). Follow her facebook page for reflections, pictures and stories from her time in Bolivia.
The United States Catholic Mission Association (USCMA) is the only association of US Catholic mission-sending and mission-minded organizations and individuals. Dedicated to supporting and promoting the domestic and international mission efforts of the Church in the US, USCMA provides a forum in which people with a variety of experiences in mission can find a welcome, celebrate their faith, reflect on the signs of the times, foster leadership within mission organizations, explore emerging trends in mission, stimulate creative mission practices, and challenge one another to live lives more deeply rooted in mission spirituality.
USCMA is a membership-based organization. Our members are involved in establishing the direction of the association and supporting its life. To learn more about the United States Catholic Mission Association and to become a member, please visit us at our website http://www.uscatholicmission.org. Follow us on Facebook (www.facebook.com/uscatholicmission) and Twitter (@USCMA_DC).