In the spring of 1999, I was working in West Palm Beach Florida as the Coordinator of Clinical Trials for newly developed HIV/AIDS medications. You may not remember, but back then there were no FDA approved drugs for HIV. The only course of treatment, and one that was essential for pregnant women with HIV, was AZT therapy.
Suddenly, in late 1998/early 1999, several drug companies brought forward new and potentially exciting treatments. These medications were then ready for clinical trials on real people, and our center had been selected as one of the few sites to initiate two of the trials.
Back then there was a lot of HIV/AIDS in Southeast Florida. Men, women and children were all affected. Our clinic screened them all as they eagerly applied for a slot in one of the trials. Unfortunately, trial criteria were very stringent, and of those who applied, only a few were ultimately accepted.
One requirement for trial admission was faithful and complete compliance with the trial protocol. This compliance was not easy for many of our patients. Amazingly, it was the issue of compliance that led me to Haiti, and to the world of World Mission.
Committed to fully understanding difficulties that our Haitian patients experienced with medication compliance, I joined an Episcopal mission group that was headed to Haiti for 10 days in late June of 1999. It was an amazing trip.
I departed Haiti for home as scheduled, but, once back in West Palm Beach, I realized that I had left my heart in Haiti.
My initiation to the world of World Mission was an experience that I will never forget, and one for which I will be eternally thankful. It was an experience that opened my eyes to a world so much larger than mine. A world far distant from the privileged post-modern society in which I lived. A world filled with poverty and disease. A world with no resources or infrastructure to address these needs. A world filled with men, women and children so eager to receive our love. God’s world seen through very different lenses.
I tell you all of this as a prelude to inviting you, in your various churches and around your various dinner tables, to think about global mission.
The Scottish missionary, John Keith-Falconer, said, "I have but one candle of life to burn, and I would rather burn it out in a land filled with darkness than in a land flooded with light." A dramatic quote from a passionate Scotsman who lived in the late 19th century, but one that rings very true with me. Shining the light of Christ into the lives of those living in darkness, means bringing love to the unloved, giving hope to those without hope, and, through love and hope, faith to those who have no understanding of faith…the faith that is necessary to see God – to maintain hope.
That is, for me, what World Mission is all about; and, that is what our diocesan Commission on World Mission is all about – bringing light, love, hope and faith to those in the many countries that we serve.
It is with these goals in mind that our commission is now reaching out to all of you. Those of you who have been involved with world mission work and those of you who have dreams of becoming world missionaries. As a first step, we have conducted an informal survey of the churches throughout the diocese. And, we have identified quite a few churches who have been, or are, currently engaged in World Mission. Currently, our diocese has missions to the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Honduras, Central and South America, Guatemala, and Mexico.
These mission teams provide support for schools, medical and dental programs, and building projects. But of far more importance, they provide light, love, hope and faith for hundreds and thousands of souls who walk in darkness. And, I am quite sure that in doing so, they, like I, have seen God and God’s world through new lenses – lenses that change how we look at things and who we are. Lenses that bring a new meaning to the light and the love that Christ commissioned us to send forth into the world. Lenses that renew our hope and our faith.
World Mission work is not easy and it can be expensive. Through the sharing of stories, networking, and acting as a collaborative team we can only energize and strengthen our work – can only make what seems impossible, possible. I think Henry Ford had it right when he said, “Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.”
We want to hear from you. As we move along in 2017 and into 2018, we invite you to share your world mission stories and your world mission hopes and dreams with us. We invite you to be with us at our meetings. With you as our partners, we intend to come together as a stronger, more representative Commission on World Mission. A commission whose light and love shines brightly wherever it is that our heart takes us.
The Rev. Deacon Clelia P. Garrity, St. Simon’s on the Sound, Ft. Walton Beach, FL