Christian family life is a vocation and, when lived with fidelity, it is a path…
Families sent forth together on mission
Nearly 40 years ago a young attorney in Louisiana named Frank Summers and his journalist wife, Genie, experienced a conversion from a purely secular lifestyle, embraced their Catholic roots and began earnestly seeking God’s will for themselves and their family. Feeling called to the foreign missions, they sold all they had, embraced a life of poverty and traveled all over the world as missionaries. The result was Family Missions Company (FMC), a unique and interesting example of Catholic mission work.
While serving in Tonga, American Samoa, Mexico, Colombia, New Zealand, Australia, the Philippines and Micronesia, Frank and Genie had seven children. In 1995 they returned to the United States and discerned a need for more Catholic families and single people to work as missionaries. This became their mission within a mission.
Family Missions Company is a lay organization with more than 300 men, women and children serving as missionaries in the United States, the Philippines, Uganda, Taiwan, Peru, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Haiti and elsewhere in Africa and Asia.
“We are not clergy, monks or nuns,” said Matthew Spizale, communications director for Family Missions Company. “We are an apostolate of lay families and singles,” he said. “I don’t know of any other Catholic missionary organizations that accept families of all sizes to do this work.”
Impact of the Gospel
Spizale himself has worked as a stateside missionary since 2016. He was invited by a friend to go on a short-term mission trip to a small town in northern Mexico in 2013, and it changed his life.
“Growing up as a middle-class person in south Louisiana, I had seen poverty, but not like this,” Spizale said. “FMC’s commitment to serving those people materially and spiritually, serving the poorest of the poor and proclaiming the Good News to them — which fit with the focus of the (at that time) newly elected Pope Francis — impressed me.”
On the mission trip, Spizale saw the joy that those in need received from the missionaries by their sharing the words of Jesus and the sacraments. This allowed him to see the lack of joy that had for so long characterized his own relationship with the Church and with Jesus.
“FMC’s commitment to the Catholic Church and missionary activity refreshed my idea of what it could look like to follow Jesus,” Spizale said.
A call to mission
Spizale emphasized that all Christians are called to preach the Gospel and make disciples of all nations.
“As St. Paul said, ‘Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!’ (1 Cor 9:16) Telling others about the Good News of Jesus is the point of the Church,” he said. “With about 5 billion non-Christians in the world, missionary activity is clearly not a thing of the past. The job isn’t done. The Church founded by Christ must go out.”
“All Catholics and Christians are commanded by Christ himself to be missionaries,” Spizale said. “A missionary is one who is sent. Jesus, in his final words to his followers on earth, sent us all out to proclaim him: ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations'” (Mt 28:19). In our baptism, he said, we all receive the missionary charism. “Pope Francis reminds us of this consistent teaching of the Church: ‘By virtue of their baptism, all the members of the People of God have become missionary disciples'” (Evangelii Gaudium, No. 120).
Family Missions Company serves under the blessing of the bishop in the Diocese of Lafayette, Louisiana, and at the invitation of the bishops in all of the areas in which they serve.
“Committed to the Great Commission of Jesus, we proclaim the Gospel and serve the poor worldwide,” Spizale said. “While also ministering to our local community in numerous ways, we focus on training and sending out families and singles as full-time missionaries who evangelize and provide humanitarian aid in some of the poorest communities around the world.”
It is a challenging life to live as a missionary in another part of the world.
“Missionaries with FMC feel a specific call from the Lord to foreign missions,” Spizale said. “We do believe that a preference must be given to the many people who have never had the chance to hear about Jesus and to those who have little access to the Church.”
Serving at home
But for many people, their mission field could be much more local — even in their own neighborhood or city. There are people everywhere who need to hear the Gospel, people who need the compassionate and merciful witness of disciples of Christ.
“Who are the lonely people near you?” Spizale asked. “Who are the poor people near you? Go to them, spend time with them, help them, make friends with them, learn about them, tell them that you turn to Jesus in difficult times — that is mission work also. But we must be sincere and committed in every mission field. A missionary, even to the neighborhood, cannot be complacent.”
Family Missions Company, along with many other missionary organizations, takes the Gospel out to those who need it.
“The world is in pain,” Spizale said. “Our brothers and sisters everywhere need the hope and consolation of the Gospel.”
Paul Senz writes from Washington.