We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. Rm. 8:28
On a hot June afternoon, four FOCUS (The Fellowship of Catholic University Students) missionaries driving up the East Coast praying the rosary were blissfully unaware of a gas leak in their vehicle that would strand them in a small town for the
next five days.
Stopping for gas often, driver and car owner Jennifer Traughber attributed it to the number of passengers and extra luggage. After yet another surprising stop for gas, the young adults were shocked to see gas dripping out of the vehicle. Once the fire department certified the vehicle for towing, it was moved to a local auto shop. Late on a Friday afternoon, these young adults, who lived in larger cities where auto shops are open at all hours and through the weekends, were astonished to learn in this small, rural Georgia town, the auto shops were closing for the weekend.
“This was a complete shock! We literally had no money and no idea how we would even make it to Monday, let alone how I could afford the repairs,” related Traughber. Stranded missionary Jonathon Baggett remembers thinking, “If at any point God’s going to be providential, it’s going to be now!” That evening, entirely unsure of what would happen with the car, they ate dinner, checked into a hotel, prayed and made plans to go to Mass on Saturday morning.
Saturday morning, they walked two miles to the local Catholic church. They hoped to speak with the pastor and possibly do some fundraising. Unfortunately, they were told, the pastor was away.
“I remember being so disheartened finding out at Mass that the pastor was away on vacation in Alaska. Our only plan seemed like a failure. But, then God provided! He provided us Cyndy. She was how you would hope every mother is in the south— incredibly sweet, joyful, caring and generous! She was our angel on the trip. She connected us to all of the right people,” Traughber recalled.
Cyndy Glasscock, who at the time was Director of Religious Education at St. Anne’s Catholic Church in Richmond Hill, Georgia, saw the missionaries through the eyes of a mother. She graciously invited the young adults to lunch and then later that day, to dinner with her family. Baggett recalls the dinner conversation, during which the missionaries witnessed their faith to Glasscocks’ two teens. “This was especially providential as her daughter was getting ready to go away to college.” They emphasized the importance of continuing to practice her faith and encouraged her to get involved in a college campus ministry.
Despite their circumstances, Glascock marveled, “They were completely faith-filled. They had great faith that everything would be OK. It was humbling to see this faith!”
Returning to Mass the following day, Traughber clearly remembers the readings for that weekend: Jesus sending out
the 72 disciples. “Hearing and meditating on that Gospel made it clear, God was sending us out,” Traughber reflected.
By Sunday morning Mass, the FOCUS missionaries felt like old friends in the parish and were eagerly invited to the St. Anne’s VBS pool party taking place that afternoon.
In a surprise turn of events, St. Anne’s pastor Father Joe Smith returned early from his trip and attended the same pool party. He happily met with the FOCUS missionaries and, incredibly, offered to pay their expenses. “He paid for everything, the hotel, the car. Not only that, but he went above and beyond and had other things fixed on the car,” said Baggett, amazed.
Astonished, Traughber recounted, “I truly couldn’t absorb the generosity that he just offered. God provided! He was such a humble, generous man. He showed me a clear example of how God our Father always seeks to provide for his children.” “These kids showed up in true missionary style, and Father Joe has a true missionary spirit,” revealed Glasscock.
Also at the pool party, “One woman, who I believe supported another FOCUS missionary at the time, walked up to us and handed us a thick wad of cash, and apologized that she didn’t have more on her,” recalled missionary Danietta Charles. “Cyndy asked us if we wanted to go get groceries for the week, since we’d definitely be there for several days. We took her up on it, and on checking out, one of us remembered the wad of cash, which covered the bill to the dollar!”
They also discovered the location the car was towed to happened to be right next to an auto shop owned by a St. Anne’s parishioner. Father Joe Smith arranged to have the car moved to the new location. Working with the shop owner, he made certain the car was safe to drive, including adding new tires.
During the five days it took to repair their car, the stranded FOCUS missionaries spent time meeting with Father Joe and parish employees, and putting into practice some of what they had just learned at their training the previous week.
One day, they had the privilege to accompany Father Smith to an Elderly Care Facility. “He was embodying the overflowing love of Christ, and we were blessed to be a part of that experience,” remembers Traughber.
Another day after morning Mass, related Charles, “A family approached us to say hello, simply because they hadn’t seen us at their parish before. When we told them our story, they invited us to come visit and swim in their pool for a few hours because of the heat.”
“We wanted to go to Savannah one day, and then out of nowhere Cyndy invited us to go with her!… [God] allowed us numerous opportunities to share the Gospel on our trip, with parishioners, hotel staff, homeless men and women in Savannah. It was invigorating. I felt the Holy Spirit with us all the time in a way I had never experienced,” said Traughber.
“God showed me through this trip, however, that he’s really got me. We didn’t pay a dime for anything those five days—our motel, car repairs, food and leisure were all covered,” said Charles.
In a spirit of hospitality, on their last day, the FOCUS missionaries were treated to a farewell lunch at an authentic southern restaurant with the pastor, Glasscock and other parish staff. “Our hearts were full, our spirits renewed, and we were truly ready to head home for our six weeks of fundraising,” Traughber said. “The story of the extreme generosity of the people of St. Anne’s Parish in Richmond Hill has touched my family and friends, and remained with me for the years since. What a week.” expressed Charles. The FOCUS missionaries all agree; St Anne’s parish went above and beyond in their time of need.
A MISSIONARY SPIRIT
The group believes God really sent these missionaries, using a unique set of circumstances, to bring them all together. St Anne’s parish talked about it the following year. Glasscock said the teen RCIA group she taught prayed for the missionaries that entire year. She considered the meeting a great blessing. “It was a neat thing for our community to see them. To see and witness this grew me as a Christian.” She says the RCIA group continued to learn about FOCUS missionaries, reading more about them online. It opened a door, she said, to discuss what being an evangelical Catholic missionary looks like. “You never know who the stranger is,” she said, “and what will you do when they show up?”
Glasscock believes the Holy Spirit moved in their church and helped foster new vocations—the first from this parish. Father Joe Smith really encouraged the youth to consider missionary work and to see it in a beautiful and positive light.
The missionary spirit the St. Anne’s community encountered and embraced that summer week has continued to grow. The St. Anne’s community still calls the FOCUS visitors “our missionaries.” Currently, St. Anne’s community has sent two young missionaries to NET and one young woman is currently in her novitiate year at Carmel. Glasscock doesn’t know if that would have happened had these young adults not “bumped into us.”
Unsplash and Courtesy photos