Josiah: I grew up in a Salesian parish. After some discernment and searching we decided to apply to Salesian Mission Office as Lay Mission Volunteers. I discovered that my dad had done the same program and my uncle. So there has been a strong Salesian connection in our family.
Laura: We went to New Rochelle for a discernment weekend, met the Salesians. I didn’t know anything about Don Bosco; I was a convert to Catholicism and so I didn’t know anything about saints. A big part of our discernment was learning about Don Bosco and the Salesian charism. When I learnt about Don Bosco’s life and why he started the Salesians, it was a clarification for me. Josiah and I met while we were working with delinquent youth; I was working in juvenile justice as a social worker and Josiah was mentoring the young people in community. So, when we heard about Don Bosco and the work he did, especially his work among young prisoners, we realised that this is where God wanted us to work.
We were invited to a gathering of all the Salesians and I was nervous because I had never been around so many religious priests and brothers. However, I was taken by surprise; it was the most joyful celebration that I have ever been a part of. They were all so nice to us and so welcoming.
Orientation: The preparation for the lay mission volunteers consists of three weeks of orientation. During the first week, we learn a lot about the Salesian charism, Don Bosco’s Preventive System and participating in Salesian community life. The second week consisted of work in the apostolate. On the final week, we went on a retreat with the Salesians, which was a truly amazing experience.
The Mission Experience: Originally, we were destined for South Africa but because of visa problems, we ended up in Swaziland, which was a blessing in disguise. The highlight was working with people from so many different countries and cultures. We worked with the young people in Swaziland, South Africa and Lesotho but most of our time was in Swaziland.
What the youth taught us: They taught me that I had nothing to complain about. They taught me to be cheerful no matter what your circumstances are, which is what Don Bosco was about, cheerfulness! The communal spirit is what also touched my heart. I remember one Saturday the kids were out at basketball practice and it had been a long day. So what they did was to collect money they had and bought bread, said grace while seated on the basketball court and broke the bread amongst themselves. This moment really touched me in a profound way.
Advice to volunteers: Be patient, things don’t change overnight. Concentrate on the things that you can control and be radically open because God has a bigger plan, so just let it happen.