My friend Whitney is a convert to Catholicism and has a powerful story of conversion after a missionary experience in Liberia, Africa. I am honored that she was willing to share her heart and her faith journey "in the kitchen."
When I first moved to Nashville five years ago, I had been struggling with the Catholic doctrine. I would have considered myself an 80% Catholic, as I was completely in love with about 80% of the doctrine, but the other 20% I had struggled to embrace. Through prayer and petition, I tried to reach full understanding of the doctrine, but just could not get there.
After being told that I was not fully a Catholic unless I believed 100% of the doctrine, I felt discouraged because I didn’t feel like it was possible to ever be 100% sure of anything on this earth, so I felt shunned from the church. Arriving in Nashville from Chicago, I was excited about moving to a place where there was only about 4% of the city practicing Catholicism. I was eager to get involved with a great Protestant church, but after a year of searching for a church that seemed to fit my wants and needs, I felt like I kept coming up short. I started attending mass on Saturday evenings at [a local Catholic Church], thinking, “No one will know that I’m not 100% Catholic” and, “I just won’t tell anyone if they ask.” After meeting some friends at church who invited me to their weekly Bible study, I slowly tiptoed my way back into [Catholicism]. Being honest with them and letting them know that I was only an "80% Catholic" was easier than I thought, and they didn’t pressure me or stuff doctrine down my throat to believe one thing or another.
About six months after I had started attending [Catholic] mass, I spent Advent and Christmas praying about the opportunity to go to Liberia with my dear friends who were planning to become missionaries there. On [the Feast of the] Epiphany while sitting underneath the nativity scene, I heard my own version of the angel saying to me, “Do not be afraid.” I decided to go with them to lead a teacher training and spend time with the orphans in a rural village. It was my Catholic community of young adults who truly helped me to raise money for the trip. They hosted pancake dinners and singer-songwriter nights, and by the grace of God, I raised the funds to take the trip to Africa. I truly saw the power of a church community.
Upon arrival in Flehlah, Liberia, I was awestruck by the poverty in this part of the world. All of the children at Safe Home Children’s Home wore tattered clothes and were captivated by my white skin and the fact that I had a mother and a father. They asked me, “What is your mother like?“ and, “What is your father like?” They wanted to see pictures of my grandparents and hear stories about having a family.
I spent every morning helping Mary, the house mom of the 65 orphans serve breakfast. Breakfast was one of the only meals of the day, so it was very important. It consisted of [the same] rice and a simple soup. Mary would get up long before everyone else to light the fire and cook the food. We would meet at the fire and I would bring the day’s Catholic mass readings that I had printed out and read them to her as she cooked. Every day, she asked if she could keep the scrap of paper that I had brought. The way that she held and cherished those readings made me realize how sacred Scripture was, and I had planned on throwing those printed papers away.
I believe it was no coincidence that Mary’s name was Mary, as I saw how she fed and clothed those children every day. The Lord made it clear to me why he would give us his Mother to care for us. I was profoundly spoken to of [our Mother] Mary’s love and care for us as her children.
In Liberia, the diet consisted of usually one meal a day. This one meal was something that was yearned for, that kept the Liberians alive. My experience of partaking in this one meal made me realize the profundity of the Eucharist—that Christ gives us Himself through a meal—one that will nourish us for the rest of the day. I reflected on how food really is the tangible energy that we are given and can affect our strength, and thus, our contributions to this earth. I felt what it was like to hunger for food. The relief that was felt after consuming the meal of the day brought peace to all, knowing that there would be survival for another day. I felt [a deep connection] for the Eucharist, all the more, in its ability to sustain us with Jesus’ Body and His Blood, which is true food, with which He tells us that we will never hunger. In experiencing this simplicity with food in Liberia, there was a true appreciation for the meal that we Americans do not really comprehend. I am blessed that I was able to experience this understanding of the Eucharist.
These are deep experiences that I will be processing for the rest of my lifetime.
I returned from the trip a 100% Catholic. The doctrine of Mary that I had been struggling with was no longer a struggle. The doctrines of the Eucharist and sacred scripture were all the more engrained as truth. To anyone who is struggling with the doctrine of the faith, I would tell them that even if they are only .01% there, they need to continue to walk into that, because the Lord Jesus will be faithful to walk with them in His timing.