Reflecting on ministry on the Great Plains

St. Catherine's Church in Big Bend, SD

St. Catherine’s Church in Big Bend, SD

The following reflection was written by Fr. Vincent Suparman, an Indonesian SCJ who serves on the Lower Brule Pastoral Team in South Dakota:

One Sunday I was sitting behind the steering wheel on my way home from Big Bend, SD. The wind blew up to beat the band causing my car to sway. In no time at all, I underwent a “Great Plains” weather change. The confidence, pride, and affirmation of being an SCJ missionary were disturbed by unpredictable weather.  Yet, I often find myself in awe of seeing how God’s wonderful works are revealed through my life and ministry. No better word can I say than to be grateful to God for allowing me to grow spiritually here in the prairies and Great Plains. As I am living in the frontier, I have taken for granted listening to what is going on around me. I may be concerned about some issues but I don’t have to swallow whatever I am told. Instead, I need to be more attentive and listen to what information helps me work better.

Fr. Vincent

Fr. Vincent

In terms of spiritual growth, which is the goal of every human being and of those who are being reshaped by the Holy Spirit, I am often inspired by the farmers, especially here in South Dakota. If the crop doesn’t grow, the farmer is concerned about what goes wrong. Experts study the crops in the fields.  Tests are run. When a Christian stops growing, spiritual help is needed.  One of the missionary activities is – I am told – to preach and grow spiritually in order to meet the spiritual needs of the people I serve.

Having been in religious life for 26 years, I still have to constantly learn about spiritual and pastoral aspects that in turn will broaden my perspective of thinking and developing my pastoral ministry in the future. Instead of letting my energy be absorbed by any activity around me, I let myself be enlightened by the Holy Spirit so that I will be able to see clearly what I have been doing in the mission field. Reflecting on mission activities in the prairie, I come to realize that I am called to serve people with an open heart and mind. At the same time, I need to strengthen my inner spirit and keep my life on track. Once I was told by my spiritual director to start my daily activity with a good habit that perhaps I may have taken for granted: the habit of prayer. When trials come, there is no better way to endure them but by praying patiently and attentively in the presence of God. A simple prayer helps us not only to deepen our spiritual life, but also to stay connected with God, other people, and other creatures around us even though it is not necessary to get to know each one of them on a personal level.

Such a good habit – I describe above – needs to be accompanied by the personal habit of learning about particular subjects to improve our pastoral skills. Just think about eating at a restaurant. We may see people selecting their food from a salad bar.  They pick up their salad, but then they choose carefully their favorite vegetable. They seem to be very picky. No, they are not picky. But the point is that they select carefully the food they are about to eat. This is what actually happens in the process of spiritual growth. Finally, “to be aware of God’s presence” is one of the  few valuable efforts that cannot be neglected regarding spiritual growth. In my opinion, no one can stray from God and remain healthy. Let me borrow a term that sometimes is used when we talk about the Sacred Heart Spirituality. Through the Eucharist and adoration our life is nourished and transformed into a better quality of life. In turn, the community life becomes stronger and healthier. As a result, the community life bears fruits abundantly that is revealed through our life and ministry.

This is one of many ways to help the mission activities and the church come to life. Doing mission work is much broader than just re-evangelizing people and helping them take responsibility. In term of leadership, it is important to think about how to train them to be good fathers and mothers in their families. Everyone in the church should be invited to be part of the church activities until they feel comfortable being in the church while filtering the Word of God into their culture and family values. There is no need to use a controlling figure to bring the people back to the church. Instead, there is a need to bring them closer to one another so that they may be able to share the gifts of the Spirit. Talking about their talents will probably discourage them; this should be avoided. Encouragement would be appreciated if we talked about the human person and how valuable each person is in the community-building process.

Encouragement is a very important thing we can do to bring the people back to the church. Otherwise, they will stay away. The key is how to give them a chance to have a better future for their family, for the church, and for the pastoral ministry of the SCJs.

The people whom I serve do not need someone who runs the church as the manager runs a company. They need someone who keeps them moving to reach their better future.

Fr. Vincent Suparman, SCJ





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