May 5, 2015
So, three nuns stand outside of a Wal-Mart…
No, it’s not an opening line to a joke. It happens on a regular basis in Williston; and it’s no joke, at all, when you are trying to reach the faithful.
In fact, evangelizing outside of Wal-Mart in Williston is very serious work for three Sisters of Mary Immaculate of Guadalupe from Mexico. The Catholic Extension Society has identified Williston as mission territory, which led to them providing a five-year grant to bring the Sisters to the oil patch region late last year. After spending, several weeks at special training, which included lessons in the English language and culture, the sisters serve at the St. Joseph parish in Williston.
Whether inside the parish or sharing information outside of Wal-Mart, Sisters Brenda, Rosa and Azucena, say they’ve have found a very warm and welcoming community offering charity and kindness. They consider themselves blessed to serve in the United States. For Sisters Rosa and Azucena, it was their first time in America.
The trio arrived last fall, but after a short time went to the Mexican American Catholic College in San Antonio for training. They returned to Williston in January to begin their mission, what they describe as “little by little and step by step,” to reach out to the faithful.
They found that very few Hispanic families were attending Mass. In fact, they learned that very few even knew where the church was located or when services were scheduled. “Our main challenge is to give information to the public. Many of the Hispanic families don’t know each other,” explained Sister Brenda. “We work on getting them to know each other so they don’t feel alone. Now, we find families inviting other families to their homes and to Mass.”
The Sisters serve as the conduit to bring the Hispanic community together. They have begun several programs that serve as outreach. Just to name a few, they are teaching CCD classes in Spanish to adults and children, putting together a Spanish choir, teaching guitar lessons to children, and praying the rosary.
“We are nuns and our very presence is evangelization,” said Sister Brenda. That’s why they are working diligently to make their presence known in subtle ways such as showing up outside Wal-Mart and starting conversations. They go to Laundromats and even have been going door-to-door in neighborhoods and man camps to reach Hispanic people.
The Sisters realize they must go to where the people are. Since many of the Hispanics are men who work for oil companies, they work long hours with little down time. The Sisters explained that in their Hispanic culture, it is the woman who brings the man to church. She is the motivator in the household.
The Sisters also know the importance of being flexible to accommodate odd work schedules by making themselves available to teach CCD or work with those seeking training for receiving the sacraments when asked. “We do activities that will engage them with each other and with the church,” Sister Brenda said about the Spanish-speaking people. “We have found that people travel a great distance from places like New Town, Tioga and Watford City. We want to accommodate everyone.”
Currently, the St. Joseph parish offers Spanish Mass once a month. The Sisters would like that to increase, but are aware of the fact that the community needs to remain united and not separate from the English-speaking parishioners.
“We should be one united community,” Sister Brenda said. “You don’t have to speak English or Spanish to receive Jesus Christ. But it’s also difficult to get the Hispanic community to come to Mass if they don’t understand any of it. We are working to break that down and get them to come to Mass every week.”
There are many ways the Sisters work diligently to break down barriers. They smile as they recall the time when they invited several people to enjoy homemade tamales. They ended up with a woman originally from the Philippines, another who had grown up in Mexico before moving to America in her teen years and others with varying backgrounds. Soon, strangers became friends and now they talk to each other after Mass.
It’s that connection that the Sisters use to measure their success. They are working to create a community of the faithful that looks beyond the cultural and language barriers to celebrate as one.