Kim Smolik, 38, is executive director of Franciscan Mission Service, which prepares missioners for two-years of service working with Franciscan religious in Africa and Latin America. Smolik, whose home parish is St. Pascal Baylon in St. Paul, regularly visits the missions around the world served by FMS. She is based in Washington, D.C.
Who or what inspired you to start doing missionary work?
My parents, Tom and Sandy Smolik, taught my sister and me the value of volunteerism through their example. Through our church and community, we volunteered together growing up. At Bethel College, I spent my spring breaks participating in Habit for Humanity projects. My desire to serve overseas and to be a part of an organization that prepares, sends and supports missioners came after I spent a summer in Guatemala studying Spanish in 1997. I wanted to bring together my love of service, education and “crossing borders.”
After my summer in Guatemala, I taught in Ecuador then went to Mexico to volunteer with the Center for Global Education. After I returned to the U.S. in 2003, I worked for Catholic Charities (Twin Cities) as director of a full-time domestic volunteer program called Catholic Charities Volunteer Corps.
Tell us a story about how a person in your mission experience has made a difference in your faith journey.
I recently took a trip to Kenya to establish a new mission partnership for our organization. In Nairobi, I met a friar from the U.S. who has been a missioner most of his life. I spent a week traveling with him all over Kenya. Part of the journey took us to a rural area called Subukia, where Franciscan Father Joe Erhrardt served for 27 years.
It’s so remote that there is no hospital to go to if you are gravely ill. If you’re in trouble, there are no police to call. The roads are so rough they are often impassable in the rainy season. But, now, thanks to the Franciscans, there are services like a clinic, a parish and other forms of outreach.
Father Joe told me about an evening in Subukia when he was in the living room of the friary reading and three armed men broke in with guns. They charged in, pointed their guns in his face and demanded money.
Now, Father Joe is one of the most humble, unassuming people I have ever met. However, he is over 6 feet tall, so his presence can be intimidating. He calmly rose to his feet and said to the intruders, “Welcome, peace be with you.”
As you can imagine, the three men were taken aback. They said, “What? Why are you saying this to us?”
Father Joe responded, “We are brothers, are we not? We are from the same community. You are welcome here.”
In the end, the men took only the equivalent of $8, though Father Joe offered them more. They did not hurt anyone, and they never returned again.
He had internalized the poverty of Francis and the poverty of Christ to the point that he looked at those men and saw not criminals, but brothers in need. And because he not only saw them but called them brothers, the encounter became almost a reconciliation, rather than hostility. Father Joe communicated his love in such a powerful and effective way that it broke down their wall of hatred.
Category: World Mission Sunday