South America – Committed to serving others at 12 years old

| October 12, 2011 | 3 Comments

Katie Coldwell, 24, has been serving eight months as a missionary at a homeless shelter for children in Brazil. She made a three-year commitment. Her home parish is St. Therese in Deephaven. Coldwell is a graduate of Marquette University in Milwaukee with majors in theology and social welfare and justice. While in college, she was a house manager for Casa Maria Catholic Worker and lived and worked in a transitional shelter for women and children. She also studied in Cape Town, South Africa, where she worked with the community to provide programming for youth affected by HIV.

Who or what inspired you to start doing missionary work?

When I was 12 years old, I spent a few hours volunteering at a food pantry with the church youth group. Just those few hours of service left a very deep impression on me. At the end of the day, I can remember sitting next to my mom on the car ride home, turning to her, and asking, “Mom, what has to happen for me to keep doing this work? I want to do this kind of thing for the rest of my life!” From that moment, onward, I knew that I wanted to live my life serving the poor, marginalized and oppressed, just like Jesus. I wanted to follow God by being in solidarity with God’s people.

Tell us a story about how a person in your mission experience has made a difference in your faith journey.

Living in a homeless shelter has not been a new experience for me. But sharing [living space] with a 10-year old and speaking Portuguese 24 hours a day has certainly been new! When I arrived in my new “community” of 12 kids and one house mom, I was introduced to truly beautiful chaos.

Fighting over the biggest pork chop or pulling pranks are common occurrences. Sometimes, the house mother, Maria Madelena, seems driven to the point of insanity — throwing her dishtowel in the air and jokingly pleading, “Deus me livre” (God, free me!) Despite 12 different personalities and 12 sets of different needs, Maria holds things together in order for the house to function smoothly. She has this tough-as-nails resilience and real determination to raise the children with self-confidence and faith-based values.

Amidst the madness of raising 12 kids with tough backgrounds, Maria always makes time for me. She listens to my concerns and fears for the future and provides advice as I express my struggles and difficulties. She’s always preparing my favorite foods and asking me to prepare meals from home, too! We exchange ideas and stories and make good company for one another. Maria has made a difference in my faith journey, through her example of solidarity. Maria truly lives in solidarity with the kids she serves.

What have you learned from the people you work with or serve? What do you believe they have learned from you?

Working with kids and teens has  demanded a lot of energy, but it also has been a lot of fun. I have learned two main things from these kids. The first is the incredible power of love. Love is something that is really easy to take for granted when you know what it looks like and feels like — when you have it in your life. But when you have lived your life without knowing what it means to be loved . . . the simplest of loving gestures is going to impact a life forever.

I think that, in being a part of their community, I have demonstrated to these kids what love really looks like: A bedtime story, a trip to the park, kisses of praise when they do something well, conversations at the dinner table when they misbehave. I believe they have learned that you don’t have to be perfect to give love. Even the naughtiest and meanest of kids still deserves to be loved.

Maria Madelena, 40, is the mother of four: three daughters and one son, 16 to 25 years old. She came to know the local missionaries by working with them at a house for children and teens who are homeless, mistreated, abused or neglected.

In your work with a missionary, what work do you do together and how has trust impacted your ideas about solidarity and mission?

Katie and I work together to take care of the kids in our house. I never knew a missionary personally before Katie moved into our house. I believe that trust is the key to solidarity. Through exchanging ideas, Katie and I built a relationship of trust and solidarity.

Tell us about how you have helped a missionary in your country.

I believe I helped Katie by talking to her and comforting her when she was losing hope. I provided hospitality and welcomed her into our house with joy! I also had a lot of patience with her as she learned the language.

How is your life different today because of your relationship with the missionaries?

Today, I understand better this idea of solidarity because of my relationship with Katie. Also, because of Katie’s presence in our house, I was able to learn about another culture. Cross-cultural exchange was a very good experience for me.

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Category: World Mission Sunday

  • Marcus McGonagle

    No one can take a girl with dreadlocks seriously.

    • Andrew

      If you can’t take a woman with dreadlocks seriously, you might be more focused on your own personal prejudice of people with dreadlocks.  On the eve of Martin Luther Kings birthday, it might make more sense to look toward the content of her character rather than the way she wears her hair. 

  • Christopher L Owen

    Katie, you’re beautiful! Much love from Marquette! 

    Chris O.