My name is Michelle Perez and I am the Executive Director of Catholic Mission Trips, Inc. Here is a little bit of my story about answering God’s call to be a missionary.
When I was in middle school and early high school, I was disturbed by watching my older brothers’ friends receive the Sacrament of Confirmation and then quit coming to Mass and youth group. To me, it seemed like they thought they had fulfilled all of their obligation to God and their parents by receiving this Sacrament and no longer needed to have the faith as a relevant part of their lives. I was shocked!
Later, when I received the Sacrament of Confirmation, I made it a point of being more active in my faith, teaching first grade CCD and assisting with RCIC. I also felt the call to serve on a mission trip. Our parish did not do any mission trips, but my youth minister found a neighboring parish that I could go with, along with another friend and a chaperone. My first mission trip was with Catholic Heart Work Camp in Charlotte, NC. Being small, I spent the week putting up drywall in a closet – a good place to be alone with God! We slept on floors in a school, worked with Habitat for Humanity during the day, and engaged in our faith in the evenings with skits, small groups, and prayer. I remember praying for some of my friends who also had been raised in the faith and now denied it.
I attended the University of Mary Washington and went with the Catholic Campus Ministry on mission trips to Harlan, KY. Working with Bobby Simpson at Cranks Creek Survival Center and made home repairs in Harlan County, an area of chronic poverty. He and his wife Becky started the survival center after a flood washed away their home. They have groups from all over the world come to stay with them and help provide food, clothing, and home repairs to families around Harlan County. One of the homeowners that we were working with had attended college and had a career as an author. I was surprised by this because in my mind, I thought that if you went to college, got a degree, and had a successful career, you would not have financial hardships. This was something that I had to sit with for a while.
After graduating with degrees in Psychology and Elementary Education, I started teaching first grade and married my college sweetheart. Although we were eager to start a family right away, we lost our first two children, Therese and Philip James, through miscarriage. The Catholic school where I was teaching combined classes due to economic constraints and low class sizes and being pregnant at the time, I told them that I would be staying at home to raise my kids. After the miscarriage of Philip James, I asked God to give me a job where I could grow closer to Him. I did not get another teaching job. Instead, I had four part time jobs – home health aide, ballet instructor, substitute teacher, and junior high youth minister – and more time on my hands than I ever had when I was a teacher! For me, this was a year of waiting and trusting in the Lord. I went to daily Mass, read lots of spiritual books, and had a great women’s group that helped in my formation. Some days were harder than others – being a stay-at-home mom when my two kids were in heaven. One day, when taking my car to be serviced, I felt God calling me once more to the mission field and so the search began. You may have a similar story of finding Catholic Mission Trips, Inc. through a Google search!
In 2011, I spent a summer as a missionary with CMT, serving in New Mexico, Honduras, Texas, and New Orleans. I served on a team with other young adults, leading week-long mission trips for high school campus and youth groups. By day, we would make repairs on homes, schools, and churches and at night we would help the teens grow deeper in their faith and closer to Christ. Every week I had the privilege of watching the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of these teens. They would come on the mission trip as a youth group and leave as an intentional Catholic community. I saw this as an answer to prayers I had when I was in middle and high school. If young people encounter Christ, have an abiding relationship with Him, and really believe that Jesus is present in the Eucharist, certainly they would not abandon their faith! I saw CMT as an opportunity for young people to experience the joy of living in an intentional Catholic community and to open their hearts to the path that God is setting before them.
When I returned home from the mission field, I taught middle school, a new mission! My heart, however, longed to continue the work of CMT and I started volunteering on the backend to organize the mission trips, work with groups as they were signing up, and lead mission trips when my schedule allowed. This grew into a full time job for me and I soon found myself with a new mission – working with the young adults who so generously give of themselves as mission leaders. Just as I was given the consolation of seeing the working of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the teens on the mission trip, now I continually see the graces that God abundantly pours out on His missionaries! Many of our mission leaders come with big questions about the direction of their lives, their vocations, and places where they are seeking healing in their lives. As they serve a summer, filled with prayer, service, and witnessing to their faith, God answers their questions, heals their wounds, and gives them the strength to do the work He has called them to do.
My husband and I now have 5 children here on earth! This is my mission field and it’s a beautiful one. The domestic church is a place where we learn how to live in love, to forgive and to seek forgiveness, where we grow in holiness, and bring others to Christ. All the lessons that God has taught me through serving with CMT about trust in God’s providence, dependence on God, and abandonment to His will serve me as a wife and mother. When I feel like I have nothing left to give, I remember that we are all in God’s loving care and that He is in charge! I am grateful to CMT in forming the hearts of my children with love and concern for others. My older three children have all had the opportunity to serve on mission trips with me and this is an important part of their identity. Be assured of their daily prayers for you as missionaries!
Mary, be with me.
I praise You, Jesus.