On 24th March I joined the gathering of the Lay Mission Union of Ireland at Arran Quay. Their objective is to deepen cooperation between lay mission groups and work together to achieve common goals.
Three guest speakers addressed the topic, ‘Did I change the world or did the world change me?’ talking from their personal experience abroad.
That was followed by a break-out session in which all had a chance to answer the question, ‘What do you do on your return?’ The way in which a number have got engaged in hands-on local and national issues is impressive.
I picked up some interesting observations. ‘Service is the rent we owe for the space we occupy on earth’. And, ‘Volunteers should not be paid – the fact that they are not paid is what impressed the local people most.’
The Lay Mission Union has organised diocesan groups in five dioceses to give returned volunteers an opportunity to get together and become involved in their local communities.
In the break-out session, one non-Irish leader of a mission organisation remarked on how narrow and confined she finds Irish society. ‘It is always the same people saying the same kind of thing, there is no variety or openness to other approaches from a different national or cultural experience.’
I found this true myself since my return. Those who get to speak through the media have a rather narrow view of what is important or relevant and are quick to disparage anyone with an alternative view. Preserving one’s own culture and viewpoint is important but not being open to broadening and enriching it by listening to others guarantees small-mindedness.
It seems that we who have had the opportunity to live abroad for a length of time should be reflecting on what wider viewpoints we have brought back and how to share them with others. To change a quote given above, ‘Sharing the alternative viewpoints we have experienced abroad is the rent we own for the opportunity to have gone abroad.’