Above the door on the inside of his room a college friend had hung a sign above the door stating, “You are now entering the mission field.” Upon first discovering his message, I asked him why he had placed it there, and he explained, “Each time I leave my room for the wider world, I read that sign. It reminds me that my mission is to extend a prayer of peace to everyone I meet. Each person needs the grace of God. I may be the vessel that is used by God to bless that person. When I open the door and venture out, I enter the mission field.”
I realized that day that if we are to follow Christ, we are to be missionaries wherever we go. We may not know how we are to be used by the Spirit, but if we are in Christ, we are used.
This truth was reinforced during my training as a hospice chaplain when I observed my trainer, Chaplain Carol, ministering to people who were beginning the last stages of their lives. Some patients seemed to be aware of the chaplain’s presence, others were not. One afternoon I asked her, “How do you know you are the person to be ministering to the person in this room?” Without pause
she replied, “It is pretty simple. I look to my right and then to my left. I am the only one standing at the door. I empty myself before God and say, ‘Here I am, God. I am your vessel. Fill me and use me as you will.’ I find when I walk in that prayer, I have the tools necessary to do whatever is needed.”
This became my guide as I took up the role of hospice chaplain. Eventually I regularly served approximately 40 patients, one of whom was a woman named Stella. Most people would describe Stella as being in a vegetative state. Lying immobile in her bed, staring with open mouth at the ceiling above, she never responded to anyone. I came to believe that when visiting Stella, the only thing to do was to pray out loud, but I was not confident that my visit was meaningful.
In a meeting with Stella’s family, her daughter explained that when Stella was younger, she was very abusive to her children. Having divorced their father, Stella had been excommunicated by the Catholic Church. With tears in her eyes, the daughter said, “Just before her accident my mom told me her only desire was to be able to come back to the church. She had changed. She asked forgiveness, but she was reminded that she had been excommunicated and the church would not welcome her.”
Before entering Stella’s room for my next visit, I prayed, “I am an empty vessel. Fill me with your Spirit and use me to extend your grace to Stella, Father God.” I walked in and there Stella lay just as I had seen her for months. No response. Nothing, just a woman staring at the ceiling with her mouth open.
Having grown up a practicing Catholic, I knew the power of the rosary and its capacity to comfort. I prayed the rosary out load and then, driven by the sorrow for Stella’s deeply felt regret and wish to return to her church, I prayed for guidance to reassure Stella of God’s immeasurable love for her. I felt led to do something I had never before (nor since) considered doing, not being, after all, a Catholic priest. I walked over to her and with my thumb made the sign of the cross on her forehead and told her, “Stella, God loves you, knows your repentant heart and forgives you. Go and rest in peace. God’s grace is yours. Amen” One hour later she developed a high fever. That evening she died.
I believe that my mission for this woman was to convey the forgiveness and grace God extends. This incident in my life convinced me that one never knows how important it is to be a vessel used whenever and wherever God needs. The mission field is just outside our doors. Turn to the right and then to the left. If no one else is there, then yes, you are the vessel God is choosing to use in that moment.