Maybe it wasn’t about moving on, maybe it was about continuing the mission. —Father Dominic
Sitting on the couch every week with my 7-year-old on my lap and my 10-year-old and my husband beside me, I “attend” livestream Sunday Mass. This is our new (pandemic) family tradition, which has been an unexpected point of continuity for us from our former home in Mwanza, Tanzania, all the way to our new home in Carrboro, North Carolina (although now minus the sound of our goats outside the window). During the homily on that livestream a few weeks ago, Father Dominic discussed Jesus’ tacit declining to go back and do more curing — “Let us go on” — when Simon said, everyone was looking for him. I suddenly felt like he was speaking directly to me: “Maybe it wasn’t about moving on, maybe it was about continuing the mission.”
Up to that moment, I hadn’t thought much about what it meant for me to have finished our time in Tanzania with Maryknoll Lay Missioners and come back to the U.S. Since arriving in North Carolina, I’ve been immersed in my preventive medicine residency work and public health classes, thinking so much about what I’m learning and how I can use it in my future work. But suddenly Father Dominic pointed out to me: Jesus had a mission, a purpose, and that informed his choices, even (especially) the difficult ones, about staying or going.
What does this mean for me?
As part of my current studies, I have chosen to complete a certificate in participatory research, a methodology that values community members, particularly those from vulnerable communities, as equal partners with academic researchers in every part of any research project. As my professor, Pat Parker, writes in her book about civil rights leader Ella Baker, “We must be attuned to the people living under the heel of oppression to guide the process” (Ella Baker’s Catalytic Leadership, by Patricia Parker).
In order to form the relationships necessary to make this research partnership a reality, the community co-director of the certificate, Melvin Jackson, tells us the first thing a researcher must do is “get proximate.” To me, this seems like the “research equivalent” of Maryknoll Lay Missioners: as lay missioners, we “got proximate” to people in communities that are suffering.
For me, I think the community-based participatory research (CBPR) I am learning now will be a tool in my future work as a family doctor and public health practitioner to help break down the “barriers, burdens and biases” that are very strong in the field of health. The very language traditionally used in health research is often tellingly dehumanizing, both to the people whom the research proposes to be about and to the people from the academic research setting. In an article about using CBPR in primary care, the authors write that CBPR can be “a way to blur the traditional social relationships between communities and health providers, enabling them to work together for a common mission.”
My experiences as a Lay Missioner trained me well in how to “get proximate.” Now I am learning how to continue doing that in my new work, as I seek to depart from the traditional healthcare role of “expert” and join with community experts to combat health disparities, which I think is my way right now of “continuing the mission”.