An encounter with a stranger - Maryknoll Lay Missioners
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February 2022 newsletter


Gabe Hurrish, South Sudan

At Kuron Peace Village, Gabe Hurrish talks with Mama Kuron Nadapal about traditions.

I had what I thought was a routine general checkup in Juba. Unexpectedly, the doctor tells me I have severe typhoid and must spend the next 24 hours at the clinic for in-patient treatment. I was a bit caught off guard and wondered why this was happening to me?

I reluctantly agreed. What a waste of my time, I thought. Nurses came and went, hooking me up to an IV and giving me instructions about required procedures. My mind stopped functioning. I lay down frustrated that I was forced to do something I wasn’t prepared for.

Much later, a young nurse tiptoed into my room and gently woke me up. It was time for me to receive my next typhoid treatment. At 1 am, I resented being woken up. After setting up the IV bottle, she sat on a chair next to my bed. I was half awake.

This young lady started talking. I yawned. Why was this young stranger telling me these very personal things? Then she went into a long story of her life. She opened her soul to me. Now I was fully awake. I forgot my resentment and focused on her. I slowly became aware of a sort of presence in the room besides us two. The Holy Spirit?

I quietly listened, occasionally asking a question or adding a short comment. It was obvious she needed to unburden her heart. For some reason I was her chosen elect. After some time, she finished and sat quietly.

I asked her how she felt. She said, “I feel better now. You have helped me a lot.” Silence.

We looked at each other and prayed together. “Thank you,” she said.

“I only listened, how did I help you?” I asked.

She quietly looked me in the eyes and said: “You are the first person who listened and understands. When I first heard that you were a lay missioner, I was strangely motivated to share with you.” The IV medicine was finished. She rose, checked the room and left as quietly as she came in.

Nurse Immaculate Mora cares for a patient in the primary care health center in Matara, South Sudan. The clinic is sponsored by Holy Trinity Peace Village in nearby Kuron. Photo by Paul Jeffrey.

I lay back in the bed and pondered this unexpected encounter. Why did she open up like that? Why me? This is what it means to be a missioner. No matter where or when; one is prepared to respond to the needs of others. Like Jesus, a missioner is moving, and when people approach, one stops and responds to them as human beings. The healing comes from the Holy Spirit. One does not chose these moments. One simply reacts as Jesus would have done.

What also struck me about this encounter was that I too had benefited from this exchange. In a mysterious way my soul was much calmer. Listening to her problems had somehow helped me deal with my problems. I realized how blessed I am. This is why the Holy Spirit brought me here. Disease was only the means. The end was giving a compassionate ear to this stranger who simply needed to unburden.

So many people around me are rather concerned with implementing programs, building structures, following schedules, holding meetings, and a whole myriad of other concerns. It is very easy to lose the human touch. We forget that people are most important. I have experienced these types of encounters numerous times throughout my missionary life. These are the moments I remember and cherish most vividly. Encounters with people are what make lasting impressions. I thank God for such graces.

Mission is not a matter of a place or a type of work. It is a state of spirit. There is a quaint phrase: “Be in the moment.” To me, it means entrusting myself and my plans to God, in the manner of Jesus Christ, and with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. I didn’t change the world, but one young person felt better. That is how God works through us.

As always, I am grateful for so many supporters and those who keep these poor people of South Sudan in prayer. If you feel called to do something like what I am doing, give Maryknoll a call (914-467-8857) and just have a chat. It might be right for you.

And if you feel moved to support my ministry financially, please donate.

God bless you all,

Please consider making a special gift to Maryknoll Lay Missioners’ “Walk With Us” campaign, which raises money for the recruitment, training and ongoing support of all of us lay missioners. We can only “walk with” the people here because you are “walking with” us. Thanks to matching gifts, every $100 given to the campaign in effect becomes $150. To donate ONLINE, click the “Walk With Us” button below. Thank you so much for your generosity!

Gabe Hurrish
Gabe Hurrish works in parish ministry at St. Mary Magdalen Parish in Riwoto in the South Sudanese state of Eastern Equatoria. He has served as a Maryknoll lay missioner in South Sudan since 2018.