E3 Mission Testimony – Matthew Witzaney

I signed up for the E3 Mission trip to Black Lake, SK with the hope of building fraternity with the men attending with me and with the expectation of giving of myself to the people of Black Lake. My hope was met beyond measure and my expectation was met through a different way than I had initially thought.

My expectation was to share my knowledge and the Church’s teachings through a presentation and the sessions we planned to put on. In the end, we only had two sessions totalling one hour and 30 minutes of the 96 hours we were there with only 5-7 people in attendance at each session. In light of this, you might ask how my expectation was met. Well, I was correct in expecting to give to the people but I was wrong to conclude that this giving would be through my presentation and the sessions. This was a narrow view on my part because I now realize that I can give to others without words and outside of an education setting by simply being present to them and sharing the joy of Catholicism by my actions. My expectation to give was not met in the hour and a half of sessions. Yes, I did give something and I trust it benefited those in attendance but my expectation to give found its fulfilment in the 42 hours that we spent in community with the people of Black Lake taking part in their work and in their fun.

As mentioned, my hope for building a fraternity with the men on the trip was surpassed by all measure. I made great connections with each of them and we all grew closer by working, praying, and playing together. The one major cause of this was the intentionality and transparency of each and every one of us. Mutual trust and support made my connection and interaction with each of them result in a relationship beyond perishable friendship. Another factor that played into the surpassing of my hope for fraternity was the connections I made with the people of Black Lake. I ended up building a great fraternity with my group and community with the people, which is more than I had hoped for.

One great lesson I learned relates to my expectation to give. Early on in our time at Black Lake, I felt like my expectation to give was not going to be met because we spent more time receiving from the people then we gave. It is upon reflecting back on this that I see that it is exactly by receiving that we give. For example, imagine a conversation between two people: I was under the false notion that in order to give you must be the person talking in the conversation. However, I now see that it is exactly by ceasing to talk and receiving the other person’s words through listening that you can more greatly give to someone.

In addition, I also learned to trust in God and I saw the joy that comes from relying on Him. This was shown most to me by the people’s lack of worry and stress in the face of difficulties and unforeseen circumstances. I was also reminded that time exists to serve man instead of man existing to serve time. I saw this truth come alive in the people of Black Lake. Up north the people are not overly concerned with the time and simply get done when they are done. They do not stress when time passes too fast or worry when tomorrow draws nearer. Therefore, they avoid becoming a servant to schedules and time.

Another thing that I experienced was a renewed motivation to be hospitable and kind. In a world were hospitality and kindness seem to be left on the sidelines, I was motivated by the fact the there are still cultures that value hospitality and make intentional decisions to reach out in kindness to visitors and travellers.

Early on, I was reminded to value everything no matter how small and meaningless it seems. I came to realize how much I take for granted during our first meal at Black Lake. We stayed in a teacher’s house trailer while she was away and because she lived alone, she had only a handful of cups, a few forks, spoons, knives, and four chairs around a small table. The small table was a blessing since it brought all eight of us closer to each other just by having to squish around it. The four chair problem was quickly taken care of by finding boxes and coolers to sit on. The lack of cutlery was a daily reminder of something we take for granted and under-appreciate. When you must use a knife to eat spaghetti or a fork to eat soup or a spoon to eat meat you realize just how valuable the right cutlery is for the right meal. If we happened to find another fork under the table or in a drawer we all rejoiced that another person might be able to use the right cutlery. Yet, how many of us leave a knife under the couch or a spoon on our desk or a fork in the car without a second thought. We undervalue the simplest things.

I also learned to value community prayer. We had group prayer each morning and evening and the pastor of Black Lake, Fr. Cornelius, started joining us for morning prayer. I saw that he greatly valued and enjoyed the time we spent together in prayer because Fr. Cornelius is hours from other priests and truly values the opportunities to pray as a group. Fr. Cornelius is a great example of somebody who gives by his presence and without many words. We did not speak directly to him during prayer and yet we gave an inestimable gift to Fr. Cornelius by being present to the morning prayer.

The E3 mission greatly challenged me, taught me, and helped me grow closer to who I am called to be: a witness to the Catholic faith, a soldier in the battle for Christ, and a saint who will live with God forever in heaven.