Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Spirituality: Summer ambassadors

by Father Michael Savelesky, for the Inland Register

(From the July 3, 2003 edition of the Inland Register)

It was St. Paul who used the phrase “ambassadors of Christ” to describe the relationship between Christians and their surrounding political and social environment.

St. Paul did not create the concept of ambassador. It was a prevalent reality in his day. Much akin to today’s political ambassadors, those who had this role did not represent themselves or speak their own mind. They brought the word of the one who sent them and by their very personal presence represented the source of their authority.

When we think of ambassadors today, many of us may think of nicely dressed individuals who likely have gained their positions as the result of political favors. It may not have been much different in Paul’s time. Regardless, when ambassadors are present, they carry the integrity of the nation they represent. When Paul speaks of the Christian as an “ambassador of Christ,” he appeals to that same sense of integrity. People watch what ambassadors do – even at cocktail parties – and listen to what they say. An ambassador cannot separate function from identity.

The ambassador is more than a messenger. In a real and powerful sense, they make the nation present. The ambassador’s personal identity and agenda must die so that the nation they represent can be present. So it is with the Christian who is an ambassador of Christ.

I had not thought much about the notion of Christian ambassadorship until just recently, when I encountered some 60 high school students and chaperones who were headed off to Tijuana, Mexico on a mission trip. There they planned to assist Salesian and Franciscan priests in their efforts to bring the Gospel to the poorest of Mexico’s poor. Interestingly, the group’s organizational impetus came from a formal group located in Portland, Ore,, called Los Embajadores (in Spanish, “The ambassadors”). From all reports, theirs was a genuine experience of the title they bore.

In a day and age when the comforts of home beckon, the members of this entourage carted themselves in vans 2,000 miles south to the field of service. Computer games, shopping malls and hot showers were traded for picks, shovels, wheelbarrows, hammers, chisels and cement buckets – and the sweat equity invested in hours of hard work in an uncomfortably hot climate. The “fun” quickly dissipated after the first day on the job – but the commitment to serve only deepened. The work was embraced with an enthusiasm seldom seen on the home front (as one parent observed).

These students could never find this kind of experience on the Internet, no matter how hard they clicked. One cannot be an ambassador from home. By the very nature of their work, ambassadors have to leave its comforts and securities for the unknown terrain of a foreign land.

To a person, all of the students and chaperones on the mission trip still speak excitedly about this experience. For most it was a first exposure to the shocking sights and poignant smells of Third World poverty. Sporadic lectures from the leadership at oratories where the groups were housed added to head knowledge, but the impression of such an intense excursion will last a lifetime.

Most importantly, these 60+ people have had a unique experience of putting their baptism into action. They, like all the baptized, were ambassadors of Christ. As the vast majority of the people who watched them work or saw them drag their tired bodies through the dusty streets of Tijuana’s barrios, it was obvious that they were not tourists. Without knowing its full impact – or even seeking to know it – these young and not-so-young ambassadors communicated the central message of the Gospel: Jesus came not to be served but to serve.

As often happens to those who die to themselves so others may live – these 21st century ambassadors probably wish they could have done more and stayed longer. But the assignment of ambassador is short-lived, even in the political realm. In their case – the opportunity to serve in the name of Christ has merely taken on a new shape. One does not have to leave the country to be an ambassador of Christ. There is dire need for such ambassadors in every facet of our social fabric – at work, in our neighborhoods, at school, and even at play. These summer ambassadors are witnesses to the truth that Christianity is not a system of intellectual beliefs whose obligations are satisfied in a weekly hour of worship. It is a way of living – dying and rising with Jesus Christ for the sake of others.

Such a life of self-sacrificing service is rooted in our baptismal call. Can there be any doubt that the world hungers for that kind of witness that the ambassador of Christ can bring to it? Our environment may not carry the sights, sounds and smells of Third World poverty, but, as some have observed, our impoverishment may be even greater. Would that some dedicated group of ambassadors would come our way!

(Father Savelesky is pastor of Assumption Parish in Spokane. His book, Catholics Believe, is available from Harcourt Religion Publishers.) (Download an order form in pdf format to print)

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