After a yearlong period of discernment, a local family of seven will travel to Louisiana to begin training as missionaries with the Family Missions Company, a lay Catholic service organization that sends people to countries throughout the world to serve the poor. When Josh and Maria Gehl leave for three months of training in September, they will begin serving a two-year assignment in another country.
The Gehls' training begins on Sept. 12. Around Thanksgiving, they will be told where the organization is sending them for their first assignment. They will have a month off around Christmas to visit with their family, visit parishes and continue to share how things are going and where they will go next. Last summer, the Gehls prayed, discerned and spoke with others about the possibility of being missionaries.
"Last August, we went down and had a Come and See week in Louisiana," Gehl recalled. "We went down and did that, and continued to pray and think about it. Last fall, we decided to send in our application and see where things were going from there. We received our acceptance letter this past February. We have five children, ranging from the youngest who just turned 1, and our oldest turned 12 in April."
Since 1997, Family Missions Company has sent families and singles to serve on mission trips around the world, including Mexico, Haiti, Costa Rica, the Philippines and Peru. Gehl said the decision to embark on this trip with their five children was not a decision made lightly, but rather the result of a great deal of planning, thought, prayer and consideration of whether this was for them.
"Over the last couple of years, my wife and I have been praying and feeling that perhaps God might be calling us to something more, to consider what more we can do for Him and how we can serve Him and His people," Gehl explained. "We started looking into a couple of different options, just to see what might be out there. We thought maybe I'm called to be a deacon, or maybe we're called to be foster parents."
The Gehls considered several different ways they could give back to the community, but none of these options seemed to be a good fit. After speaking with a friend who had recently come back from a Family Missions Company retreat, it all clicked.
The organization trains people to participate in missionary work in a variety of countries with the local bishops and priests. Long-term missionaries must make a two-year commitment. The initial training year consists of three months at its headquarters and nine months in a site the organization assigns to each family or individual, and the second year offers a choice.
"In the second year, we can either choose to go back to that place, or we can see if God might be calling us somewhere else," Gehl added. "They ask for a two-year commitment because they always hope people might be willing to go longer than two years. (The nature of the service) varies from place to place. It depends on the types of skillsets and backgrounds people have. Sometimes it's catechesis and sacramental prep. It's reaching out to primarily the poor, the elderly and hospitals, as well as youth."
In some cases, Family Missions Company will host short-term missionaries, but a large part of the entire process is one of fostering relationships and building a sense of community, which is why most serve for a longer period of time. The missionaries embrace the concept of Gospel poverty and live in conditions similar to those of the people they are serving, who often have very few possessions among them.
When asked about the challenge of traveling with five young children, Gehl said traveling in general tends to be a challenging feat, but they look forward to seeing what is in store for them. Josh, who just finished his 11th year teaching religion at Canisius High School in Buffalo, and Maria, who has a background in theology and is responsible for homeschooling their children, see this as their next adventure.