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Turn to Jesus (Article)

A Frightened Missionary in the Bahamas
Fr Simon Devereux, LC (New Zealand)

P. Simon Devereux, L.C.
P. Simon Devereux, L.C.

As the plane descended into the Bahamas, in January, 1996, the white beaches and clear water came into focus. It looked even more beautiful than Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous portrayed it to be. I should have been looking forward to the next two weeks on that exotic island. Rather, I was tense and had an upset stomach. What on earth was I getting into?

A Frightening Phone Call

Four weeks prior I had received a call from a friend of the family, Greg Lucas. Although he was several years older than I, we lived on the same street in Dunedin, New Zealand, and our families were close friends. Greg had finished college and was volunteering with the Regnum Christi Mission Corps.

At the time I thought his invitation was decidedly inconvenient. Little did I know that it would turn out to be wonderfully providential.

Greg had invited my older brother, Andrew, and me to a door-to-door mission trip in the Bahamas. I did not like the idea at all. “Wouldn’t we have more fun going on our annual family vacation to Central Otago (the film site of the Lord of the Rings)?” I commented.

Deep-down, however, I was scared about being a missionary to strangers and being a missionary with a group of strangers. What kind of bizarre people would we meet? Would I be forced to eat hard-shelled bugs and slimy slugs? Would they laugh at me? Would it be dangerous? “No, no,” I said to myself, “I’m not the missionary sort. I’m more the stay at home, keep-the-fire-burning type. Thanks for the invite, though.”

My enthusiastic and fearless brother however, ignored my pusillanimous phrase and signed us up on the spot.

Three Lessons

We boarded the bus and stared wide-eyed at the opulent hotels and beach-side mansions passing before us. However, as we journeyed further inland, the grandiose houses soon turned into rusty tin-roofed shacks, and the immaculate boulevards into dirt roads. The unleashed dogs barked after us, and the natives peered at us from their veranda deck chairs. My stomach turned, and all the fears came racing back into my
P. Simon Devereux, L.C.
head. Tomorrow we would be walking down those dusty streets armed with only a wooden crucifix and a Bible. While I was imagining all the dangers that lay before us, God was preparing three life-changing encounters for me.

I Learn my First Lesson

The group of missionaries, on the other hand, looked much friendlier than I had initially imagined. In fact, my brother and I quickly made friends with the other 40 men on the trip. They were all from the U.S. and Canada, and although they spoke English with a funny accent, they were all together decent blokes. It was the first time I had been with so many Catholics. Living in a predominantly Protestant country and going to a Presbyterian school, apart from my six older brothers, I did not have any Catholic friends. After an afternoon of soccer and goofing-off in the pool with the other missionaries, I learned to my surprise that Catholics were cool.

A Great Discovery

The next day, after a morning retreat (that I later would recognize as life-changing), we set out to evangelize. Although I was now comfortable with the three fellow missionaries on my team, I was scared to death about the people we would have to talk too. Now, I was a cradle Catholic and experienced altar boy, and for sixteen years I had been surrounded by Catholic art and bookshelves of lives of the saints. I thought I knew my stuff at least well enough to defend myself from “ignorant islanders.”

Soon enough, it was my turn to knock on a door, and with magnanimous “esprit de corps” my knees joined in on the knocking. The door opened and a big woman filled the open frame. “What do you want?” she asked suspiciously. My pre-rehearsed spiel about us visiting on behalf of the parish priest was instantly forgotten. Instead a lame “we are here to announce the Good News” fell out of my mouth. The good woman laughed and with a great big smile said she was Catholic too. What a relief!

The following visits were not quite so easy, and we soon found ourselves debating Christians of other denominations who knew the Bible back-to-front. I soon realized that I needed to learn much more about the Faith and learn fast.

In the evening interchange back at mission headquarters, I poured over the Bible and learned from the more experienced missionaries. I quickly learned that the Faith I had always unthinkingly accepted as true had real and serious reasons for its credibility. In a word, the Faith made sense.

The Decisive Encounter

The third encounter turned out to be the most important. Now, since I was a boy, I have had frequent contact with priests. I always enjoyed their Sunday homilies, and our parish priests were regular guests at the dinner table. When two of my older brothers joined the Legionaries of Christ, I also got to know many seminarians and was attracted by their joy and their soccer skills.

Coming home after serving Mass for the first time shortly after my First Communion, I said to my mother that it had been the best day of my life. Yes, I had always wanted to be a priest. Every night as I knelt down to say the prayers my parents had taught me, God spoke to my heart, calling me. And when my mother held me and said God had great plans for me, I assumed she was talking about the priesthood. However, I was too shy to tell anyone about it.

On this trip to the Bahamas we were accompanied by three Legionary priests. I still remember their jokes, and how they taught me to play American football. What really enthralled me, however, was how they spoke about Jesus. They spoke about him as a real person; when they preached the Gospel, scenes came to life; when they prayed I could see they were talking to a Friend. That is what I longed for. During that morning retreat on the first day, I made a long confession and encountered Jesus for myself.

Shortly after the mission another Legionary priest asked me what I was going to do after my senior year of high school. This was the chance I had been waiting for. I was very happy that he asked me, and I immediately told him that I wanted to be a Legionary.

Mission to Missionary

A year later, I was boarding another plane going on another mission. This mission would not last two weeks, but a lifetime. I was going to Cheshire, Connecticut, to join the Legionaries’ novitiate. There was another difference too. My first mission I had been scared because I did not know anyone; this time I knew I was going with my new friend, Jesus, and that made all the difference.

FR SIMON DEVEREUXwas born on February 4, 1979, in Dunedin, New Zealand. He graduated from John McGlashan College in 1996. He entered the novitiate of the Legionaries of Christ in Cheshire, Connecticut, on September 15, 1997. After his novitiate and year of humanities in Cheshire, he studied philosophy at the Pontifical Regina Apostolorum College in Rome from 2000 to 2002 and from 2005 to 2007. In between, he worked as a youth minister in Quebec, Canada, and he made his perpetual profession on October 4, 2005. He completed his theology studies there in 2010.

The vocation stories of the Legionaries of Christ who were ordained in 2010 have been published in the book "From the Heart of Christ."



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