Accounting for relationships
As senior auditor with Catholic Relief Services (CRS) since 2011, Sister Deborah Campbell’s ministry is no ordinary desk job. She leads a team on audits for a month at a time in economically poor countries in order to ensure proper use of CRS donations. Her ministry extends beyond the local CRS offices in Burundi, Ethiopia or Tanzania, Africa.
Sister Deborah ministers and is ministered to by the many people she comes into contact with, from the nationals she works with in the CRS office, to hotel staff and people she encounters at lunchtime to other women religious.
“It’s those sorts of connections that are meaningful. I try to treat everyone like they are valuable, like I would want to be treated,” said Sister Deborah.
“Mission” to Sister Deborah means “using my skills and gifts, to help people who are disenfranchised or marginalized, to make their lives better. It’s about building relationships.”
Some encounters surpass cultural boundaries. In India on her daily walk to the market for lunch, Sister Deborah passed two women standing out of the hot sun under a sheet-like awning. They were ironing stacks of clothes with a cast-iron iron for area hotels or wealthy families.
First Sister Deborah would just say “hi.” “Before long they began looking for me, and I’d stop to talk with them. We were able to communicate even though we didn’t speak the same language,” said Sister Deborah. She asked how the iron worked, and they smiled and opened the top to show her the burning coals inside. ”You can imagine how heavy this iron was, filled with burning hot coals, but they didn’t seem to mind,” said Sister Deborah.
Sister Deborah returned with bottles of cold water. At first they accepted one to share, but she persuaded them to take both. “You have to find a delicate balance between honoring their dignity and being able to help meet their needs,” said Sister Deborah.
In the Ethiopia accounting office, several women took a liking to Sister Deborah. “They could relate to me because I’m a woman and a sister.” She was often invited to have coffee or tea in the lobby with them. “As we got to know each other, they would tell me about themselves.” When Sister Deborah’s audit was over, the women invited her for afternoon tea and gave her a scarf. “They wanted to make sure that I remembered them. One woman was pregnant, and she asked me to pray for her baby and that she would have a girl,” said Sister Deborah. “I assured them I would, and asked them to pray for me, too.” She carries a little green notebook with her with the names of the people she’s promised to pray for.
Sister Deborah tells the story of accompanying a social worker on a visit to Nairobi’s Mukuru slums. The program is funded through a CRS AIDS/HIV Relief project. “I really felt like I was seeing Christ through the extreme poverty,” said Sister Deborah. They visited a lady and her two sons in their small one-room house. “The woman said she was blessed to have me come into her home. I assured her that it was I who was blessed, and I thanked her for having me be there.” She invited them to sit on a bench which at night was the bed. The roof was leaking, and they had a pan to catch the water.
“When I meet these people, I think they are so close to God. Their faith carries them through. I think, ‘Would I give up if I had nothing?’ Sometimes I don’t know where their hope comes from. I only hope that mine someday meets that same level,” said Sister Deborah, tearfully.
Sister Deborah says being faithful to her daily prayer is key to her refueling process. She recently made a 30-day retreat in preparation for her perpetual vows. She finds that returning to the graces of that time gives her the desire to continue. “Each day when I pray our Prayer of Reunion, I am connected to each sister and associate in a special way which lets me know I am not alone,” added Sister Deborah.
“Love, mercy and justice, [the mission of the Sisters of Providence] means using my time, talent and energy to further the kingdom of God. If that’s not happening, then I’m just wasting my time,” said Sister Deborah.
She recently heard a quote from Pope Francis that rings true for her: “Your heart, when you meet with those in greatest need, becomes bigger, and bigger, and bigger! Because these encounters multiply the capacity to love. Go on!”
Sister Deborah says, “I pray that God will continue to grace me with a compassionate, loving heart which will fuel my desire and ability to ‘go on’ and carry out the mission.”
About the author: Diane Weidenbenner has worked in communications and marketing for 25 years, the last eight with the Sisters of Providence. A transplant to Indiana from Denver, she and her husband, Joe, love being closer to family. She enjoys being a Providence Associate, photography, and the wildlife in her backyard.
(This article originally appeared in the Fall 2013 issue of HOPE magazine.)