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BEing Providence in the World

Editor’s note: Providence Associate Michelle Barrentine shares her experience of living out her Providence Associate commitment by serving others in her own daily life.

Blog post author Providence Associate Michelle Barrentine with her Sister of Providence companion Sister Carolyn Kessler.

Love, Mercy, Justice. These expressions of the Providence charism of the Sisters of Providence can be lived out in so many different ways. As many ways as there are Sisters of Providence and Providence Associates (PAs). Volunteering our service is one way to promote and live out the charism of the Congregation we love and respect.

Beginning Experience

One way I live out my commitment as a Providence Associate is by my volunteer ministry with Beginning Experience International Ministry, Inc., (known simply as “BE” to those in the ministry).

Since 1974, Beginning Experience has offered a variety of grief resolution programs to serve those who have lost a marital relationship through divorce, separation or death, and for children of those losses. The ministry extends its works of listening, accompaniment and healing through teams scattered across the U.S., Canada, the UK and Ireland, Singapore and New Zealand. Some think it odd that we put the divorced and separated together with the widowed, but at the core what those losses share is suffering that manifests itself uniquely for each person: grief, disbelief, anger, frustration, sorrow, depression, and other emotions and actions taken as a consequence of what each individual is feeling.  

Michelle Barrentine turns in her signed commitment card as a Providence Associate last November.

My volunteer service with Beginning Experience started before I made my first commitment as a Providence Associate in 2019. But I see clearly now how the two dovetail. For me, this was a providential encounter of BE and the Providence Associate program. After my husband died in 2010, I came to my “BE Weekend” (we try not call it a “retreat” because it is a peer-led program, without a formal retreat master). I joined the team in late 2011 and have been, in Henry Nouwen’s words, a “wounded healer” ever since, serving in various capacities, helping myself while helping others like me.

Living the commitment

BE links to my Providence Associate role as I offer: LOVE — by just being with the suffering person; MERCY — by allowing that person to express her or his suffering fully in a unique way; and JUSTICE — by helping the person regain a life where she or he can again love self, others and God. The Providence charism of the Sisters of Providence is made known to suffering souls through the Beginning Experience as I volunteer and “Listen. Accompany. Heal.”

As part of my Providence Associate commitment, I am available to listen to those who have lost a spouse. I make no claims of being a counselor or mental health professional, so neither I nor any BE team member gives advice. Nor do we claim to know exactly what any other person is going through. But when other well-meaning people ask, “Are you over it yet?,” or say, “There are other fish in the sea,” or they hand you tissues as if to say, “You can stop crying now,” I am the person who will lovingly just listen to your story and accompany you on your grief journey so you can begin to heal.

Providence amid suffering

I am impelled and empowered to BE Providence in our world amidst chaos and suffering. I can thus honor Divine Providence and further God’s loving plans for you and me (to paraphrase the Providence Associate’s Spiritual Unit 5).

We pray in the words of Sister Josephine Stewart, SSMN, co-founder of the Beginning Experience International Ministry:

“… Give us to drink of your spirit of inspiration and give us the energy to follow this inspiration in your ministry. Send your Holy Spirit to heal our brokenness and our errors. Direct us on our journey to do your will. Bless us with abundance.” 

Learn more about the Beginning Experience International Ministry, Inc. Find our more about becoming a Providence Associate here.

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Michelle Barrentine

Michelle Barrentine

Michelle Tesar Barrentine came to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College (SMWC) from Parma, Ohio, graduating with a bachelor's in Spanish Translation and French in 1978. She went on to have a full civilian career in the U.S. Department of Defense starting as a translator and ending as a customer liaison manager in 2011. Since retirement, Michelle came back to SMWC for her master's in leadership development (Nonprofit) in 2016 and has been using her second degree to work with the ministry she so loves: Beginning Experience, on both the local and international levels. She became a Providence Associate in 2019 by the grace of God and help from Sister Carolyn Kessler, her companion.

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  1. Avatar Yvonne Stoops on April 3, 2020 at 11:53 am

    Congratulations, Michelle, on this next step in your journey by becoming a Providence Associate! May you and your walk continue to allow God’s Providence to manifest in the lives of others. Thank you for your YES.

  2. Avatar Barbara U Alvarez on May 19, 2020 at 3:15 pm

    Michelle! This is wonderful news! I know you will do well in this role, as you are already such a leader to the BE community here in San Antonio! Honored am I to continue to work with you in this healing ministry! Blessings!

  3. Avatar Anna Sweat on May 19, 2020 at 4:31 pm

    Congratulations Michelle, thanks for saying yes – I know you will do a great job!!!

  4. Avatar John Agnoli on May 21, 2020 at 5:57 am

    Good luck in your continuing journey. I was active in this ministry for ten years as a team member and President . I am no longer active as I have moved on but I continue to be a ear for those who may need someone to listen. I pray for you in your new role.

  5. Avatar Peggy Zitzer on June 25, 2020 at 8:57 pm

    CONGRATULATIONS, Michelle! You have accomplished so much! You will be a wonderful asset to the Sisters of Providence mission. I was just browsing through SMWC website, and was excited to come upon YOU!
    Please take care! You are inspirational!
    Peggy Bowling – Zitzer

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