crystal – where have you been since you came back from your visit to california? well, i’ve been trying to catch up on sleep, and i’ve been catching up on projects that have been waiting in the wings. i have also been laughing a lot, and enjoying new york a lot, and spending time in great conversation with mary and michelle. i was also in the lower east side (our fave hangout) with jess and ryan, and i was also at dunkin’ donuts getting a 99 cent latte, and updating my twitter, and singing, “give me your eyes” by brandon heath and dancing in my room, and writing poetry with my students…i’ve been here – just not on my blog. 🙂
when i got back, one of my bestest friends, charles, (no really, he’s so great!), asked me to write a letter to his class about my transition from suit life in corporate america to my role as a missioner, where do i see God, how do i live, etc…basically, my life story as to how the heck i ended up in new york. oh yeah, and he told me to try to make fun of him, that way it’s slightly personally entertaining. haha! charles teaches a number of classes at the high school, and this one was specifically for his social justice course. when he reminded me that i needed to write his class a letter, i jumped on it right away – maybe it’s because i kept having conversations with people (probably averaging like 3 a day) as to what my next steps were going to be after my time here in new york, so i have definitely processed this a lot, or maybe it was because i needed to write out my stream of consciousness on paper, with ink, to actually be shared. regardless, it was such a wonderful processing tool for me, and reading over it, i am amazed at the life that i have led so far. this springboarded into giving me motivation to write an article for a hispanic vocation magazine (my life condensed in under 500 words. awesome.) so there we have it…
…and so, here you have it (no edits, and no judgment of course) enjoy!
Dear Brothers and Sisters of Mr. Mansour’s Religion Class,
Mr. Mansour, also known as, my super good, one of my best friends, Charles, asked me to write your class a letter, with the purpose to hopefully share with you parts of my life, and hopefully inject you with an understanding of “calling,” joy, peace, patience, and the gift of wisdom…all rooted in the area of social justice. And so I begin…
The place where God calls you is where your deep gladness meets the world’s greatest need. ~Frederick Buechner
My name is Crystal, also known as Ms. Catalan to my students, and I first met Mr. Mansour at the University of San Diego. He really is one of the funniest people I know, and he’s actually legit…meaning, he’s one of the smartest people I know too. He’s one of the goofiest, and conceited, I mean, confident, I mean, one of the most truly authentic persons I know, but don’t compliment him, otherwise it only feeds his ego. BUT as I said, he is smart and wise, so listen to him. And no, Mr. Mansour and I never dated, or had any such relationship. But he did break up with me once, jerk.
My story goes like this. I was born and raised in southern Orange County, California, specifically Laguna Niguel (yes, a couple of miles away from Laguna Beach, and yes, the show, Laguna Beach, is actually kind of like what you see on TV. But not really.) I am Filipino-American, meaning I was the product of two Filipino parents, however, I was born in Anaheim, California (American culture). Yes, that is the location of Disneyland, and yes I worked there as an outdoor vendor (selling popcorn , churros and $3.25 ice cream sandwiches shaped like mickey’s face) Don’t judge me, it was a step up from Chuck E. Cheese, which is where I worked summers before. So that, was that. After my ridiculously amazing time in high school, I attended USD with your teacher, Mr. Mansour. It was here that I made my first mission trip to the Philippines, and little did I know that this initial trip would change my life forever. Yes, forever.
I made my first visit to the Philippines when I was 3 or so, but let’s be honest, I had no idea what it was really like. By the time I was in college, I was ready to make an actual missions trip to the Philippines with an organization that we had on campus. That summer, I found myself living at an orphanage with 23 young girls who were taken out of their homes because of abuse by their parents and/or relatives, or because they were abandoned, or recovered from situations where they were being trafficked. It was in listening to the stories of these girls, crying with them (a lot), laughing with them, and just being with them, that I began to feel a connection with them, and see them not as girls who I was helping, but girls that I would learn from, and even more beautifully, discover God living within them.
It was also here in the Philippines that my heart drew near to the social issue of human trafficking. There in the Philippines, I had the experience of being with women who were undergoing rehabilitation and placed in programs assisting them to get out of their lives on the streets, surviving as prostitutes. This was a group of people I never had exposure to, no experience, and no knowledge of (really, except for what I would see in the movies like Pretty Woman). Moments there, my heart broke. Why? Because I saw the beauty within each of them, and as much as I tried, I could not even understand or comprehend what they have experienced. Women and children being robbed of their dignity and value, through the selling of their bodies, every day. Night and day, no matter what time…they were there on the streets. Sure you can make the argument of, well they don’t need to be doing that, or why do they do that when they can just get a job? It brings us to the question of blaming the society or blaming the individual. Here, it did not matter. What matters is that these women that I was looking at, straight in the face, were my sisters. They have a pulse, they are human, and they too, are God’s children. God’s beloved, just like you and me.
These relationships formed, and the moments when I would be leaving on the plane back to comfortable, sunny California with tears dripping down my face, made me realize something. It made me realize that the Philippines and the ministry I had cultivated there – my ministry of presence, is where my passion was, and it was where my deep gladness resided. It was this deep gladness that drew me back to go there every summer, since my initial trip in 2005.
I graduated from USD with a major in Communication Studies and minors in Business Administration and Sociology (clearly, I had very eclectic taste in courses), and was set for my post-undergraduate career even before my Senior year ended. I had landed an amazing position with one of the best companies to work for as an entry-level position and through the Sales Devleopment Program, I would be making 6 figures by the time I was 25. I loved my job – well, working with people, and granted, I was the only one out of my close group of friends (Mr. Mansour included) to enter corporate America, while the rest of them went straight into faith-based, service-oriented programs. Still, I was determined to bring who I was – my faith, my energy, and my enthusiasm into the workplace – if anything, corporate America needs good people too! That was my motto, and that’s what I kept going back to during my two years there.
In my recent trip to the Philippines in April of 2009, I decided to spend time at the convent belonging to the Sisters of the Good Shepherd. There, I would spend time with 12 girls who were taken out of their homes because of their dangerous living conditions. After the two weeks I spent in the Philippines, I returned to my cubicle in the Los Angeles high rise building, and I cradled my face in my hands thinking, “Crystal, what are you doing?” It was in this moment that I knew that my heart was split – I was not using my life the way that I wanted. Sure I was receiving a high-paying salary, but I was also being measured and judged by the amount of revenue I generated for the company each week. Sure I was living it up wearing a business suit and power heels every day (we did not even have casual Fridays!) which is something that I looked forward to even before college ended, but I was being judged by the amount of sales calls I would have every week. It was unnecessary pressure and anxiety, and I knew right then and there, that I wanted to serve. This was no longer the place where I was wanted to be.
After weeks and months of praying about this decision, I found an organization called Cabrini Mission Corps, and so begins this part of my life. A month after coming back from the Philippines, I found this organization, flew out to Philadelphia for an interview, and within 3 weeks, I quit my job and found myself in a position as a Teacher and Campus Minister at Mother Cabrini High School in New York, NY. I currently teach Health to sophomore girls in Washington Heights, NY (primarily Dominican area). In terms of community, I live with 5 other sisters (religious sisters!), and 2 other missioners who are also my age. Yes, I said goodbye to my promising salary, but I said hello to the most fulfilling place that I could be right now.
As God has it, I am preparing to go to the Philippines in August of this year, where I will also be living at a convent, teaching, and also taking part in prison ministry. Yup, God is indeed a God of surprises! I guess you can say my life has been full of transition, but I will also say that just as I change and grow and discover my life’s passions, with an open heart, and a struggling, yet desiring heart to draw closer to God and understanding the magnitude of this beautiful world (which includes each of the people God has created), God has been at my side, patient with me as I grow and continue to learn more about the needs of this world.
My ministry is not to help, rather my ministry lies with my intention – my intention to want to use my life to serve and be with others. Through my experiences, it is such a beautiful life to know that we may use our individual God-given gifts and talents to serve one another, near and far. I have found that I don’t need to change who I am. That’s not what is being asked of me. Rather, it’s that I agree to participate in my life and discover what energizes me and what gives me life. I think I found that, for now, but indeed, I am still a work in progress.
I would like to leave you with parts of a poem that helps me when I sometimes feel overwhelmed or helpless (this is by Archbishop Oscar Romero):
We cannot do everything
and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something,
and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way,
an opportunity for God’s grace to enter and do the rest.
Thank you for being who you are, and please remember to treat Mr. Mansour with respect. You are a blessing to him, and you help make him a better person. Keep it that way.
With so much love and peace,
Ms. Crystal Catalan