A Blessing in Disguise


By Sr. Virginia Bickford, FMA

Working as a Salesian missionary for 32 years in East Africa has been one of the most rewarding and challenging experiences of my 50 years of religious life. I have worked in Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda in the field of education for needy young people since 1984. To be a missionary was always my childhood dream and the Good Lord saw fit to let it be his will in my life. I returned to the States in May this year for a knee replacement, but my heart and my mind are in East Africa where I will return to Kenya at the end of this year. In my mission experience, we have had a number of Vides volunteers work side by side with us in schools, oratories, retreat programs, camps, tutoring, etc. in order to reach out to the young to make them good Christians and honest Citizens.

On 2nd – 4th September two volunteers from the program came to San Antonio, Texas to participate in the Re-Entry Program after giving their service in Scotland. This program assists the returning volunteers to adjust to life in the United States and to look at their experience from many angles.

I was not a returning volunteer, but was invited to participate in the program with them. It was facilitated by S MaryGloria Mar, the Vides Directress and Dr. Antonio Ramirez, PHD Psychologist working in San Antonio. Working 32 years in the missions has left its mark and this re-entry experience was a blessing in disguise. It gave me the opportunity to process the lights and shadows of my missionary life, and renew my love and enthusiasm for my Salesian missionary vocation. As I await my return to Kenya, I thank the Lord for this great gift and pray that each Christian may feel the call to be “missionaries” at home or abroad, sharing the love of Christ  for all humanity.


Filed under Uncategorized

Scottish Blessings


Theresa Nguyen, Elizabeth Suarez, and Sister Bernadette Cassidy, FMA
with a Scottish bagpiper

Three months seems like a long time. That is what I, Elizabeth Suarez, told myself as I boarded my plane, a plane that would take me more than 5,300 miles across a continent and an ocean to the United Kingdom of all places. When I first told people I was going abroad to volunteer in Scotland they did a mental double take. When it comes to missionary work, Scotland is perhaps not the first place that comes to mind. I myself was not too sure what I would encounter, but the young people I met and worked with, the Salesian community I became a part of, taught me many things about the needs people have—not just material, but spiritual and emotional—those invisible needs that many times are overlooked. Three months, I came to discover, was not nearly enough time and yet I was transformed for the better in so many wonderful and unexpected ways during my time as a VIDES volunteer missioner in Glasgow, Scotland.

What exactly was I doing in Glasgow? You ask. I was part of a Youth Ministry Outreach Team for a project called UR Space that the Salesian Sisters recently started about three years ago. We went out to different high schools in the Glasgow area and created retreat experiences for young people helping them to explore and deepen their faith—something not easily accomplished in a time and place where so many young people are indifferent towards any sort of talk of faith and God and religion. We did our best to facilitate the transformation of otherwise ordinary places into sacred spaces of reflection, connection and growth.


The young people I encountered were just pure dead brilliant. They were full of so much energy, optimism, honesty, openness, goodness. They made me laugh; they inspired me; they challenged me. Every retreat we gave was full of moments in which the young people would surprise me in some way and leave me in awe of what they taught me without knowing it—about faith and life and everything in between. There was definitely a lot of good to be found in the young, but working with young people came with its share of challenges too. They did not always focus, they did not always listen, they did not always follow directions. Underlying the young people’s great life and energy was a deep and generally unmet hunger for God, purpose, and meaning. Sometimes I was left wondering if anything we said or did made a difference to some of them.

I do believe that ultimately the UR Space project is making a difference. I saw it in the faces of the young people we encountered, heard it in the comments their teachers would make to us. Maybe we only saw some of them just one day for the retreat itself, but one day can be enough to connect, to inspire, to challenge, to awaken, to begin a transformation by planting a seed that will bear fruit somewhere down the line. I suppose that is really what I was doing in Scotland; I was planting seeds. At the end of the day, it was not about me or the UR Space team; it was about the young people, about these amazing young people who have so much to give and to share with the world. As St. John Bosco used to say, “It is enough that you are young for me to love you very much.” Even if I only knew some of them for a day, they always found a way to claim a piece of my heart. For however long it may have been, the time spent with them was a blessing and I have nothing left but gratitude for all of it.


It is a funny thing about going on mission. I thought I would be giving so much, and don’t get me wrong, I did give of myself. But I also received more than I could have ever imagined. My heart has expanded in ways I didn’t know it could, to include places I didn’t think I’d ever visit and people I never knew I’d meet. There is so much goodness to be found at the heart of service, a feeling of being filled as I pour myself out for others. There is a part of me that wishes I could just keep doing this forever. Eventually, however, my time in Scotland came to an end. At least for now… and life goes on.

I knew I did not want to forget this experience though, or all the ways in which I had grown and changed because of it. Life, however, is not always conducive to reflection and remembrance. And that is what I wanted to do; I wanted to remember. I still want to remember—the people especially, the friendships and relationships (relationship is so very much at the heart of mission), but also the places, the experiences, the joys, the struggles—everything. So this weekend, I participated in the VIDES+US Re-entry. For the first time since returning from Scotland, I was able to step back, to reflect and remember. This weekend gave me the opportunity to recognize and process the gifts and challenges of my VIDES journey, to see the special place in my heart the UK, and Scotland in particular, now have.


Life did not slow down for me after returning from mission, and I came to the startling realization I hadn’t really taken the time to stop and appreciate my time in Scotland for all that it had been and taught me. This Re-entry has given me a sense of closure I didn’t realize I was missing and gave me a chance to come full-circle since that VIDES formation camp back in January (which seems like a lifetime ago). Participating in this Re-entry weekend has taught me that the ways we learn and grow from mission do not just take place while we are at our mission site. As we give ourselves the opportunity and the gift of unpacking those experiences, they continue to shape us long after we say farewell to a particular people and place, long after we board that plane home, a plane that takes us more than 5,300 miles across an ocean and a continent.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Re-Living the Journey 9/2-4/16 (Mission ReEntry)


S Virginia Bickford, FMA (Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Africa), Theresa Nguyen (Scotland),
Dr. Antonio Ramirez and S MaryGloria Mar, FMA (Facilitators)
Elizabeth Suarez (Scotland)

Read the following blogs to peak into their story.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Still looking for something deeper…


Dear Friends,

Being a missionary is no easy task.  When I told my family and friends, I was going to Scotland to do some volunteer work I got some puzzled looks because everyone seemed to agree that there are no difficulties there.  Thinking it would be a straightforward mission I went to Scotland under the impression that it would be simple to give retreats to the young people while living in community with the Salesian sisters.  This past year has given me the greatest joys, yet also presented some tough challenges.  The UK is indeed a first world country, but with the decrease in Mass attendance, less vocations, and a decline of young people interested in their Catholic faith I noticed that the young people may have their iPhone, iPad, and latest gadgets, but they were still looking for something deeper.

If I can share one story while on mission, it is this:

In this Year of Mercy, our retreat team of sisters and volunteers focused and discussed about what this may mean when we walk pass homeless people. One young person matter-of-factly said, “Ya cannie just walk pass ‘em. Ya needa stop ‘n gie ‘em a fiver.”  How many times do we walk pass a homeless person and think twice, maybe a third time before we decide to give them some of our loose change?  I know I do the same and as I heard this young person’s testimony, I was greatly humbled.

Scotland may not be the most Catholic country despite having free Catholic education, but hearing this young person speak gives me so much hope.   The young people are searching for something, but they cannot put a name to it. There was a definite spiritual need in Scotland and England.  And as I grew more aware of their struggles I knew the journey I would be walking for that year would be a tough one.

When I finished my mission in Scotland, I came back to VIDES+USA in San Antonio, Texas to do a re-entry. This week I had time to reflect on my year on mission. I must say, this re-entry back home challenged me to identify my struggles abroad and how I was going to transform these experiences for the better and integrate them into my life.  I learned that being in this liminal space, as I find myself, is normal, that I needed time to reflect on my mission after I returned home, and to understand that who I was before mission and who I am now is different.  I am slowly being “transformed by the encounter.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Conquering Hearts

IMG_0658.jpgTwo weeks ago I boarded the plane that would take me from Chicago, my hometown, to the VIDES formation camp in San Antonio. I was not sure what was waiting for me in the camp but what I did know was that my soul was eager to learn and to serve the Lord. My name is Belen Morales, I am 22 years old and I was born in Ecuador. When I arrived to San Antonio, the Sisters had prepared a warm welcome for us. The first week of formation we learned all about the Salesian Spirituality, St. John Bosco’s Preventive System, the Accompaniment Style of St. Mary Mazzarello, and the basis of Catholic Social Teaching among other very important topics for mission such as health precautions. During that week, I learned the importance of establishing confidence with the youth to lead them to find truth and become free from everything that may keep them apart from being themselves. Only after that they will be free to love. We also learned about the different levels of faith and reflected on ourselves to find our own level of faith.

At the Salesian house, the sisters are incredibly kind. While doing chores, I was able to listen to some of their stories and each one was admirable. The Sisters are true examples of persistency and conviction.

After an intense week of formation, we were ready to start our mission at the Undocumented Teen Shelter. This experience is by far one of the most beautiful and rewarding of my life. I was in a group with Katie and Beth. We prepared different activities such as skits, crafts, and games that went along with the story of Joseph in Genesis. On Monday I met a group of teenagers, ages 14 to 17. It was difficult at the beginning because the boys did not want to participate. However, all I had in mind was that I wanted to conquer those hearts.

Little by little the boys started to get to know us and they started to engage with the story of Joseph. We started to establish confidence with the boys. They started to trust us. One of them came up to me and said: “Miss, I am going to tell you my story.” He told me what he went through, and even though he has gone through many difficulties, he still had a smile on his face and the drive to be happy.

On Thursday we finished the lesson because the next day was Fun Friday where they play games and win prizes. The boys liked the end of the story of Joseph because he reunites with his family. I was able to see hope on the boys’ faces. I reminded them that God is our happiness and hope and that our goal must be to reach eternal happiness in Heaven. At the end of the lesson, we started to say goodbye since we weren’t sure if we would have the chance the next day. With watery eyes, I told them that they will always be in my heart, and they realized how much they meant to me, Katie and Beth.

When Friday came we fortunately had the chance to see them again. The boys surprised us with beautiful thank you cards made by them. Their supervisors told us that the previous day they had even asked for extra minutes before going to bed to finish the thank you cards because “they had to be perfect,” as one of the boys had said. There we realized that we also meant a lot to them. Some of the things they wrote on the letters were: “Thank you for the time you dedicated to us,” “Thank you for teaching us that God has a perfect plan for each of us,” and “God is Love.” That day we played, laughed and prayed with them. During final prayer, the boy that had told me his story said a beautiful prayer. I was able to tell the Holy Spirit was with him.

I learned much from these boys and I truly admire them for their strength and faith. One of the boys gave me one of his bracelets and another boy made a bracelet especially for me. Both bracelets have hearts on them, 27 in total, and to me these are the hearts of each of the boys which I will take with me wherever I go. I thank God for this amazing blessing, for VIDES, the sisters, the boys and for the wonderful women I met that I can now call my friends and that will be embarking on their missions soon. God indeed has a perfect plan for each of us. May God bless!


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

“Soy peligroso”…that means friendly, right?


My name is Gabrielle and I am from San Antonio, Texas.I applied to VIDES because I realized that being a good Catholic — a good Christian — doesn’t just mean going to church on Sundays. Acts of mercy and true service to my brothers and sisters is a requirement to be a follower of Christ and any career path I chose would have been incomplete without understanding how to sacrifice and give to others. Therefore, I entered the formation camp earlier this June and from the first week of formation through the service camp for the undocumented minors at the local shelter, I not only learned about the Salesian spirit taught by St. John Bosco and Sister Maria Dominica Mazzarello, but also was able to put it into practice at the camp.

The Salesian spirit of service and accompaniment as exemplified by St. John Bosco and Sister Mazzarello is one of love, mercy and the simple kindness of being truly present in the lives of the youth and the people around you. By establishing trust and confidence in those of whom you accompany on their journey to holiness and a closer relationship with God, you help them to accept the harsh truths of their lives, but more importantly the greater truth that Gods love and mercy is unyielding, unceasing and most supremely reserved for them. That as sons and daughters of God they have a right to his love and by trusting in him you can receive the graces necessary to survive and be joyful in times of happiness and difficulty. In training, we also learned that by focusing on the goodness in every child and every teen you give them the opportunity to rise to the occasion and recognize that despite their faults, they have the choice and ability to be better people and that it can only benefit them. It’s interesting though, because the most valuable Salesian teaching that I learned was that a truly humble and loving presence can be enough to make a difference, and it was this assertion that I had the most difficulty believing until we went to camp with the undocumented.

The shelter facility is for young people who have been separated from their families either before crossing the border or separated during their processing. Their ages range from 12-17 and all of them pretty much only speak Spanish. I do not speak Spanish. I can understand a fair amount, but cannot for the life of me speak. When we watched these 15-17 year olds lining up outside the house, with their excess of tattoos and clear teen attitude, I panicked. How can you just be present with teens? They need to talk and to have a relationship with people. There was nothing to be done, and it became clear that a few of the boys were going to make this week hard for me. It’s funny because God knew that perhaps a language barrier was exactly what the boys and I needed to learn how to focus on pure acts of kindness and the value of a smile and a laugh.

On the first day one of the boys approached me as a few others looked on, and said, “Soy peligroso.” All of my one year of Spanish classes flew out the window, and I couldn’t remember that “peligroso” means “dangerous”. Instead, I thought it was a synonym for friendly and when I replied with, “Amable?” and “Amigo?” he paused, incredulous and smiled as the others chuckled. His intimidation couldn’t work if I didn’t understand him, and he got a second chance to be who he truly was; a kind, sensitive and respectful son of God who has had to be tough and harsh to survive. We played basketball together every day that week, and I found that each day as I just laughed, played and made a fool of myself by attempting to speak Spanish, more and more of them were willing to put in such effort to talk to me and let me know their stories. They opened up and struggled to communicate with me by helping with my Spanish and acting out words to make their points clear. I was able to share my faith journey with one boy without speaking the same language, and that was only possible with the help of the Holy Spirit and the attitude of humility and love that I learned from St. John Bosco and St. Mary Mazzarello.

Despite their heartbreaking experiences and pains, I saw hope and joy in these boys. Leaving was difficult, and saying goodbye–painful, but they brought so much light and hope into my life. I now have a bunch of crazy little brothers that I get to pray for every day. God is good.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Using God’s Gifts

Hello readers! My name is Katie Webber. I am 25 years old and I am from Troy, Michigan and I am now part of the Salesian family.  I have felt the desire for mission since I was 8 years old and heard the call which, although starting out only as a small whisper, had grown louder as I grew older until it was too loud to shut out. I am now finishing my VIDES Missioner training and am so grateful to God for this opportunity.

When I first arrived at the Formation Camp several weeks ago I was not sure what to expect but the sisters welcomed me with open arms and in no time, along with our small group of seven missioners, I felt a sense of comfort, love, safety, and family with both one another and the sisters there. During my formation, I learned so much about the teachings of St. Don Bosco and the methods of St. Mary Domenica Mazzarello. I have learned that our actions really IMG_0730.JPGdo speak so much louder than our words and that our mere presence is enough to preach the gospel. I am so grateful to the sisters and my six companions who showed me how to apply these teachings that I learned through the way they treated me. I have learned that to truly be a missioner is not in what we say or where we go to serve, but in how we love since God himself is love.

After we spent a week in formation, we went to a center for undocumented youth. This experience was inspiring, eye-opening, and even life changing. The seven of us were broken into groups and put into different houses to lead our vacation bible school camp. At first I thought that we were going to have a young group of about 20 boys when in reality we had a group of about 30 boys, most of which were in their late teens. The first day at the camp was more difficult than I expected, especially since I speak VERY little Spanish. We had a hard time getting the boys involved, and since out of our group of three volunteers there was only one of us who spoke Spanish, we ourselves seemed to have a hard time being involved at first. But as the days went on the boys participated more and more and I remembered what we had learned in training: our presence, not our words, is what matters. I made an effort each day to try to connect with the boys just by being with them, by having them attempt to teach me Spanish (key word being attempt), by playing games and by being joyful while with them. Through these small things I tried to love them in order that they might find worth and see God in the very little I could do, and I prayed over and over that that would be enough.

By the end I was heartbroken to leave, and many of the boys wrote letters to the other volunteers in my group and myself in which many of them thanked God for us and our time there. They promised to pray for us, and the words “God is love” seemed to be repeated over and over again on their cards. It was hard to believe that these boys who just a few days before seemed so indifferent, where the same boys who in our last days would pray our closing prayers with so much respect and reverence.

While our service experience taught us many lessons about how to treat those we serve, it also seemed to teach us quite a lot about how to work with each other towards a common goal. There was a lot of teamwork needed while we were at the camp and I saw how the three of us in “house c” seemed to work better and better together as days went by, by using each other’s gifts when we had a lack of talent. We learned how to listen to each other more and at times put our own ideas aside for the sake of the others.

Looking back now that our formation is over, I am so grateful for how much I learned, both for mission and for life. I am grateful for the friendships I have made, and most of all I am thankful for all the faith and courage I have gained as I hear God say “come follow me and be not afraid!”.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Spreading the Spirit

IMG_0707.JPGMy name is Diana Vargas, I’m 18 years old and I will be serving in Puerto Rico.  These past two weeks have been life changing.  I met a group of incredible women, who by the end of the formation became one big family.  God called each one of us to become missioners and help the ones in need.

The VIDES formation camp prepared us for this journey.  We learned something new every day, for example, on Catholic Social Teachings, how to deal with Cultural Stress, the importance of taking care of our health during the mission, but most importantly, to spread the Salesian Spirit of Don Bosco and St. Mary Mazzarello as missioners.

We had the opportunity to visit a refugee camp of undocumented teenagers.  It was a great experience, for which I will always be thankful. I admire every single one of the young people that I encountered.  These girls and boys risked their lives coming to the US looking for opportunities, many forced by their own parents to escaping the poverty or gangs back home.  For many of them, especially the girls, it is hard to have people come and share words of encouragement because of what they’ve been through.  Some seemed to be angry/upset at God, but others wanted and needed to hear that God has a plan for them.

We shared the Genesis story of Joseph with them, how at the beginning he was sold by his brothers. Throughout the story he faced other hard situations which he often wondered why God allowed them to happened to him but Joseph continued to firmly trust in God. At the end of the story he was named governor of Egypt.  He then realized that everything was part of God’s plan, and if he had not been sold he would have never been able to use his God-given gifts to save the known world. The girls and boys were able to relate their lives and stories with Joseph’s story, you could see the faith and hope in their eyes.  We were able to accomplish our mission of bringing Jesus’ hope and love to the young people.

While I was there I saw some of these teenagers leave to be reunited with their families in different states. I was very happy, but I also saw some new ones coming in.  There was a boy who had to go to the hospital before getting settled in the house, he was very weak and dehydrated from all the walking. Seeing this was so heartbreaking!  Hundreds and hundreds of people try crossing the borders every day, many of them are kidnapped, sexually abused or die along the way. Less than 10% make it to the US.  I will pray every day for the young people I met and for the ones who are crossing at this moment and I ask you to please do the same.  I will continue to spread the Salesian Spirit wherever I go.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Transforming the Heart

Hi! My name is Beth Kraner. I am from The Colony, TX.  I have a Bachelor’s degree in Secondary English Education from Purdue University in Indiana and am a Texas certified teacher. I have been teaching for ten years and seven of those years in Catholic Education. I currently teach Content Mastery and Religion grades K-3 at St. Martin de Porres Catholic School in Frisco, TX.

I learned so much for life and mission at the VIDES Formation camp! I learned that God often chooses those least likely, seemingly unimportant, weak, and uneducated to carry out his great plans like Mary the Mother of God, Juan Diego, the Apostles, St. John Bosco, and St. Mary Mazzarello. I learned that the people who we expect and need to understand us usually are the ones who do not, but nevertheless stand firm, remember that God is always with us, remain faithful to Him, and above all trust in Him. I learned what it means to accompany the young from Jesus, St. John Bosco and St. Mary Mazzarello. First to establish confidence with them, lead them to the truth of who they are, and freedom from whatever is keeping them in bondage so that the can be free to love as God loves and become fully who God made them to be. Also accompanying with reason, religion, and loving-kindness. One thing among many I love about VIDES is that the purpose is not to be a Savior and change them, but to meet them where they are, bring Christ to them through loving words and gestures, and walk with them on their life journey. It is Jesus Christ alone that is the Savior and His love that transforms the heart of both the accompanied and the ones who accompany so that we can live a life of freedom, love, peace, and joy in Christ.

The service project was a great learning experience and eye-opener for me. We had the great opportunity to serve undocumented teenage boy and girl refugees from Latin America  in San Antonio. I had no idea of the horrific situations and poverty that these teenagers lived in. Many Americans have the perspective that they do not want people coming in to our country and they must be stopped. They dehumanize the refugees feeling anger towards them for coming to our country and have no compassion. What I learned is that these refugees are trying to leave their country so that they have the opportunity just to live and be free! They don’t want to live a life in great fear for their lives and in slavery. One boy had seen people killed in order to steal their organs and sell them for money and that is why he wanted to escape his country. These teenage refugees went through and saw unimaginable, horrendous things on their journey here such as sexual, physical violation and violence; death of loved ones, separation from family and friends. To them, the dangers and risks in traveling to the US were worth it to escape the awful situations they were living in. The fact that they survived the journey is a miracle in itself. Most do not survive. When the refugees cross the border, there family is separated. At the shelter, they house and take care of the teenage refugees until their family is located, then God-willing they are reunited. For some boys and girls they are the only living survivors.

One of the things that touched me the most is that the teenage boys I served continued to keep their faith in God and Mother Mary in spite of the horrible things they have gone through. Also despite their suffering, they still had joy. They still smiled, laughed, and brought me joy and laughter.  They were kind, caring, grateful, and respectful to the volunteers and to each other. Their strength, fortitude, and trust in God even in times of great suffering is a true inspiration to me. They helped me grow in compassion, love, and understanding.

I cannot thank VIDES enough for the incredible opportunity to learn and experience what it truly means to accompany, to love, and to be a true disciple of Jesus Christ. It was truly life changing. I look forward to applying all I learned not only in mission, but in my daily life. I love the joyful, familial Salesian spirit and I am so blessed to be a
part of the Salesian family for life! God Bless all of you! Please keep me in your prayers!


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Rooted in love- Mary Margaret

The way in which I have defined myself for the past twenty-four years has been as ‘student’. Growing up in Dallas, I considered myself smart, always one of the top students in my class. This stayed true when I went to college in Oklahoma, and then when I went to get my master’s degree in International Affairs at Texas A&M University. When I decided to apply for VIDES, I thought that I would be fairly well qualified to do mission abroad. After all, I had traveled abroad for a few months at a time for school. I loved kids and I knew how to interact with them, even if I wasn’t a teacher. The Salesians were perfect!


From Left: Mary Margaret with fellow missioner Gabby

What I learned during formation camp was that I have a lot to learn.

I am sure that some people reading this have heard of Don Bosco’s preventive system, but for those of you who have not, I’ll give a brief explanation. It is not complicated, which is probably why it works so well. It is using reason, religion, and loving kindness when you interact with kids. Simple, right? But I had never heard it laid out so clearly. As we learned about the preventive system, I thought back to all the teachers who had taught me as I grew, and I realized that the best teachers, the ones who I still love and think about, used those three things. Their way of accompanying us as students was rooted in their love of us and their ability to show us that love.

We were able to apply what we had learned when we did our service camp with undocumented immigrant teens. These kids are alone in the United States and are waiting with the hope that their families will be found and reunited with them. Most of them traveled alone to the US, going through extremely difficult situations to try and make it here. Some of them were angry – at life, at God – and while we were there to do a sort of Bible camp, I found that just showing them my love for them opened their hearts little by little. Loving kindness. When they knew I loved them, they were more open to listening to the Bible lessons and engaging with us, asking questions and considering our responses. Religion and reason. Don Bosco’s system was my way of connecting with my kids. Without it, I doubt they would have ever come to trust me at all.

I leave for Kenya soon, and after all my years of studying and traveling abroad, I now realize that this trip, this mission, is going to be different. I am not going to Kenya to study or teach or do projects, though I will likely be doing all of those things. I am going to Kenya to love and show God’s love. Reason, religion, and loving kindness. I’ll make sure to take them with me.

Saint John Bosco, pray for us!

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized