Following Her Heart’s Calling: Jillian Foster Departs for Haiti as a Maryknoll Lay Missioner
by Eileen Connelly, OSU
“May God grant me the grace, humility, and courage to be a servant to others.”
With that prayer on her lips and in her heart, Jillian Foster departed for Haiti on Jan. 12 to begin a three-and-half year assignment as a Maryknoll lay missioner. Foster, a member of St. Columban Parish in Loveland, attended St. Ursula Academy and then graduated from the University of Dayton in 2018.
She recalls a childhood conversation with her uncle, who was in the Peace Corps, that likely planted the seed for her interest in mission service.
“Even as a little girl, Jill was very sensitive to God’s call,” said her father, Drew.
As she grew older, Foster said, “I began to realize how blessed I’ve been in my life. I recognized that as part of our faith, we’re called to love everyone. I wanted to be a loving and more compassionate person and felt like visiting new places and experiencing other cultures would help.”
The opportunity came in the summer of 2017 when Foster spent two months in Africa ministering with Determined to Develop. The grassroots nonprofit strives to empower, through education, the people of Malawi to become agents of development for their families, community, country and beyond. While in Malawi, Foster worked with two local university students visiting district farmers, fishermen, teachers and others to assess their environmental resources and address collaborative ways to maximize them.
“The culture was so different than any I had experienced before. It was interesting and new and beautiful, and I loved it,” Foster said. “I still think of Malawi and the people there every day.”
Inspired for More
Inspired by her time there, Foster decided to pursue a year of domestic mission service, with the eventual hope of a longer period abroad. After graduation from UD, she joined FrancisCorps and moved to Syracuse, NY, where she lived in community with other volunteers and ministered with L’Arche, an international organization for adults with disabilities.
Ready then for a long-term opportunity, Foster then applied and was accepted to Maryknoll. Following a 12-week orientation period with other new missioners to prepare them for cross-cultural ministry, she celebrated the beginning of her mission journey at a Sending ceremony on Dec. 14 in the Annunciation Chapel of the Maryknoll Sisters in Ossining, NY.
During the Sending, the new missioners were “called forth” for their mission region, received mission crosses and expressed their commitment “to witness the Good News of Jesus Christ, in solidarity with our brothers and sisters who are marginalized and oppressed.” They committed themselves “to care for the earth, our common home, and to respond in service to help create a more just and compassionate world.”
While Foster was home over the holidays, the faith community at St. Columban also held a Sending ceremony for her, along with giving a special blessing to her family and her mission efforts.
Foster will be spending her first two to three months in Haiti studying Creole at Maryknoll’s language school before joining two other lay missioners in ministry in Gros Morne, an area in desperate need after being hit hard by recent natural disasters. Unsure of what her specific responsibilities will be at this point, Foster said she hopes to focus on environmental issues and/ or working on programs that focus on the empowerment of women.
“My first priority will be listening to the people and figuring out what they need,” she explained. “I know the Haitians are very resilient people who have been through a lot and are very proud of their heritage,”
Foster’s parents were naturally concerned as she took this step, but more than that, they are proud, supportive and grateful.
“This is clearly a vocation for her. She’s following what God is asking her to do,” said her mother, Elaine. “I know that this is a blessing.”
“This is a reflection of who she is,” added her father. “When you trust in God, the right things will happen, and that definitely seems to be the case with Jill.”
She’s quick to emphasize that her time in Haiti won’t be about her.
“It’s about the people I am going to serve. It’s about following a call in my heart,” she said. “The people who are receiving me are so much stronger than I am, and I am going to learn so much from them. I only hope that I can share a little something of myself in return.”
Follow Foster’s ministry in Haiti at www.cominginthird.com.