October 18, 2021

A Missional Family

"Lead me where people need your words, need my enthusiasm for life; where hope is faint, where joy is scarce, just because they do not know You. I give you my sincere heart to express without fear your greatness, Lord. I will have tireless hands, your story between my lips, and strength in prayer." Alma Misionera is a Spanish song from the Flor y Canto hymnal, and this is part of the English translation. These words were fundamental in cultivating my family's spiritual identity as a whole and my understanding of what it means to mean to a baptized person within this community of faith.

My story begins with my father, Rev. Simon Bautista Betances, an Episcopal priest, alongside my remarkable, devout, trailblazing mother, Amarilis Vargas Bautista. Who together built a loving, fun, creative, respectful, faith-filled, justice-oriented family who were raised to be proud of our Latino heritage and African descendants. Church for the four Bautista children wasn't a bore or a thing we "had" to do just because our father was the Priest. Instead, we marveled at being part of different diverse communities of faith where we were so loved, cared for, and welcomed. We were known as the "missional family," wherever my Dad was called to serve, the Bautista party of six served alongside him. Early on, my curiosity towards the Holy Trinity's mystery and who God was calling me to be settled in. God's calling began when I served as an acolyte at the age of nine years old, and in the moments where with my family, we would pray for the healing of one of our beloved church members. In those moments, I felt a yearning to learn more about this gracious and Holy God. When I could share God's Good News with the campers at City Camp in Philadelphia, I was left restless with how I am called to be part of God's hands and feet on Earth.

My family, especially my parents, have always supported me and showered me with unconditional love and support. They have also been a shining light guiding my path and phenomenal teachers who have encouraged, motivated, and challenged me in my life endeavors. Throughout my life's different roles: community organizer, youth missioner, associate for campus ministry, lay Church Planter, I have always been affirmed and encouraged by my family. Amidst discernment and journey to priesthood, my family has been my biggest cheerleaders, coaches, spiritual mentors, comedic relief, source of immense love and joy.

When I first felt the call to ordained ministry, it was complex to put into words. How can you possibly describe this restlessness yet excitement in your soul? This feeling of clarity amid the confusion, joy amid the anxiety, and honor amidst the unworthiness. How can you possibly explain such a beautiful and terrifying feeling to someone? The moment I sat down with my parents, they immediately took me in and prayerfully rejoiced. No explanation was needed; they knew this alma misionera was ready for the journey ahead (even if I didn't). After two years of careful mediation and prayer as I began my discernment committee, I was confident in my call and eager to see where this new journey was to take me. My parents, siblings, and Fabian (my husband) noticed this call before I did and gave me all their support and blessings. I have never felt alone; I have an incredible village praying for me and pushing me on. I had loved being a lay leader, but I was also aware that God was already at work in the world through me, and despite me, so I was confident that God, through my family, the foundation of ministry and gifts, was preparing me for this new path. I am currently on my eighth week of living and studying at the Virginia Theological Seminary. Our August term has come and gone with tremendous life-giving lessons, and the fall semester is well underway. I am being challenged in this rigorous and grace-filled environment, and a beautiful amount of growth has been cultivated. While being 1,500 miles away from home and family is hard, and it feels like a part of my heart is back in Texas, my family has still been fundamental to my life at seminary and spiritual life. Being one of the only Latinas and only Afro-Latina on campus has procured its challenges. Unfortunately, imposter syndrome, one way or another, creeps its way in however hard I try to keep it away. It's in those moments of uncertainty, in the moments that I question if I am as smart as everyone else, if I should correct classmates when they say my name wrong, or in the moments of whitesplaining and misunderstandings, that my parents are there to remind me of the real Maria Teresa and the one who God called into ministry. They remind me of the Latina orgullosa that I am and the shoulders on who I stand on and who I am paving a path for. My wonderful husband reminds me of all that I can do when I feel exhausted and overwhelmed. My siblings remind me of the importance of play and humor in this ministry which reminds me of the words of Sister Thea Bowman "I try to make sense of life. I try to keep myself open to people and laughter and to love and to have faith." My village, mi familia, reminds me that I can do very little alone, but all is possible with God and mi gente. Rev. Pauli Murray ended one of their poems by writing, "Give me a song of hope and love and a brown girl's heart to hear it," and my family and those alongside me in this journey allow this brown girl to listen to that intricate and beautiful song of hope and love. Through my village, I am once again replenished for the journey ahead and reminded of who's I am and of the one who called me to serve to whom I say, "Lead me where people need your words, need my enthusiasm for life; where hope is faint, where joy is scarce, just because they do not know You."