Learning what mission means from Grandma Ruffo
June 9, 2020 / By Carmen Vianese, Chair of Finance for GBGM and UMCOR
Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the Spring 2020 issue of the Upper New York Advocate, which focused on being the hands and feet of Jesus. Carmen Vianese has been engaged in impressive mission work in Africa. Carmen’s passion for mission stems from her Granma Ruffo, whose mission work took place in her own backyard in Western New York State.
My first example of ministry “where you are” was my Grandma Ruffo. She immigrated to the US from Sicily with her husband in the early 1900s. She brought her meager belongings, which included her Bible, precious family photo albums, and a few pieces of the family silverware. After their journey through Ellis Island, they traveled across New York State to rural Western New York to settle in the small but booming town of Mt. Morris.
It was there she built a home for her family, worked in the canning factory, and taught herself to not just speak English, but to read and to write too. She wanted to ensure that her children and grandchildren would have the full and abundant life that they came to America for.
My grandma did all this while living out her commitment to serve God. As a strong woman of faith, she made it her calling to feed the homeless and the transient that passed by her door. Her house was just a few yards from the railroad tracks, and those who rode the rails came to know that the light on her side porch was for them; all they needed to do was to knock.
Grandma Ruffo offered them a basin bath for their hands and face, and she fed them a warm meal with coffee or milk. I remember asking her who the men were that knocked on the side kitchen door, and she told me that they were God’s children sent to be fed.
These memories are my first impressions of what mission and ministry look like, and they shaped my understanding. Throughout my childhood and early adult life, I was surrounded by a family and a faith community that demonstrated what discipleship looked like and felt like on a personal level. I have come to believe that mission and ministry are simply part of my faith DNA.
My life has been blessed with opportunities that continue to foster my mission-minded connection. I have learned from adults with special needs and abilities to understand God in the purest of ways. I have walked with women in both the DRC and Malawi, who have built up small community co-ops that not only feed the people in their village, but also the orphaned children in the next village. I have been the voice for those that didn’t have a chance to speak, and I have stood in solidarity with those who were marginalized and discarded due to injustice and prejudice.
All this is to say that mission ministry is more than just a calling. It is a desire that swells from deep within us. In Africa, there is a term for this feeling, Ubuntu, or “I am what I am because of who we all are in God.” Though she never heard that term nor traveled to Africa, my Grandma Ruffo understood that feeling. It inspired her generous spirit decades ago, just as it inspires me today.