Catholic Herald Staff
Stephanie Schissel, Rice Lake, has known what she’s wanted since the eighth grade – anatomy, physiology and a career as a chiropractor.
“Not everyone can say they have the passion, heart and mind for science,” Schissel admitted, but she could feel herself dragging her feet as her graduation from the Franciscan University of Steubenville neared last spring.
The new graduate had already been accepted to a top chiropractic school and made a deposit, but she was trying to work through nerves and a sense that her interest in the field had waned.
“My desire was completely gone,” Schissel said of her plans to go to chiropractor school.
She told God if he had allowed that or taken that desire himself, he needed to show her what was in his mind for her next.
She finally heard God inspiring her, “You’ve been planning your life in chunks of years. Can you just give me one?”
The shocking message made her take a step back, and in prayer and conversation with a close friend who had just started working with Vagabond Missions, a sudden turn of events for someone else led to an opening on the Steubenville team.
Vagabond Missions was founded 13 years ago, and since then, missionaries and the organization’s leadership have served more than 3,000 inner-city youth in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Steubenville; Wichita, Kansas; Raleigh, North Carolina; and in Brooklyn and Rochester, New York.
Through the investment of time by missionaries and adult volunteers, inner-city youth – for whom physical poverty has been closely associated with spiritual poverty – are hearing the good news. They are being accompanied in their communities, in imitation of Jesus who became man and “lived among us.”
Four or five missionaries form a team in each city Vagabond Mission serves, living in the community and meeting the teens where they’re at – often outside the door of their high school, on their basketball courts and in their parks.
Urban Underground Youth Centers are established in each community where teens are given a safe place to be kids and missionaries seek to encounter them on a human level.
Schissel said, “We’re there to be big sisters and brothers – loving them where they’re at, understanding they come from heavy backgrounds and just be(ing) there.”
Pairing with local universities and inviting a broad team of volunteers to work with the missionaries, Schissel said each teen is given a chance to be known personally, uniquely.
It is on that foundation of friendship that youths are invited to a personal experience with faith. With many being raised by their grandparents, some youths have a sense of faith and religion as something important, but most have not received any religious education.
Missionary teams prepare and offer weekly evening programs: “Breakout” for unchurched kids; “Worship,” which is a chance to study the Bible and have small-group discussions; and “Jesus Class,” RCIA for teenagers who desire it.
This RCIA program is coordinated with the local parish. Each Vagabond team partners with the diocese and local parishes for Mass and the sacraments. According to the Vagabond Ministries website, many of the Urban Underground Centers are located at the parish.
Other opportunities offered to youths to further experience faith, friendship and hope are retreats, camps and mission trips.
Schissel feels humbled to have been called to this mission for the year. She isn’t sure what the future will hold. She didn’t know just a few months ago that after graduation she would be living “on the other side of the street.
“As a (Steubenville) student, you didn’t go there, but now that’s where I live,” she said.
Schissel has felt well received in the community. She enjoyed meeting her new neighbors and having conversations while she completed her onsite training. She heard many “down-and-out” stories, but also felt very loved and her commitment appreciated.
Schissel said she has already been enriched by the courageous stories she has heard and by the motivated teens she has met.
She is sharing those stories in the parishes of her home cluster. Each missionary is asked to find their own support funding. As most of their living and ministry expenses are based on a monthly budget, monthly sponsorships will make up most of the donations she receives.
“The Lord has a plan with this,” Schissel said. “We can’t all be called to be in the streets, but he has blessed us in different ways to give.”
After her first parish presentations, Schissel has felt “very humbled by the receptivity and encouragement shown by the parishioners,” and many people approached her to express their support and appreciation for her mission.
This missionary believes “God is a God of abundance,” and, setting out on a path very different from the one she had planned, Schissel is confident in the One she believes set her on fire for this road less travelled.
To support Stephanie Schissel as a Vagabond missionary, she may be contacted at 715-651-4252 or . Or donations can be made online by visiting https://vagabondmissions.kindful.com/ and selecting her name from the drop-down menu.