Deep in the heart of Cajun country, in the bayous of southernmost Louisiana, mere miles off the Gulf Coast lies Big Woods, the operation center of Family Missions Company, a non-profit short and long-term mission organization that has grown to become America’s largest Catholic family-oriented, family-friendly foreign missions endeavor seeking to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth in a time when only a third of the human race alive today has ever encountered Him and his saving Truth. As my best friend currently serves with FMC at their home base outside Abbeville, LA, I have had the pleasure of visiting there four times.
A Family Affair
FMC began with the Summers family praying and reaching out in 1974 to find where they as one single family could serve. Answered by a sheet of paper listing the contact information of international mission posts willing to accept families, they first went to Tonga before going to American Samoa in the same spirit of evangelization and service to the poor that is one and the same consistent thread woven through all FMC activities to this day. Missionary travels led the Summers family to South America, Mexico, New Zealand, Australia, the Philippines, and Micronesia.
On one of their periods of return to the United States, the Summers family realized that they were not only being called as a family to mission work which they were so diligently and faithfully following through with. Praying during their time back in America, they recognized that they were being asked to help enable other Catholic faithful to give their lives in a similar way. At that time, organizations willing to train whole families to be missionaries were very few indeed. Thus came about the visible emergence of Family Missions Company.
The more recent history of FMC has featured the organization officially becoming a 501 C3 non-profit, and being given recognition by the home diocese of Lafayette, LA as a “lay association of the faithful.” And the immediate focus of Family Missions Company at that time was Mexico, including General Cepeda, where both long and short-term missions still are focused to this day. Striving to always go about their efforts in the most upright and proper ways possible, the Summers family, then and FMC now, seek the local bishop’s approval of the location missionaries are being sent prior to departure.
The Martins family washing the feet of prisoners in the Philippines.
In today’s Church, mission companies are few and far between. At FMC both short and long-term family and individual missionaries are warmly welcomed on board. Those becoming long-term missionaries go through a period of initiation, formation, and education in the ways of FMC. This occurs during mostly the autumn months through an orientation program known as “intake.”
FMC largely has a distinct brand of evangelization at this juncture. During my last visit to Big Woods, I was able to sit down with Sarah Granger, daughter of the founders of FMC, Frank and Genie Summers. Sarah and her husband Kevin are the joint mission directors of FMC. Sarah’s brother, Joseph Summers, and his wife Brooke together serve as FMC’s executive directors. Sarah emphasized that whole families are greatly needed and desired in the mission realm, as the witness of holy families, including that of holy Catholic children, is of priceless worth, for it is children that frequently make the best missionaries. Sarah further noted that FMC never wants to turn away those that are still single and makes great efforts to function more as a family than a company.
FMC missionaries pray together as a family. They love one another as a family. They enjoy one another’s company as a family. As Sarah summarily noted, FMC seek to “model interpersonal relationships much more on a family than on a company.”
Seminaries occasionally will even send seminarians to serve with Family Missions Company on short-term mission trips. This can ultimately become a double blessing when these seminarians become priests and support from the parishes these priests serve helps to sustain FMC. When Catholics discover the real, genuine good being done in foreign missions, there is often then a desire to support foreign missions.
Missions Short and Long
Another factor setting FMC apart from many mission organizations is that there is a harmonization of short-term and long-term missions. Almost all of the locations of short-term mission trips occur where long-term missions are based and ongoing. The benefit for both short and long-term missionaries is obvious. Those in need that are served do not have a brief uplifting interlude only to then witness helping hands and hearts disappear again, perhaps forever. No, instead, where long-term missions are already well grounded and rooted, this then is the focal point of the short term mission trips as well.
Even from a material support perspective the benefit is clear. Long-term missions sometimes are challenged by a lack of funds. Short-term missionaries bring with them financial assistance that endures long after they are gone, be it money to build a roof, construct a bathroom, or pay for a surgery. Short-term and long-term missionaries have their own unique value and purpose. And, while short-term missionaries come and go from a given location and community, the long-term missionaries remain steadfastly in an area, giving stable, consistent material and spiritual support, a reality that also in turn enriches the experience of the short-term missionaries who can really have a maximum benefit upon the communities they come to serve, as the long-term missions identify and help short-term missions focus upon the real needs of individuals and communities in a way that other short-term missions perhaps cannot so easily be attuned.
The Carmody family on mission in Peru.
A Focus on the Gospel
The common denominator for this mission organization, whether families or singles, is a vigorous passion to share the Gospel message coinciding with love of service for the poor, both the materially and spiritually impoverished. Critically, while some mission organizations could be surmised as having lost their evangelistic focus, FMC has stayed true to this calling. There is an intentionality in ensuring that FMC is both service and materially oriented and yet evangelization-oriented at its core. Many mission organizations bear wonderful fruit.
Some are very broad in their areas of focus and others perhaps do not serve the materially poor at all. As Sarah states, there is an “insistence on duality perhaps not totally unique among organizations but attractive to a lot of people.” In areas that are more developed economically, such as Spain for instance, the middle and upper classes are being met with renewal and re-evangelization of the Gospel message. Yet even in such areas, there is always effort made to reach out to the economically poor as well, both with material and spiritual support. The heart of FMC’s message always remains proclamation of the Good News. Seeking first the kingdom of God, FMC has witnessed all of the other rich abundances of God’s graces being added unto this organization.
A Growing Ministry
Exploding in growth in recent years, FMC has waxed from only 30 or so full-time missionaries in the field only five years ago, to over 200 full-time missionaries today in countries and culture as diverse as Taiwan, the Philippines and Costa Rica. Wherever they are focused, be it the deserts of Mexico, the southwestern shores of Spain, or tropical forests, there is always a focus upon constantly calling to mind the poor, as this is a foundational part of the Christian life. Reiterating again the importance of being mindful of those in poverty, Sarah underscored that “Even in areas where the majority of service is not offering material assistance, FMC still insists upon a ‘preferential option for the poor.’”
“Missionaries,” she said, “live simply wherever they go” and “try to live in poverty to be in solidarity with the poor living on the minimal amount needed.” Sarah then spoke of how FMC has felt called by Pope Francis to authentically be a “poor church for the poor” that really represents Jesus, who came among us as a poor man. FMC missionaries choose a simple, sparing lifestyle in communion with Jesus, in communion with the poor. FMC subsists largely upon small donations from a large pool of donors, using only ten percent of this funding to pay for staff salary and all costs of running the organization, focusing most of the funds upon their actual mission work in the field.
Serving Spiritual and Material Poverty
The harmonious duality of spiritual formation and material assistance remains very clear. Sarah aptly commented that “the greatest service is to share the Gospel message first and foremost, and all material wealth will not serve the world’s problems. There is a real spiritual destitution in these places. A desire for something good and better and the only answer to that is Jesus.” That statement is the enduring essence of FMC.
FMC is currently experiencing its most rapid period of growth, statistically. Quality must prioritize over quantity where human persons are concerned, however. Sarah is quick to point out that FMC is not engaged in a numbers game: “the Lord constantly insists that one soul that turns to Jesus is of infinite value.” She explained to me that though there may be over 200 missionaries now, even if there were only 5 missionaries with FMC, they would be serving to save lives physically and spiritually, noting that she “has never spoken to any full-time missionaries that didn’t see people sincerely turn to the Lord in a way that saved their soul.”
That is the heart of Family Missions Company. As Sarah so aptly summed up the purpose of this organization, if FMC saved “only one soul in 20 years then it was worth every sacrifice that has been made.” Foreign missions are indeed of priceless worth as the soul of each human person is of a worth surpassing that of the whole universe. Many souls are now being reached across the globe. Those serving with or being served by FMC are all mutually having encounters with the Lord in very intimate ways. Yet the challenge, which by the grace of God continues to be successfully met, is growth for this unique organization in the most holy way possible, remaining very truly a family as it emerges into the wider Catholic realm as a formidable mission organization.
Those interested in learning more about Family Missions Company may do so at their main webpage: