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Commissioned by Christ

Missionaries in Action

Joseph Pianese

Age: 40
Hometown: Smithtown, NY
Current City: Arlington, VA

Joe Pianese described having a lukewarm faith before finding out about Commissioned by Christ (CBC) in early 2010. He sought something deeper and decided to participate in a week-long CBC mission trip to Banica, Dominican Republic. Following the mission experience, Joe was recruited as a mission trip leader for another trip to Banica in 2011.

Read more about how these short-term missions helped Joe develop a lifelong faith.


Q: Had you previously gone on a mission trip outside of CBC?

No, my only mission trips have been through CBC, and now I have been on two. I co-led the second mission to Banica, Dominican Republic with another CBC missionary.

Q: Why were you interested in going on a mission trip with CBC?

I was sold within the first 90 seconds of Jessica’s (Past President & CEO of CBC) invitation after Mass. The appeal of CBC is the reasonableness of the short-term missions and doing so with other faithful people right here in our Catholic community.

Q: Give a brief description of your mission trip.

The moment you arrive in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, you know you’re not in Kansas anymore. While you feel like you’re a world away, the five-hour bus ride from Santo Domingo to Banica makes you feel like you also spilled into aNational Geographic magazine.   A typical day begins for missionaries at 7 a.m. with Mass in the village along with locals. We then eat breakfast, which consists of scrambled eggs with ham, ginger rolls, fresh fruit, and coffee. If you’re a coffee drinker you will never forget Dominican coffee. We finish breakfast by introducing the daily reflection and some personal sharing. Then we climb into the back of a blue camion (truck) traveling over bumpy, washed out dirt roads for about 20-30 minutes to the work sites. Our mission: to dig 10 feet deep by 4 feet wide holes to build an outhouse over it. Our tools: a pick, three shovels, a rope, a pail, and a makeshift ladder. The holes were completed after four days and we finished building the outhouse structure two days later. Each day, we would break for lunch around noon and eat ham and cheese sandwiches along with the local kids who were helping us dig. We would finish working around 5 and head back to camp for cold, but refreshing, showers before dinner. Daily reflections were resumed after dinner where we shared our experience working with the locals and how it might tie-in with the day’s reflection. There was also an opportunity for confession and time to relax and pray alone, if that was what you needed. Even though we were only there for a week we made lasting relationships with the locals and especially with one another.

Q: Did you speak the native language of the country you visited? Were there any language barriers?

I don’t speak Spanish, but I’m relatively fluent in Italian so I was able to understand a little, but speaking was another story. While on both trips the language barrier made communicating with the locals a bit of a challenge, though it never prevented us from accomplishing our goals. There always seemed to be another missionary on our team who was there to translate. You quickly learn to communicate using hand gestures and the locals were very understanding. Laughter was something we shared despite the language barrier.

Q: What was the highlight of your trip?

On my first trip as a missionary the highlight for me was seeing the children in the communities and the joy and happiness they have in them, despite their poverty and malnutrition. It truly made me realize that money and material things are not the source of my happiness.

The second trip was a little different. The highlight for me on this trip as a leader was witnessing the missionaries on our trip experience their first mission and the incredible gift one receives only through giving. Leading a mission trip is a powerful and rewarding way to serve!

Q: Looking back, did your mission trip have any effect on your spiritual/religious life?

Absolutely! My faith and relationship with God has grown from these mission trips and I find myself looking for other ways to increase my relationship with the Lord.

Q: Did you develop friendships within the mission team or abroad during the trip?

Without a doubt! I have made lasting friendships with missionaries from both trips. Some have really grown into special friendships and many of us stay in touch often. We meet socially and I look forward to seeing them on Sundays at Mass.

After co-leading the second trip with Mary, she has invited me to several Redskin games and we always talk about our mission experiences. Unfortunately, Fr. Workman is very busy and we don’t see him as much as we would like.

Q: Were you able to apply any lessons from the experience into your daily life or into your faith?

Honestly, you can’t help but be transformed by the mission experience! After living a week in poverty where people have nothing—literally nothing—you can’t help but come back home to the U.S. and question your own needs verse your wants. I really have learned to live, and live happier, with less material needs.

Q: Why were you interested in leading a CBC mission trip?

Jessica Berrada asked if I would be interested in leading a trip in the future on my return home from my first mission trip to Banica in July 2010. I immediately accepted the invitation. I have a non-committal personality and God knew that when He had Jessica invite me to lead. It was God’s way of fulfilling my desire to serve and I didn’t need to think about it. “Let go and let God”, right?

Q: What were your primary responsibilities as a mission trip leader?

The missionaries were my primary responsibility; their safety and level of preparation for what they were about to embark upon was paramount. My second priority was to ensure that they had the same or better experience than I had on my first trip, and God made all of that happen.

Q: What was the theme and who were the patron saints of the mission trip? 

Our theme was, “In Giving We Receive”. St Francis of Assisi and the Blessed Mother Teresa were our patron saints and they prayed for us throughout the entire trip.

Q: How did you, as a leader, try to spiritually prepare and develop the mission team? 

Prayer, prayer, and more prayer. Need I say more? I asked others to pray for me, the other trip leaders, and the missionaries.

Q: Did your experience as a mission trip leader affect your spiritual/religious life?

The pre-trip preparations as a trip leader really exercised my spirituality because we were focused on creating a prayerful experience for the missionaries to mirror the daily mission work. Everything from developing the trip theme, to creating the daily reflections, to preparing the 18 missionaries both physically and spiritually has strengthened my own spirituality. The first mission trip affected me differently as I was more focused on giving everything I could in the form of service to the people of Banica. This giving of myself selflessly I think is part of why I had such a powerful spiritual experience on my first mission trip.

Q: CBC’s tagline is “Short-term missions, lifelong faith.” Do you believe your mission trip experiences have helped you develop lifelong faith?

My mission trip experiences with CBC have certainly helped me further develop my lifelong faith. I find myself looking for opportunities to get involved and to learn more about God and my faith. Once you start looking it is amazing how much other service needs are waiting for someone like you to give our time and talent. The Lord has opened my resistant heart through CBC and he continues to invite me to increase my relationship with Him.

Q: Have you done anything to keep serving the community abroad or here at home since your mission trip experiences? 

I have since joined an adult faith community called The Neo Catechumenal Way and have found it to also bring me closer to the Lord and understand His ever-forgiving love. I also begin volunteering with ASPAN in January 2012 and I’m really looking forward to helping those in need right here in Arlington where I live.

Q: Would you recommend CBC mission trips to others?

I have and continue to recommend CBC to all my friends and family. No matter where you are in your faith, no matter what gifts you have or think you don’t have, I promise you a mission trip with CBC will change your life forever.