By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
CORALVILLE — Michelle Montgomery, youth minister at St. Thomas More Parish-Coralville, was so inspired by Megan McKenna’s presentation at a religious education conference last year that she hoped to bring the speaker/author to Iowa. Hope became reality when the nationally known McKenna gave presentations Oct. 3 and 4 at the Coralville parish.
The first presentation, for youths, focused on discipleship and how to follow Jesus. McKenna shared her life-lived stories, hoping to open the minds of the youths to see Scripture come alive. She told a story of traveling in Japan when she and a guide witnessed bullies knock over barrows of rice and push down a young, blind boy in charge of the barrows. The guide ran to the boy and gathered up all of the rice into the barrows, picked the boy up and brushed off the dirt from his clothing. McKenna said the boy leaned toward her and asked: “Who is this man who helped me? Is it Jesus?” McKenna told her listeners she hoped to be remembered as someone who could respond yes to the questions, “Am I Jesus to others?” “Am I a follower of the Lord?”
In another story she shared, McKenna told of journeying in Africa on back roads and through the woods one night with a boy about 12 years old. He was pointing out different areas and explaining the culture and the violence he had witnessed. Then she heard people yelling and guns being fired in all directions. The boy pushed her into a huge hole and covered her body with his to protect her. The boy was killed. McKenna was deeply moved that a boy who really did not know her gave his life to save her.
A youth at the Coralville presentation asked how she dealt with that experience. She said she promised to live her life for this boy so that his life was not given in vain. “I tell the stories so others would understand that the importance of being a disciple does mean that I must be able to give my life away.”
The stories made an impression on the teens in Coralville. Here is a sample of their impressions of McKenna’s talk:
• Maeve Dunne of St. Thomas More said, “What really stuck with me was the story in Japan about the blind boy who asked the man who helped him if he was Jesus. It just makes me think that I want be someone who people say that about me … I need to really reach out to others to be Jesus to others. I need to take a closer look at myself and the way I live my life.”
• Katelyn Murhammer of St. Thomas More “developed a new understanding of what our religion should really mean to us and how it should help us grow with God.”
• Autum Phillips of St. Mary-Oxford said McKenna’s “words and stories make me want to learn so much more about God, and I am so excited to get confirmed and start living the life of a follower of God. I can start now.”
• Clare Dunne of St. Thomas More was really interested in how McKenna “has traveled around the world and experienced the different ways of living in different cultures … I also liked her stories. It showed me new ways to strengthen my relationship with God.”
• “I learned today that there is a huge difference between believing in Jesus and being a disciple of Jesus. We should live like he would want us to and give of ourselves,” said Jake Greenlee of St. Thomas More.
• Ryan Gudenkauf of St. Thomas More said that believing in Jesus isn’t enough to be a true follower. “You should treat others the way you would treat Jesus in order to be a true disciple. I will walk in those steps.”
The following day, McKenna hosted an adult session on “Wisdom: Seeing as God Sees and being Seen by God.” She discussed the Transfiguration and what it reveals to people of faith about prayer, seeing who God is and how to go back down the mountain to bring that glory and witness to others.
• St. Thomas More parishioner Evalee Mickey said McKenna led her to see the Gospels in a deeper way. “She is a really gifted storyteller. Her three-hour talk, which brought laughter and tears, was over far too quickly.”
• Retired diocesan priest Father Wally Helms said he has heard McKenna speak on numerous occasions, and believes she captures the spirit of Pope Francis’s appeal to listen to the voice of the poor.
“She has a gift about her that makes images come alive in her story telling,” Montgomery said.