By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
Growing up in Centerville, Rachael (Wilson) Said developed a heart for the less fortunate. “My parents were always very civically engaged. (Centerville) is one of the poorest areas in Iowa. My mom especially worked on poverty issues; I was always exposed and sympathetic to it.”
This desire to serve the poor led her to work with the United Nations’ World Food Program in Malawi, Africa. With a bachelor’s degree in nutrition from Iowa State University and experience volunteering in Africa during college, she set out to try to make a dent in the rampant malnutrition and poverty.
In 2012, while in Malawi, she met Jonathan Said through mutual friends. He was a native of the Mediterranean island of Malta, and worked to create jobs in Malawi through private sector development. Their mutual interest in helping solve the issues of poverty and malnutrition helped deepen their relationship.
“Jonathan always knew he wanted to live and work in Africa. I did, too…. We were from different parts of the world, but we shared the same passion,” Rachael said.
Faith also brought them together. The first weekend after they met, Rachael and Jonathan attended Mass together. Although Rachael had grown up Methodist, she appreciated the Catholic liturgy. As a child, she sometimes attended St. Mary Catholic Church in Centerville with friends, and later attended a multicultural Catholic church in Des Moines. “I always enjoyed the service for some reason … wherever you go, you know what’s going to happen; it’s the same Mass everywhere. I liked that. It’s steeped in tradition.”
Rachael was in her late 20s at the time, and Jonathan had just turned 30. “It’s rare to find someone our age who also attends Mass,” she said. After they’d been dating for a while, Jonathan got an assignment to work in Liberia. He proposed to Rachael, and she moved to Liberia with him and began working with the United Nations food program there.
It was in Liberia that she was exposed to Jonathan’s inspiration, Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity. As a teenager, he had witnessed their efforts to help street youths in Sicily. That “solidified his desire to work with poverty issues,” Rachael said. “The sisters devote their whole lives to the poor.”
The sisters lived just down the street from her in Liberia. Soon, Rachael was inspired by them, too. “They took care of a house with people living with HIV, tuberculosis.” She soon became a regular volunteer.
Jonathan and Rachel went through marriage preparation in the Catholic Church in Liberia, a six-month, weekly experience that offered Rachael perspective on the concerns of married couples in other cultures. For example, male children are highly prized in Liberian culture. Some men become depressed if their wife is not able to give birth to a son. Part of the training revolved around how to cope with issues. Most of the training, however, was similar to what an American couple might learn in marriage preparation in the church.
The couple wanted to get married at St. Mary’s in Centerville, and Father Bill Hubmann, C.PP.S., was happy to honor the request. Rachael said she and Jonathan enjoyed getting to know Father; as a Precious Blood priest, he, too, values solidarity with the poor. The Saids were married last year. Rachael returned to Centerville during her pregnancy with daughter Elisabeth, who was born in September. Jonathan returned for a month for his daughter’s birth; the family will reunite in Liberia early next year.
Rachael is making the most of her time home; she made the decision to go through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) so that she can join in the one part of Mass she’s missed out on: the Eucharist.
While the time apart has been tough for Rachael and Jonathan, Rachael said their shared love for helping the poor helps her to cope. “It will always guide our lives no matter where we are. That’s really important now, being far apart from each other. My understanding of his work and respect for it, knowing how important it is to him, makes our relationship so much better and stronger.”