**Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Roncalli Alumnus Tomerot Lambert.
**In honor of national vocations awareness week please enjoy Tomerot’s vocation story and continue to pray for him has he continues his discernment.
As some of you know, I am adopted. I was born in Ethiopia. Where? I couldn’t say. I lived on the streets with my mother until the age of 5, then taken to an orphanage located in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. I lived in the orphanage until I was seven, when my brother and I were adopted by our foster father.
We arrived in America, May of 2004. Like good Catholic parents, the first thing my parents did was have us baptized. As we all know, baptism is special for everyone, but I would like to point out how mine was especially unique. After I was baptized, my God-parents gave me a cross, and when I looked at it something passed over my face. The priest celebrating the baptism saw me, gasped, and touched my parents saying, “This kid is going to be a priest . . . .” My mother always told me this story as I was growing up and a part of me always suspected it wasn’t true. I’m sure you probably doubt if this is true as well, but I would like to think that priests are honest people. I did have interest in becoming a priest, but I never saw myself being a diocesan priest. Though I was very caught up in the American lifestyle of sports, family vacations, and hanging out with friends, I wanted to forsake my comfortable lifestyle and help those in poorer countries. Later on I would learn that you can be both a priest and a missionary, but because I only interacted with diocesan priests, I did not know this until much later.
I’ve wanted to be a missionary ever since I was a kid. Every time I saw a starving kid on a poster, TV or in movies, I would run to my room and weep. I would cry out and ask God, why? Why do you allow this suffering? Why am I here, living a carefree and comfortable life? What makes me any better than them? I would do anything to switch my life with those kids. I felt I did not deserve to be where I was.
I realized during my high school years that we look at God and ask, “Where are you? What are you doing?” And He looks at us and says, “What are you doing? Where are you going?” I then started to see that I had a purpose. My adoption was not chance, it was designed. But I would question God, not His existence, but His purpose. My problem with Him was how much He interacted with us in our daily lives. This was a big question for me, as I did not have a good theological understanding at the time.
In the end of my junior year my relationship with God became more of a dialogue. Every Monday in our school chapel before lunch, certain students would come in and pray a decade of the Rosary. After we were done praying, my friend, Cullen Hilliker, who today is my best friend, asked me if I wanted to participate in a faith group called Be Not Afraid (BNA). He told me how they gather once a week to pray and share their personal faith. At first I was hesitant, because I did not know him or the people that were in BNA, but I went anyways. After the first time there I just kept coming back. The friends I made in that group have stuck with me and are true friends. They were the ones who taught me different ways to pray. They helped me memorize the Divine Mercy and the Rosary. They helped me understand how to pray lectio divina, liturgy of the hours, and bible sharing. They taught me that prayer is a dialogue, like two best friends who talk and listen to each other. This was the starting point of Christian maturity for me.
Another person who helped me in my faith was Mr. Olson, my high school principal. He helped me to not be afraid of what I believe. His teachings in his Senior Theology class still influence me today. In Senior Theology he would eloquently unite the supernatural with the natural. He had the ability to bring the abstract into the tangible. One thing he taught me was, “You cannot do everything, but you can do something.” It is such a simple idea, but don’t we sometimes feel that to do everything is the only thing? He helped me see that the little things in life matter, like holding the door for someone, smiling, treating your parents with respect, being diligent in homework, being obedient under authority, etc. This lesson also inspired me to be a missionary. I also started to think more about the priesthood, but I was still torn between choosing the priesthood and a missionary life.
My dad, who has been a big inspiration in my life, helped me to see that I can be both a missionary and a priest. My dad started an organization called ASAC (Americans Serving African Children). He would have special fundraisers throughout the year and gather money, clothes, toys and school supplies that had been collected, and have them shipped to different orphanages in Africa. It moved me how my dad, as busy as he is, had time to do this. This was another reason I wanted to be a missionary and he knew that. My dad looked for a way that he could help me out. He started to talk to one of the retired priests at Holy Family Memorial Hospital and asked about any religious order that prepares you for missionary life and priesthood. The priest told him about the SVD (Society of Divine Word) and their charism. My dad looked up the order and found the school online. I was really touched that he went so far for me. He asked me if I wanted to consider it, and I said I’d pray about it.
After serious discernment, I told my dad, “yes.” My dad contacted Len Uhal, the vocation director from the college, and after two weeks we got a reply, encouraging me to join and informing me of the criteria for applying to the school. First, he would have to come over and visit. Second, I would be given the option to do a “Come and See” visit. Lastly, I would have to apply.
When Len Uhal came to our house we had the opportunity to talk. One thing I will never forget is the insight he gave me on discernment. He told me that discernment, on a basic level, is just making choices, but in a Christian context it is so much more. In the Christian context it is not only making choices, but specifically making a choice between two goods and inviting God to help you choose which is best for you. I realized that vocation and discernment go hand in hand. Truly, vocation is all about happiness and discernment is choosing which vocation will make you truly happy.
Already a year has gone by in the seminary life and there is no doubt in my mind that I am in the right place. That doesn’t mean I don’t have difficult moments, but it’s in those difficult moments that something great is at work.
If you truly want to know where I am in my spiritual life, I recommend you read about St. Teresa of Calcutta. If you were to ask my closest friends who my favorite saint is, they would tell you without missing a beat, that it is St.Teresa of Calcutta. Rightly so, as she is one of the greatest contemporary saints whom I hold dear to my heart. I’m not saying I’m like her, but I do want to follow her example and become more like her, a saint who exemplifies the missionary spirit to spread the good news. “Let us touch the dying, the poor, the lonely and the unwanted according to the graces we have received and let us not be ashamed or slow to do the humble work.”