Photo: Brett Nelson
It was 1994, and Dione Miller was 4 years old. She remembers a day when she sorted medical spatulas and bowls into cardboard boxes.
Right at her side was her Aunt Carolyn. Together they were packing supplies to be shipped to Phebe Hospital in Liberia, where her aunt had served as a Lutheran missionary from 1966 until 1990.
Dione had lots of questions about what her aunt had done in Africa and why. Carolyn thought the inquisitive little girl would gain insights into the work the ELCA does with other Lutheran churches around the world.
And so a tradition began. The two attended an annual ELCA national global mission event together every year until Dione was 18. That was 2008, when they traveled to Liberia.
They worked for two weeks at Phebe Hospital, where Carolyn updated the nursing and midwifery educational programs. Dione helped organize donated medical supplies, much like the ones she’d packed up so many years ago and, in fact, throughout her entire life.
During the trip, Dione put faces to the names she had heard her aunt speak of so often. “Carolyn and I are in almost constant conversation about her time in Liberia,” Dione explains. “I have heard countless stories and seem to always stumble upon some new ones.”
A deepening commitment to justice
Recently Dione and Carolyn attended a 2010 ELCA Global Mission Gathering at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Austin, Minn.
Attending the Gathering helped Dione see what’s missing for her in her work with ONE, a grassroots campaign and advocacy organization committed to fighting poverty and preventable disease, particularly in Africa.
A junior at Luther College, Decorah, Iowa, Dione serves as advocacy chair for the school’s chapter of ONE. She attended this year’s Power 100 summit, which brings together the country’s top ONE campus challenge leaders, in Washington, D.C.
“Although ONE is very connected to certain faith traditions, including the ELCA, it is not a faith-based organization,” the 20-year-old says. “I think that the (Gathering) weekend helped me to understand that when I go to look for a job I should try to look for something that can weave my faith in God into my desire to help others.”
Looking to the future
As Dione gained an understanding of how her faith in God will accompany her in her career, Carolyn took stock in the future generation at the Gathering.
“When I see young adults in mission, I am so grateful for their service to the world. I am also so grateful that more and more missionaries will be coming forth. I feel very proud of them,” Carolyn says.
Will Dione be one of them?
“This is a big question that I have been toying with for years,” Dione admits. Next summer, Dione plans to return to Liberia with a friend and perhaps her aunt to volunteer again at Phebe Hospital.
“I don’t know what the future will hold for me after (next summer’s trip). At the moment, I think that I am going to try to pursue a career in international development based mainly stateside, but who knows?”
Carolyn and Dione both call Burlington, Iowa, home and worship there at Messiah Lutheran Church, a local ELCA congregation. Dione turns to Carolyn to share hopes and dreams as well as worries and concerns.
“It is nice to have someone to talk to that is as passionate about helping others as I am. More precisely, I am as passionate as she is,” Dione says.
Carolyn welcomes taking the passenger seat in their relationship. “Now Dione is driving and I am riding along,” she says. “Things change but often for the better.”
Carolyn, who retired as a midwife in 2002, focuses much of her volunteer work on Liberia; she still sends medical supplies and now sponsors scholarships for students.
Carolyn’s grandmother encouraged her to become a missionary. Carolyn wants Dione to use her own experiences to make the right decision for her future.
“We get along very well and I look up to her as the number one role model for my life. I don’t know where I’d be without her,” Dione says.