alumni feature, international service, community

When Front Porches Become Community Spaces

Tomy Christin (Belize City) headshot

Most evenings between April and October, you can find my community of sisters on our front porch. As soon as the weather is warm enough, the five of us take every chance we can to eat supper and pray on the porch, where we can soak in the beautiful rolling hills of rural Wisconsin. We almost always bring visitors to the porch. Sometimes our words are drowned out by a passing tractor or the hum of insect life around us. Although the settings are in some ways quite different, evenings spent on the porch often call to mind moments shared on other porches during my time as a Jesuit Volunteer.

In Belize they call porches verandas they are where the life of a household meets the life of the world. Belize is where I served as a Jesuit Volunteer from 2010 to 2012. The veranda of our JV community was the place where I hung my laundry and observed my neighbors interacting with one another. It was the place I learned about “hailing,” the Belizean custom of calling to someone from the gate before approaching the door. Our porch was a place for hammock-sitting, guitar-playing, and story-sharing. It was also the place where a neighborhood child would occasionally show up when he hadn’t eaten that day, looking for neighborly hospitality and company.

I learned a lot on porches. I learned about building community from the families who lingered on the front steps of our neighborhood parish after Mass each week. I learned to slow down and accept hospitality when I was invited onto neighbors’ porches to chat on my way home from work. I learned that it’s okay to need others when I visited those same porches seeking a few eggs or an expert opinion on whether I’d ruined the rice and beans. And it was on the front porch of a local convent that I began to understand that I wanted to spend my life emulating the simplicity, authenticity, and Gospel love I saw expressed in the sisters who occupied that house.

The four core values of JVC can be and are lived out in each of our post-JVC lives in a multitude of ways. For me, life as a Dominican Sister is the way I’m choosing to be a woman for and with others as a contemplative in action. My time as a JV was an integral part of my path to religious life; I pray for the same kind of irrevocable, life-altering experience for all Jesuit Volunteers.

Our Dominican motto, “contemplata aliis tradere,” calls us to contemplate and share the fruits of our contemplation with others, and to receive theirs in return. To live this kind of reciprocity, I must be willing to seek out the place where my life touches yours. I must venture past my comfort zone and encounter the world outside my door. I pray I will always be a front porch person, standing on the doorstep between the Church and the world, extending and receiving radical Gospel hospitality.

Tomy Christin (Belize City) headshot
Sr Christin Tomy, OP

Sr Christin Tomy, OP served as a Jesuit Volunteer with Hand in Hand Ministries in Belize City, Belize from 2010-2012. Shortly after her return to the US, she entered the Dominican Sisters of Sinsinawa. She currently lives at the motherhouse in rural Wisconsin, where she coordinates programs in sustainable agriculture. Other past ministries include L’Arche, social service and food pantry work, and accompanying elders with dementia. Sr Christin Tomy, OP has degrees in Spanish and Peace Studies from the College of St. Benedict (MN) and she knows less about corn than one would expect from an Iowa native.