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Missionary back for the holidays

by Mila Glodava

Mitch Keller, the young man who sold everything he had to become a missionary in the Philippines is back in the United States to spend time with his family during this holy season of Christmas.

You may recall the Mitch left in April this year to work with the Socio Pastoral Institute in promoting "Stewardship as a way of life" in the Philippines. Working with Sr. Angie Donado, Mitch has visited many dioceses and parishes -- Infanta, Quezon; San Fernando, La Union; San Jose, Nueva Ecija; San Jose Occidental Mindoro; Maria Aurora, Aurora; Novaliches, Quezon City and Calapan, Oriental Mindoro -- that participated in the stewardship conference in Cebu.

Mitch Keller visited Bishop Labayen in Infanta. He was accompanied by Joey Clemente, executive director of SPI.

In addition, Mitch has edited an untitled book by Bp. Labayen on Paulinian Education and his various papers on: Ecumenical Vision of the Church in Asia in the 21st century, East-West-South Forum in Vienna, Austria, Historical Consciousness, Incarnational Spirituality, Creation-centered Spirituality, Role of Culture in Achieving Integral Salvation and in the Building the Church of the Poor. Reviewed Fr. Abesamis' book on "A Third Look at Jesus."

A beautiful spot in Panukulan that Mitch visited while in the Philippines.

Among the highlights of his experience in the Philippines include include: Holy Week, China Town, Intramuros, Manila, staying in the various provinces, Taal Volcano, Austrian's welcome-cultural night-solidarity night, hiking to visit the Mangyan tribe/mission, Asian/Filipino culture/language, food, Tualog Cave, Cavite Fiesta, jeepney rides, touring so many parts of the country, politics, weather, Christmas beginning in September, beaches and, most of all, meeting such wonderful people.

Mitch's experience wouldn't be complete without witnessing a pig being slaughtered for the fiesta's lechon.

"Mitch looks so happy," said Melissa Pierson, his sister who introduced Mitch to Metro Infanta Foundation. Living in the Philippines, while a drastic opposite of his lifestyle in the United States, has given Mitch purpose in life. So much so that he is going back in January to pursue the religious life as a deacon.

"I will be studying under Deacon Mario," said Mitch, who also will have to undergo intensive lessons in Tagalog.

"The past several months have proven to be priceless to me," said Mitch, "both spiritually and personally. I could not have had this experience without the generosity of SPI, St. Thomas More Parish and my sponsors. I look forward to my return to the Philippines in January 2004 and continuing my relationship with SPI and its mission of 'Promoting Spirituality in the Sustainability of the Church of the Poor'."

Mitch Keller (far left in back row) and his coworkers at Socio Pastoral Institute (Joey Clemente, far right in back, and Sr. Angie Donado (with eyeglasses), visited the "Hardin ng Kalikasan" -- a women's self-help project in Kiloloron, Real.

St. Thomas More parishioner carries message of stewardship to Philippines

by Michelle M. Thomas

Christ's response to the rich young man who asked what he needed to do to achieve eternal life is a hard lesson even today. Jesus told him to sell everything, give the money to the poor and follow him.

Matthew's Gospel tells us, "The young man went away sad."

Mitch Keller, 41, of Littleton has taken on Christ's challenge. In an astounding leap of faith, Keller rid himself of the luxurious trappings of his LoDo bachelor life and journeyed to a foreign land to work with churches promoting stewardship.

In April he boarded a plane bound for the Philippines carrying a one-year visa and the few worldly possessions that a newly dedicated mission worker might need for a simple life halfway around the globe.

Although based in Manila, Keller's work will take him throughout the Philippines to parishes in cities and remote villages. He will be spreading the message of stewardship taken there earlier this year by Father Andrew Kemberling, pastor of St. Thomas More Parish in Centennial, and Mila Glodava, the parish's director of communications and stewardship, during the Philippines' first-ever conference on stewardship.

Prior to his departure, Keller said that he couldn't predict what experiences lay ahead for him, just as he could not have predicted the spiritual journey that brought him to his dramatic decision to leave family and career to serve the Lord.

"I'd been in the corporate world since college, working in the insurance industry and being pretty successful," he said. "I definitely lived large and had a lot of fun with my money. I've always liked cars and I had the Jaguars and the BMWs. And there was always the new model coming out that I had to have.

"But in retrospect, the lifestyle I had was more cumbersome than it was enjoyable," he continued. "I just realized one day that I was working to pay bills and make money. And it wasn't very fulfilling."

He quit the insurance business abruptly, intending to devote himself to volunteer work. A short stint working for "The Catholic Hour" at the Archdiocese of Denver seemed to bring the kind of spiritual fulfillment he had been seeking.

"It was so rewarding working for the archdiocese. That's when I realized that I don't ever want to get back into my former life," he said. "I realized that I'd have to separate myself from a lot of the materialism that I had if I wanted to make myself truly available to the nonprofit and volunteer fields."

In a leap of faith he sold everything and moved back home with his family. When budget cuts eliminated his job at the archdiocese last year, Keller began looking for another opportunity. That's when he learned of the need in the Philippines for someone to be a kind of "missionary of stewardship" to follow up and nurture the message of giving time, talent and treasure back to the Church.

"I guess you could say that I'm a pretty dramatic example of stewardship in life," he said. "I got rid of the treasure and I've chosen a most dramatic way to give of my time and talent. But for some reason I have such calmness about my decision. This just seems like a natural step for me."

His unorthodox decision didn't fluster his mother, two older brothers and older sister. For many years his family had told him that they could have seen him choose the priesthood or some other life in the nonsecular world.

"There wasn't any `You're crazy!' or `Why would you want to do that?" Keller said. "The faith is so strong in my family. They had seen me get rid of my condo and cars and material things, so this wasn't completely out of the blue. Also, I love to travel and work with people and this opportunity seemed to fit all of my aspirations."

His education and work experience should serve him well in his new role. Keller has a college degree in business administration and international marketing with a minor in Spanish. His insurance background honed his communication skills.

Keller left the United States with "next to no money," relying on his family to sponsor him during his work. Glodava's connections in the Philippines ensured that he will have food and shelter.

"I'll be depending completely on the charity of the people down there in the Philippines," Keller said. "As for my expectations, I really don't have any. I'm just going to keep an open mind and see where God leads me." Keller said he has drawn tremendous encouragement from St. Thomas More Parish and from the great impact the congregation's commitment to stewardship has had in the Philippines.

"We all have an obligation to stewardship to do whatever each of us can do," he said. "It doesn't have to be drastic like what I'm doing -- it can be a commitment to prayer and volunteering."

A person knows in their heart what they should be doing, he said.

"Because of family and children, not all of us can pick up and leave, but this is a decision that felt natural to me," he said. "I'm in a position to do it, I want to, I can and I think I should."

Keller's most essential possession these days is his open heart and prayerful attention to God.

"And my prayer each day is `I am a tool, Lord. Use me."  

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