By Jeannie Ewing
When sudden death occurs, many people collapse under the weight of grief. Some never recover, or at least recover slowly. A few, however, discover their mission in the midst of pain. Anne Jones and Gus Zuehlke, both parishioners of St. Bavo Church in Mishawaka, are among those who believe that grief can be an impetus for a greater good. This year they, along with others from St. Bavo Parish, will pursue that belief to the Holy Land of Israel Nov. 9-19 during an interfaith pilgrimage of mercy.
Unlike an ordinary pilgrimage, this one will focus exclusively on those who have experienced tragic, sudden loss. Jones understands this firsthand: In the spring of 2012, she lost her closest sister, elderly mother and husband within a 60-day span. “I experienced the grief that comes from sudden loss, and found that it was a unique form of grief that affects the survivors,” she said.
For 40 years she had been developing her talent as a fine artist, creating portraits. An idea occurred to her in the aftermath of her shock, and Face to Face Fine Art began in the fall of 2012. “Since the beginning of 2013, we, as a nonprofit, have provided over 100 portraits to families all over the United States and now, in the Middle East,” said Jones. She, along with Zuehlke — a board member of Face to Face Art — and several others maintain the business as a ministry.
Face to Face provides hand-painted portraits of deceased loved ones, based on photographs the surviving family members supply them. Every portrait is given without charge. It is her way of demonstrating God’s love and mercy through suffering. “Face to Face is a work of mercy for those suffering from the same type of grief that I endured,” she explained.
Zuehlke hosted an interfaith retreat in Wisconsin last year, which was very well received. In his conversation with Jones, they realized that a pilgrimage to the Holy Land — with an emphasis on mercy — would be very pertinent and needed. “God’s mercy is not just for Christians. He loves all people of all faiths,” Jones added. When they approached a group in the Holy Land that provides grief support to Muslims, Christians and Jews, about the possibility of providing portraits to interested people, four Israelis responded.
“Our contact in the West Bank also provided photos of 10 Palestinians who were killed. We will present these portraits while on our pilgrimage in November,” she said.
Jones and Zuehlke hope that the pilgrimage will foster a deeper understanding of forgiveness, reconciliation and mercy in an area rife with violence, tension and death. Jones beautifully reflected, “It is our hope that many will experience healing and mercy from God, but also from their fellow human beings. We all have a common humanity. Loss and grief affect everyone adversely. Hopefully, we can focus on our commonalities and help alleviate the frustrations and pain of the people on both sides of the conflict there.”
As the Year of Mercy comes to a close, this interfaith pilgrimage to the Holy Land serves as a reminder that mercy is integral to a Christian way of living. Said Jones: “Mercy is the key to understanding our common humanity. God is love. If we can share love, we are sharing God.”
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