That question led him to join the Catholic Church and embrace a life of mission.
Bob was active in the Congregational Church while growing up in Mason City, Iowa. At the University of Northern Iowa, he became president of the Student Council of Religious Activities and made a domestic mission trip organized by the group.
But it was after Bob moved to Euless, Texas, a suburb of Fort Worth, and became Catholic that his calling to mission deepened.
A member of Good Shepherd Parish in neighboring Colleyville, Texas, he attended a diocesan ministry fair in 2009. Bob happened into a workshop on mission, and Hilda Flores, a fellow parishioner, sat next to him. She invited Bob to go on a mission trip to the technical high school in Campamento, Honduras, which Good Shepherd supports.
“I said yes,” recalls Bob. “It was the Holy Spirit speaking. There was no reason for me to answer that way.”
However, there wasn’t room for him on the trip. Then someone cancelled and Bob was in. He sees the timing as providential. “Had the trip been a day earlier or a day later,” he says, “I couldn’t have gone because I had business commitments.” He would make five more mission trips before the Fort Worth Diocese halted travel to Honduras because of the violence there.
“It was the Holy Spirit speaking. There was no reason for me to answer that way.”
In 2010, Good Shepherd’s pastor asked Bob, now on the parish mission council, to attend the U.S. Catholic Mission Association Congress in Albuquerque, N.M. There he met Alfonso Mirabal, director of the Maryknoll Mission Education Center in Dallas.
Alfonso urged Bob to join the North Texas Maryknoll Affiliates, who provide formation for groups embarking on short-term mission trips. Bob admits that at first he doubted the need for mission formation, but he became sold on the idea and threw himself into formation work.
In 2011, when the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers held its 100th anniversary celebration in Fort Worth, Bob became sold on Maryknoll. After viewing a video of the mission society’s century of service to the world’s most vulnerable people, Bob concluded, “Maryknoll does it right.”
One way of describing Bob would be “diligent.” No matter what he’s involved in, he does his homework. He’s famous for distributing agendas at even the most casual meetings to keep the discussion on topic.
In addition to serving as a Maryknoll Affiliate and mission educator, Bob is chairman of the Texas Mission Council, the only statewide Catholic mission council in the nation. He is a member of the Fort Worth Diocesan Mission Council, and he remains active in his parish. Bob also spends several hours each week visiting and praying with a quadriplegic man in a nursing home.
Bob’s children, Kyle and Mary, have followed their dad into service. Kyle works for Catholic Charities in Portland, Ore., and Mary completed her degree in nursing last year.
Linda Eilenfeldt, Bob’s wife of 39 years, volunteers with a local charity and sits on the Euless City Council. She fully supports Bob’s work with Maryknoll. “Bob has found his mission work meaningful and satisfying, and for that, our family is blessed,” she says. “I couldn’t be more proud of him.”
Featured Image: Bob Eilenfeldt reflects on the many encounters that led him to mission. (K. Eppes/U.S.)