Continuing our daily Advent reflection series on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Franciscan Missioner Mary Mortenson writes about how a friendship provided her an inspiring model for the ministry of presence she will provide in Bolivia. I have a dear friend, named Briana, whom I met my first year at UW-Eau Claire. Almost immediately, she asked a friend and me to join her for Indian food in her dorm room. I found out that she had spent the previous year in India living in a small village. Her mother had made friends with an Indian family many years back and had asked if Briana could come live with them after she graduated from high school. So that is what she did. She went to India as an 18 year old girl and lived with a family, cooked every day with the women, wore Indian dress, and learned Hindi as best she could. She didn’t travel around, and she barely left her small community. This was so impressive to me, and I was truly challenged by this kind of authentic travel experience.

Photo by Nate Mortenson

Over the years we have developed a great friendship. We cook together, we bike together, and we never run out of new conversations. Briana has a strong belief in being committed to where you live and truly enjoying it. Together, we have participated in many community events and have relished the way it helps our roots grow deeper and how we continue to meet new and inspiring people. Through our friendship I have seen that taking time to listen and learn from one another and others is essential.

As a person who tends to allow the wind to blow me every which way, Briana has reminded me that by staying in the same place I can still find daily adventures to go on, but I’m better able to stay balanced and healthy. We’d plan progressive dinners, May Day celebrations, plan ladies bike rides, weekend brunches, dance parties, berry picking, art projects, etc. All of those activities happened in our hometown, and they brought so much life and energy to our daily lives.

Photo by Nate Mortenson

When I stumbled across FMS as I was looking for opportunities to be abroad, I was attracted to their vision of ministry of presence. This was something that had been tested and approved in my life. This was how I knew how to be myself and build strong and lasting relationships.

I’m thankful that through my friendship with Briana I’ve realized how beautiful a gift it is to just be where you are. To set aside any ulterior motives and just be willing to put your energy and time into the people you meet.

Coming tomorrow: “To Be and Not to Do” by Associate Director Mariam Kaldas!