Continuing our daily Advent reflection series, Associate Director Mariam Kaldas writes about discipleship as presence, not accomplishments.

I hadn’t heard the phrase “ministry of presence” before I came to Franciscan Mission Service. It seemed like a revolutionary concept, until I realized that it had already been modeled for me during my own mission in Zambia.

I went on mission with another organization that did not provide training or preparation for long-term mission. With my own North American tendencies, I was determined to create and get projects done until I met another missioner, Michael, whose gentle hints reminded me of the importance of simply spending time with those in the community.

Cupcakes for the St. Mary’s Girls Youth Group

Michael was an incredibly reflective and intentional individual, much like I imagine Jesus. Michael embraced simplicity and solidarity with the poor as if it were ingrained in his spirit. Soon after I arrived in Zambia, he was given less than 12 hours to pack his bags and say his goodbyes before moving to Congo after having spent two years in Zambia.

During our road trip to Congo to drop him off, he asked that I take the girls youth group, whom he had been mentoring, under my wing. He told me the stories of each one, their home situations, their hopes, and their dreams.

Mariam’s final Sunday service in Zambia

I returned to Zambia, determined to carry on the relationships with these girls that Michael had so painstakingly formed before being forced to leave them behind. I put together a curriculum for our Sunday school classes and met with them weekly to listen to their choir practice. Michael returned for a visit, and I proudly spoke of my curriculum and teachings. And he looked at me, and asked me, “But have you shown them God’s unconditional love? Have you spent time with them, and gotten to know each one?” I confessed that I had not.

He didn’t say anything more, but I knew that it wasn’t that I had simply fallen short on continuing the relationships that Michael had made – it was that I had missed the mark. I had resorted to my tendency to “do” instead of “be”.

I can’t help but compare myself with Christ’s disciples resuming their fishing shortly after his death. They too resorted to what they knew how to “do,” but Christ appeared in order to break bread with them (John 21) and remind them how to just “be” with one another again.

I will forever carry Michael’s spirit of intentional relationships with me and pray that it keeps me rooted in the spirit of simply “being” with others.

Coming tomorrow: “Both/And” by Missioner Jeff Sved!

Mariam Kaldas is Associate Director of Franciscan Mission Service.

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