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On Two Wheels in DC

Missioner-in-training Nate Mortenson reflects on his journey to D.C. and where he is volunteering while in training here.

As we packed up the car for our move to Washington, D.C. I thought it would be ridiculous for my wife Mary and me to take our bikes along. I mean life, would be too busy with our studies, volunteering in the community, and preparing to go abroad. Besides that, they’d never survive the road trip all the way from Wisconsin on that old broken bike rack. They’d fall off on the highway or the car will break down or something bad will happen…

This is when Mary had to interject my crazy nonsense moment of imagining everything going wrong. She had to be my positive reinforcement when it came down to making logical decisions on what to bring to D.C.

“Christ the Servant” statue

As it turns out, I get to use my bike all the time. My favorite moments are riding across town Wednesday mornings to my volunteer site. I was paired up with Christ House, a shelter for the homeless that provides incredible health care and counseling services.

It’s a beautiful place, I tell you; I’m lucky to be there. The men are welcoming and allow me to spend my mornings chatting, hearing their stories, being present with them, and sharing in mutual understanding.

Out front the men can sit on a bench in the shade and chat. A bronze statue of Jesus keeps us company out there on the sidewalk, he’s crouched down holding a basin of water, bubbling, drawing you into his presence.

I look forward to serving here each week, but it’s hard. Sometimes I leave heavy-hearted after hearing a tough story that brought a man to Christ House. Other times we laugh and joke around, breaking the loneliness up into moments of healing.

When I ride home after my morning I can’t keep the experience separate, I carry it with me on my bike, throughout the day, and into the next. I’m full of emotion, compassion, joy, and sorrow.

Mary and Nate recently returned from two years of mission at the rural Carmen Pampa University in Bolivia.

Nate, the youngest son of nine, hails from La Cross, Wisconsin. Mary grew up picking strawberries in small-town Minnesota. The couple met at the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire, where Mary studied sociology and outdoor leadership and Nate studied Spanish and geology. They share a passion for food and bicycling, and a desire to set their marriage on a foundation of service, simplicity, and a deeper global understanding.