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Onward and Upward

Being continuously called back to the Creator. Photo by Nate Mortenson

Through discussions, required readings, spiritual direction, and prayer, our mission training program has many opportunities to reflect on life, faith, and self. Here’s what been on missioner-in-training Mary Morrtenson’s mind these last few weeks.

One concept that I’ve been mulling over since the beginning of formation, is the idea of conversion.

Conversion, in Greek, is “to turn.” To redirect. In most religious communities we use this word usually to describe a one-time conversion. Our conversion to our faith, our “turning” to God, if you will.

Especially growing up in a more Protestant community, this thinking is very common. It’s our “born again” moment or the moment we were “saved.”

As I have reflected more and more on my own spiritual journey, I’ve struggled to pinpoint that moment for myself. This is not because I don’t have any moments to think of, it’s because I have too many moments. Too many significant turnings.

Throughout formation we do a lot of reflecting on the life of St. Francis of Assisi and lives of other saints. One thing that I have been drawn in by is that their individual stories all mark many moments for them where they were redirected. They were going one way, and in a moment of grace, they were sent in another direction. They experienced numerous conversions.

Now that is a story that we can all relate to. We all have formative moments that really stand out along our life’s journey. These could be major triumphs. Or failings. Or tragedies. Or loss. Some of them may be, significant people. A memorable trip. An inspiring class. Something humorous. Maybe an encounter with a stranger. Or a book. Or a song.

Whatever those moments are for you, they redirect you.

You know that you are the person you are today, in part, because of those moments.

Thank God, right?

Thank God that we experience those turnings. Those graced moments. Those times, when our eyes and minds are pulled away from ourselves and redirected outward and upward. Those moments when we are stopped in our tracks and reminded that life and this world, go far beyond ourselves.

This understanding of conversion gives me hope. It gives me hope because it means that I’m not finished yet. It tells me that God is still at work within me, and there is much in store. He wants me to be more, but more importantly He knows I am more.

So the next time I get stuck looking at myself, thinking about myself, listening to myself, God will have to remind me of Himself again. To remind me that He loves me fully but that I am not made for myself, but I am made for others.

As I prepare to head out on mission, I take comfort in this continual conversion process. I take comfort that God is still forming me. I know that He is at work and cares deeply about my journey. And when I stray, to go my own way, He will call me back.

And this is conversion: a continuous calling back to the Creator.

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.