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Comfort and Joy: Long-Distance Strength


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Editor’s Note: As part of our “Comfort and Joy” Advent/Christmas blog series, current missioner Valerie Ellis shares how she has been able to give and receive comfort while on mission in Bolivia. 

As I reflect on how my friends and family have helped me over the past year and a half, I can’t help but be filled with a sense of awe. From the moment I arrived, they were willing to talk to me whenever I needed it, send care packages that brought me a sense of home in a foreign country where much was confusing and unknown, and stuck by my side through the good, the bad, and the ugly.

One of my biggest supporters!

One of my biggest supporters, my Grammy!

Some of the best gifts were from the tried and true, but also from people in my life with whom I have fleeting contact. It’s nice to know you’re thought of by someone to whom you may not have been aware at what level your lives intersected. Jesus talks about friendship in the Gospel of Matthew and says, “If you love those who love you, what reward will you have?” and “if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others?”

Every time I received an email from my friends and family, I knew that I was loved. In my life and time on mission, I have definitely received more than I have given from God and from man.

Although I am sure that I have fallen short, these are the ways in which I have tried to be there for my loved ones during my time overseas:

  • Being an ear/theoretical shoulder to cry on during their times of joy and of pain
  • Reminding them that even though I am far away they are always in my heart, which, thanks to the grace of God, has only grown in its capacity to love while on mission
  • Trying to send out periodic updates about what I’ve been up to, and more importantly, an honest gauge about how I’ve been doing
  • And most importantly, being steadfast in my example of faith in an attempt to provide a yardstick of how God’s hand in our lives can truly lift us up and help us grow

As I reflect on the upcoming Advent season with a sense of wonder and awe for the future, I am hopeful that I can be present during Thanksgiving in Bolivia with the people who have meant so much in my life here, and that I can be present and transparent to my friends and family members with whom I will have the honor of spending Christmas when I return to the United States in December.

Some of my reasons for coming back!

Some of my reasons for coming back!

I foresee a lot of happy tears (and some sad ones) as I transition back to a new life in a familiar country. I hope that I can remain true to the lessons that I have learned when I return, and show in big and small ways my infinite gratitude for those who have sent a smile, hugs and kisses, and all forms of love to me during the past two years.

May God bless and keep you during this Advent Season and always!

Question for reflection: Think back to a time when you were separated from friends or family for a long time. Who or what got you through that difficult time? 

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Valerie served for two years (2014-2015) in Cochabamba, Bolivia working with CUBE (Centro Una Brisa de Esperanza) to raise sexual violence awareness and prevention, and in CEV (Comunidad Educativa Para La Vida) teaching and nurturing children six months to 8-years-old. Valerie grew up outside of Wichita, Kansas and graduated from The University of Tampa. She found her way to Franciscan Mission Service after 12 years of working in higher education where she worked with international students and designed and taught a class called "Avoiding Violence: Be A Part of the Solution."