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Presence in the Everyday


Editor’s note: Missioner-in-training Maggie Van Roekel has an encounter that gives her a new perspective on the practice of ministry of presence in daily life.

During the first few weeks of formation, we’ve talked a lot about ministry of presence. FMS really embraces not only serving, but also opening our ears and our hearts to accompany and be truly present to the people around us.

I have had many opportunities to put ministry of presence into practice throughout formation. On Wednesday mornings, I serve at Christ House, an organization that provides healthcare to those experiencing homelessness. As a group, all of us missioners have done Street Greetings, a food run, with the Sant’Edigio community.

These are structured places of ministry – but I’ve also found that ministry of presence is a daily opportunity which can happen anywhere. It may even be something you are already doing without realizing it. Talking to someone on the street and recognizing their humanity is ministry of presence.

I experienced this kind of spontaneous opportunity for ministry of presence after leaving Christ House one morning during the first week of formation.

I waited in a busy metro station for the train to go home. As I sat on the cement ledge, I noticed an older-looking man walking around, trying to gain the attention of passersby who hurried past him.

Figuring he was either trying to sell or ask for something, I found myself irritated and a little nervous at the idea of a confrontation when he took a seat next to me on the ledge. I silently thought through a few excuses.

What I wasn’t expecting to hear was, “Please, can you tell me how to get to Silver Springs?” He spoke slowly and his speech was embellished with a thick accent.

I was immediately flooded with images of myself in a few months: living in a foreign land, trying my best to ask for directions in a new language. I also felt immediately devastated by my initial reaction of irritation.

Although I had only been in DC for a few days, I was familiar with the route he needed to take.  We waited for the train together, and he began sharing about his life, his family, and his journey. While the language barrier prevented us from fully understanding each other’s words, we shared smiles and laughs, and I listened to him as he shared his joys.

It’s easier to practice ministry of presence when we’re in a structured place of ministry. It’s simpler to be present when that’s our sole purpose in the situation. But what about ministry of presence in the everyday moments? If I had avoided this man, I would never have gotten to share in his joy.

How many times have I avoided being present?

Reflection Question: Challenge yourself to reflect on presence. How is God calling you to be present to others in the little, everyday moments?

Through listening the stories of our marginalized brothers and sisters, Maggie seeks to gain new perspectives on joy and hope across different backgrounds. Her passion for disability social justice grew out of numerous experiences working with individuals with disabilities, including three summers at an Easter Seals camp. Maggie grew up in Iowa and studied health science at the University of Iowa.