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Faith Calls Us to be Neighbors: God’s Welcoming Presence Abroad


Editor’s note: Christopher Unger is a service member in the United States Air Force and engaged to FMS Graphic Design Associate, Alessia Catena. As a guest blogger for FMS’ Advent blog series, Chris shares his experience finding God overseas in the welcoming outreach of others.

My story begins upon arriving to my new duty station in Japan. The combination of adapting to the Japanese culture, starting my military career, and leaving friends and family behind was an extremely difficult change—and probably the biggest in my life thus far. The life of a military service member can be a hard one, in which one of the most significant consistencies is that of change. As we all know, uncertainty of the future can instill quite a sense of fear for what is to come. At times like these, it’s vital to put trust in God and allow for Him to guide our footsteps. Despite my prayer requests at the time, it seemed as if I were alone, full of fear and anxiety for what my life had become.

Upon the first Sunday at my new duty station, I attended mass. I distinctly remember sitting down in an empty pew, in a room amongst strangers. As mass was underway, however, I began to feel the nervousness and tension in my body leave. Instead of looking at others as “them,” I began to look at everyone as “us.” Aren’t we all brothers and sisters in Christ, after all? I could feel God’s grace lifting me up and expelling the negative emotions from me. At the end of the service, one man, who introduced himself as Nate, noticed my new face and invited me out to brunch. I didn’t know what it was, but I immediately felt an immense comfort from his presence, despite having just met him.

After some small talk at the beginning of the meal, Nate began asking more personal questions about myself, most memorably, how I was doing in my recent life transition. What really stuck out to me from this moment was how all questions he asked were in some way, shape, or form, related to concerns raised in my recent prayer requests, for which he wasn’t present! Every consoling statement that Nate made was in direct response to all my concerns and worries for which I had been praying, and he didn’t even know it! God works through those who put Him first, as was the case with my new friend Nate. Needless to say, I felt much better having found a new friend. Despite the difficulties I first experienced with moving, I knew at that moment that I was in great hands.

Life is full of uncertainties, some of which we can plan for, but most of which we cannot. When we put all our faith and confidence in God, our circumstances will eventually get better, as He always welcomes us with open arms. Like Mary and Joseph, I was a stranger in a foreign land—a stranger that was welcomed by the Lord’s kindness through the openness of another stranger—it was then that faith brought us together to be neighbors. God did not abandon me, and my faith in Him has since multiplied as I keep this verse close to heart: “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand,” (Isaiah 21:10).

Reflection question: Think of time you felt anxious or alone; did you lean on God for comfort and feel His presence?

Franciscan Mission Service often invites guest writers to contribute to the blog. Contributors often include board members, formation leaders, Secular Franciscans, Franciscan friars and sisters, and other friends of the organization. If you would be interested in contributing, please contact info@franciscanmissionservice.org.