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Welcoming Our Neighbors


Editor’s Note: Current missioner in Formation, Sabrina Portner reflects on an interaction she had with a neighbor that allowed her to listen closely to God’s call to mission.

The steps up to La Casa San Salvador

During our second week of formation, Becky and I were working on some homework in the living room when we heard a knock at the door. As I rose to investigate, I realized I had no idea what the protocol for greeting strangers was at the Casa San Salvador, where the missioners and DC service corps live throughout the year. I welcomed our new guest with much unnecessary hesitation.

Within the first minute of meeting Maggie, I regretted my hesitation and failed hospitality instincts as she had to ask to be welcomed into our air conditioned home. Where was my Franciscan Hospitality? As it turns out, Maggie is a returned missioner from Ethiopia where she lived for seven years with her husband. She has walked by our house a few times and seen the Franciscan Mission Service sign, but finally decided to introduce herself this day. She left us with the invitation to share mission stories sometime in the future. That sometime was today.

Maggie, her husband, Mark, and their three kids happen to attend St. Anthony’s parish where we celebrate Sunday mass from time to time. Becky and I agreed to accompany Maggie, Mark, and the kids to a park after mass. The walk to the park soon became a blur as I was lost in Mark and Maggie’s story of living out the will of God through mission. They testified to the beauty of putting complete trust into the slow, sometimes unclear work of God.

In the hour I spent talking with Mark sitting on a concrete wall at a children’s park, I might have said a total of twenty words. Instead of talking, I listened as Mark spoke of how God took what he surrendered (his career, skillset, family, and friends) while living in Ethiopia and led him towards his true purpose in life. I was amazed at Mark’s openness and vulnerability in sharing his story. The entire conversation seemed to be a prayer to God asking that He might do the same with me and my time on mission.

Isn’t this what God asks though? That each conversation we have with someone might direct us towards Him. “Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.” Yet, I often forget this truth depicted by C.S. Lewis. I was reminded to listen to others as if God himself was speaking. I think I have the listening piece down, but I often fail to be vulnerable with others in return. I hesitate to share my brokenness with others.

Maybe I have been so stoic and guarded for most of my life because I haven’t accepted my brokenness until now. I haven’t accepted that it is okay to be broken and to not be okay. This false emotionless facade has been a roadblock to my connection with others. It has put limits on the way God can work through our mutual vulnerability, but I am now striving to honor my emotions, cracks, and tears that make me who I am.

Reflection Question: How has God tried to reach you through your neighbors?