One of the beautiful aspects of the Overseas Lay Mission Program is that when our lay missioners are commissioned each November they are committing to lifelong mission. Our missioners serve for 2-6 years with FMS, but their commitment to live out their call to mission goes well beyond their time with FMS, and how each missioner does so looks different for each person. One of our hopes for our quarterly newsletters is to lift up our lifelong missioners who continue to inspire us with their lives.
It is with great joy that we were able to interview Nora Pfeiffer, who served in Cochabamba, Bolivia, from 2009-2012. Nora grew up in Fairfax, Virginia, and it was in her home parish, St. Mary of Sorrows during a retreat with JustFaith, a transformative program rooted in Catholic Social Teaching, when she first felt called to serve with Franciscan Mission Service. Nora recalls fondly of that day, “I remember meeting Joe Nangle, [OFM friar and former FMS director], and when he talked about his experience of community and the Franciscan values, it felt like a gush of wind that stirs up a little tiny flame into a fire.”
That brilliantly burning spark within her led Nora to eventually serve with FMS where she discovered that one of the Franciscan values that really resonated with her was care for creation and how the destruction of Earth can have disproportionately negative effects on marginalized communities.
In order to help alleviate these issues, Nora served in Cochabamba with the ecological commission of the local Franciscan JPIC (Just, Peace, and Integrity of Creation) office as well as collaborating with Fr. Iggy Harding, OFM and the Bolivia branch of Franciscans International, which provides a Franciscan voice on global issues to the United Nations. Through these ministries, Nora had the opportunity to co-host a radio program for over two years that increased the community’s awareness regarding ecological and social issues as well as help facilitate eco-theological retreats.
As part of her ministries, Nora was also excited to support a Bolivian university student in recycling old tires to create compost containers out of them, distributing them to economically poor communities in Cochabamba, and providing education on the benefits of utilizing biodegradable waste. With the support of the communities, Nora’s ministry later expanded into creating small, square-foot home gardens to inspire families to cultivate crops in the limited space they had in their urban settings.
Fast forward 6 years, Nora continues to live in Cochabamba and shares her Franciscan joy and presence with others through various Franciscan ministries. Now, instead of living in the FMS apartment at the Franciscan Social Center in Cochabamba, she lives in a different part of the city with her husband Alvaro and her two-year-old daughter Evelyn.
In her years since serving with FMS, Nora has volunteered with the Franciscan JPIC movement in Bolivia, and has spent four years working for Franciscans International on various initiatives with local Franciscans in Latin America and with the headquarters in Geneva and New York City. Nora shares how this work has enriched her life: “The Franciscans’ commitment is absolutely incredible and they inspire me to be true to God’s call, no matter how uncomfortable or against the grain it seems. I hope that I can follow their example in the future with the choices and paths that I take.”
In order to live with this intentionality that Nora mentions, she continually goes back to the lives of St. Francis and St. Clare to receive inspiration and strength. St. Francis’ Letter to the Rulers of the People is one original writing that especially resonates with Nora. “I am so inspired by Francis’ steadfastness, bravery and dedication to God’s call. He unabashedly spoke out to the leaders of his time about the temptations that come with power and lead to injustices and wrongdoings.” St. Francis’s example often provides Nora with the courage she needs on more challenging days to speak out against injustices as she partners with people whose rights are not being met, or who are defending the Earth’s rights.
Nora provides us with a beautiful example of how to live out the FMS commitment to lifelong mission and integrating the Franciscan values into her daily life. The FMS family is especially grateful for Nora since she has welcomed, accompanied, guided and mentored many of the FMS missioners who have served in Bolivia in past years. Most recently in 2018, FMS was able to offer Nora a part-time position to be our In-Country Support Coordinator as a way to more formally recognize the many gifts and contributions that Nora offers the FMS community in Cochabamba.
Upon reflecting on how her continued connection with FMS has impacted her, Nora responded: “The missioners have challenged me and helped me grow in many ways and I am so grateful [for them]. While each person’s walk in mission is distinct from the next, there are aspects that connect us at a level that is difficult to explain in words, but it brings comfort and a sense of acceptance and understanding that is hard to find elsewhere.”
From speaking with anyone who knows Nora, it is fair to claim that Nora’s presence and Gospel witness has provided many people with that same feeling that Nora felt many years ago – a little flame being transformed into brilliantly burning fire. Nora, thank you for sharing Christ’s light and burning love with so many of us, and for being a source of inspiration of how we are each called to live out the Franciscan values in our daily lives!