Home / Stories / A Happy Ending

A Happy Ending

Blog Headers 2023-24 (7)

Editor’s Note: Ralph Anderson, a newly-commissioned missioner, reflects on FMS’s in-depth Formation for Overseas Lay Missioners and his experiences with living in intentional community.

“What can they possibly teach me in thirteen weeks of Formation?” That was my thought before beginning Formation at Casa San Salvador. I knew there was a lot I needed to learn, but three months? My experience of mission had been a project-focused mentality, and Franciscan Mission Service orientation is based on integrating into the local community. We focus on listening to find out what their needs are rather than making suggestions of what we think they need.

My past mission experience helped me to appreciate what I was learning with FMS. The agencies I had volunteered with in the past provided 40 hours of training. About four hours were spent on cultural sensitivity. The training was sufficient for the two to three weeks we would be in the country to which we were sent. However, living in a country for two to six years requires a lot more training. The training with FMS has helped me to see the mistakes I have made being in another culture. I finally have explanations of why some things didn’t go so well. I look back now on the choices that were made to bring clean water to people whose water supply was contaminated. I made the decision that they needed to put their water tower on automatic controls and keep the tank full to prevent back siphonage. If only I had more time to be with the people, I would have known that there was no way to pay for the electricity required to run the pumps and keep the tower full. A more appropriate technology would have been to construct a slow sand filter that requires no electricity and is powered by gravity. The only maintenance is to rake the top of the sand to remove debris build up once in a great while. I was focused on the project and getting the job done.

FMS has provided me with 282 hours of classroom instruction and 66 hours of hands-on ministry. There was also living in an intentional community of individuals from the age of 22 to 70. We also have experienced living in a multigenerational house for 13 weeks with five nights a week of eating, praying and being together. Our dinner table discussions are filled with laughter and some deep theological discussions. Two people have masters of divinity degrees. Everyone is welcome in the discussion and everyone is given equal respect. I am the only non-college graduate out of this group of eight. The real challenge came when I was asked to teach a Formation lesson along with the other two missioners. We each had one hour to present our lesson. My presentation was titled “Pope Paul VI, The Secular Franciscan Rule and the silliness of Franciscan Life.” I compared one of the Pope’s encyclicals to the Franciscan rule of life. I also included four silly poems I had written: I Love Meat, Brother Grass, Sister Wall and Sister Ivy. Keep reading my blog because I may include some of them in the future. After learning and growing throughout Formation, I know that I will continue to be formed throughout my time on mission, and I look forward to documenting my experiences through these blog posts.

Question for Reflection: When have you experienced a season of formation, education or growth?

Ralph Anderson, OFS, is from Eugene, OR. He was born in California and spent 63 years of his life there until he retired. During his working career, he made many short-term trips to provide clean drinking water in the developing world in Latin America. He served in Ecuador, Honduras, and Mexico. He became a Secular Franciscan and his heart remained in mission at home and abroad. Before he knew about Franciscan Mission Service, he felt God tugging at his heart to serve full time in a foreign mission. When he served in Honduras, he learned the importance of being present to the people you are serving and avoiding being focused only on the success of a project. When he discovered FMS at a Lay Franciscan gathering in Phoenix, AZ, he knew what God was calling him to: practicing a ministry of accompaniment in a foreign country; not to teach them "our ways," but to learn their culture and traditions, and to learn how we can best serve them; building a relationship of mutual respect with a spirit of humility like Saint Francis of Assisi.