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Choosing the Lesser Ministry

Blog Headers 2023-24 (21)

Editor’s Note: Lay missioner Ralph Anderson, OFS recalls his previous mission experiences and reflects on how God is calling him to serve in “lesser” ministries in Cochabamba, Bolivia.

Mission is not something new in my life. My first experience was in 1966 with the Knights of Columbus. I was 12 years old, and we drove to a small village in the north of Baja California called Guadalupe. We distributed used clothing to the people there. I had never experienced extreme poverty before, and I felt sorrow for the children who had so much less than I had. As a mature adult who has been around for a while, I ask myself if my perception of less was accurate. I would not serve in foreign mission again until I was an adult. 

I was invited to go to Ecuador as mission support to do maintenance projects for Mission Aviation Fellowship. I made three separate trips there, and each time my heart changed a little bit. During the first trip, I was comparing everything as inferior to my country and I was there because they needed my help. During my second trip, I learned that the real purpose of my being there was to learn how to be a good mission supporter back home, and by the third trip I wanted to be involved in clean water projects. My life had taken a new direction, and I became involved in ministry at home and abroad for the next twenty years. I was always the Team Leader and never the servant. I served my team, not the people we were helping with a clean water project.

Now, I am serving full time in Cochabamba, Bolivia. I spent 6 weeks in language school to improve my Spanish. The school found out that my occupation was a water treatment operator, and they set me up with Fundación Abril. The Fundación works with small communities outside Cochabamba who do not have access to sanitation and clean water. I knew what they needed, but it would require a civil engineer to do things properly. I decided to take a step back and I chose a lesser ministry. 

I began working at Centro Social Franciscano. I live directly above the Center. I serve 5 days a week with my fellow Secular Franciscans and volunteers. I met a young man, Geronimo who is studying chemistry at San Sebastian University. We talked about water in Bolivia, and I found out there are only two  laboratories in Bolivia who are capable of analyzing water. One in La Paz, the capital of Bolivia, and the other is at his university. That’s when I knew I had made the right choice. This is a problem that can be solved by university students. Public university tuition is only two  bolivianos per semester and there are many well educated students here. They have the ability to solve the problem. 

God has me where he wants me with the Franciscans. My lesser brothers and sisters, becoming the least to serve the least among us. I am joyful to be serving with these members of the Franciscan family. I met Brother Marcos during prayer one night. He is in his eighties and he was having trouble getting up out of the pew. I helped him up. I did not know that I would be working alongside him almost every day. He would have me push the food cart Through the streets downtown to serve the street vendors. Last week, he asked me to help him walk the two blocks to his convent. He grabs my arm as we walk. As we crossed the busy street, he told me his body was giving up. His heart is not. He still comes to the kitchen when he can to sit in the circle, talk, laugh, and prepare vegetables for the next meal. I learned a lot from this man from the Order of Lesser Friars, who chose to remain a brother and not become a priest. I am the one who takes the cart out almost every time now.

Has the torch been passed ? Will I be giving out lunch to the street vendors until my body gives out? I can see the people smile at me from half a block away as I approach. They call me brother, and they are my brothers and sisters waiting for me. Has God given me a new important career among the so called least? “OJALA” God only knows.

Ralph Anderson, OFS (lesser brother living in the world)

Question for Reflection: What “lesser” ministries and services are you being called to do?

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.