Our Friend: Wazeer Brown

Meet Wazeer Brown

Meet Wazeer Brown

by Dave Nimmer, Guest Blogger

Wazeer Brown, and his brother Emmanuel, are the first youngsters the Visitation Sisters “met” after they decided to locate their monastery in North Minneapolis in 1989.

The two boys, about three and four years old, were standing on the street corner at 16th and Fremont as the Sisters were driving by.  “Here are these two kids waving at us like crazy,” recalls Mary Frances Reis.  “They had a big smile on their faces.  We couldn’t help but noticing their pure joy and excitement.”

In fact, the brothers got so close to the Sisters they had to start a special time – Windsock –  for neighborhood children to come by the Fremont house.  And come they did – for time, treats and attention.

“The Windsock time was really good for me,” Brown recalls.  “It was different from the rest of my life.  It was cheerful and stress free.  I didn’t find that at home or on the streets.  The Sisters were just there for me and brought peace into my life.”

Wazeer and Emmanuel brought their presence into the sisters’ lives, sometimes sitting on the retaining wall in front of the Fremont house.  When they felt it was needed, they’d offer a little advice to  prospective visitors:  “You can’t go in now because the Sisters are prayin’.”

“I’d tell all who wanted to better themselves and change their lives,” he says, “they ought to get to know these women (the Sisters).  They shaped who I am as a person, the person I wanted to be.  I think they kind of put the spirit of the Lord in my heart.” –Wazeer

The Sisters have prayed for Wazeer since those Windsock days two decades ago. Over those years, they’ve read to him, found a mentor for him, promoted a scholarship for him and stood by him through the speed bumps, potholes and sharp curves along his way.

Today, at the age of 29, Wazeer is studying to get his GED diploma, helping raise his two daughters, Destiny, 9 and Serenity,5, holding a full-time job at Walmart and staying in touch with the friends who helped him get this far, including the Sisters.

“What I’m really impressed with,” says Mary Margaret McKenzie, “is how much energy and enthusiasm he’s putting into getting that GED.  A while back, he told me, ‘I’m getting fractions.’  He is actually into his mathematics and, yes, he’s understanding fractions for the first time.  I think that is remarkable.”

McKenzie says she remembers years ago when she helped him and Emmanuel work on a science project to make and inflate a hot-air balloon.  “I don’t recall exactly how that turned out but I do recall thinking that Wazeer was really smart.  You only have to show him or tell him once, and he gets it.”

He “got it” about the importance of going back to school, this time at the Adult Education Center in Minneapolis.  “I think I just realized it’s time,” Brown says.  “My mind is ready for it.”  Once he gets the GED, Brown says he might think about going to a two-year or community college, to help him land a job that makes him joyful and useful.

He already knows how to work hard, according to Jeff Pearson, who, along with his wife Maryann, has been long-time friend and supporter of the Sisters.  They enlisted Pearson to be kind of a mentor/father figure for Wazeer.

“I used to have him come over to my house on Saturday mornings and we’d work in the yard,” says Pearson.   “He hadn’t done a lot of yard work but, I tell you what, he worked hard.  You know, I feel I have a life-long friendship with him.”

The Sisters feel the same way and they haven’t hesitated to call on him to do a favor or two, like talking to a group of seniors at Visitation High School who are spending a week at the monastery, getting immersed in life on the North Side.

“He got up in front of these young women,” says Mary Margaret, “and talked confidently about the value of being grounded when they go away from home to college.  His talk, and his message, were really quite wonderful.”

Wazeer got up in front of another group at his grandmother’s funeral, to talk about who she was, what she did and how she lived.  He has developed this kind of presence in his life and the Sisters have been there to nurture it and, now, to feel it.

Wazaeer in Arabic means “minister.”  Brown is not given to preaching but he’s accumulated enough wisdom for a homily: Change is inevitable.  Get used to it.  Being positive is always a key.  Keep busy in life and work on being a better “you.”  And one more thing.

“I’d tell all who wanted to better themselves and change their lives,” he says, “they ought to get to know these women (the Sisters).  They shaped who I am as a person, the person I wanted to be.  I think they kind of put the spirit of the Lord in my heart.”

 

* This is the sixth in a series of profiles by journalist Dave Nimmer featuring Visitation 
Companions and northside neighbors. We hope you enjoy these stories of our dear friends -- 
as they reflect the blessed community that surrounds the monastery and sustains us
 in our ministry of mutuality. 
LIVE + JESUS! 

Out of the Stillness…

Jody Johnson on retreat

Jody Johnson on retreat

by Jody Johnson, Visitation Companion

“Lord, what else hast thou said to me by placing me in this holy monastery, but ‘My daughter, walk always in my presence, think of me in all thy ways, and I will direct thy steps?’ “–St. Jane de Chantal

Out of the stillness, time unfurls herself before me like a red carpet, and I am royalty, the Beloved. I walk through a garden of delights. As I practice letting go of thoughts by tuning into my sensory experience, the sounds, smells, and sights of the desert open themselves to me: the lush green of the plants and trees after rain, the smell of the creosote bushes, the trill of birdsong. I observe the constant shifting of light and shadow.

“In calm all becomes sensible and my soul is desirous of experiencing even the lightest breath of Thy grace.” –St. Francis de Sales

Jody_Meal_Blog

“When you are eating, eat.” — Buddhist saying

At silent meals, it is a pleasure to taste my food again. For months I’ve been eating hurriedly and distractedly, reading the newspaper or, worse, checking my cellphone for messages. I’ve come to anticipate the next bite before I’ve finished the one in my mouth. The Buddhists say, “When you’re eating, eat.” So I pause, enjoying the flavor, noting the texture, chewing fully before swallowing. When I do this, I know which kinds of food I need more of, which less of, and when to stop eating.

Could this be a way of living? Jesus says, “Yes!” “I have come that you may have life and have it abundantly.” The kingdom of heaven is compared to a great banquet because it is realized through the lived, embodied experience that begins with our senses. In stillness, we open to the present moment, the only place we can meet God. There is joy. And, we can trust that, if we are fully present and anchored in God in this moment, this event, this decision, then the next will take care of itself.

**********************************************************************************************************

To read more of Jody Johnson’s contemplative blogs from the desert, click here.

I Will Lead You into the Desert

Follow me to the desert... Photo by Jody Johnson

Lead to the desert
Photo by Jody Johnson

by Jody Johnson, Visitation Companion*

“I will lead you into the desert, and there I will speak to your heart.” –Hosea 2:16

I’ve come to the desert seeking silence, or seeking to enter into it more fully. I practice contemplative prayer but, if as Thomas Keating says, twenty minutes of silence is “a brief vacation from oneself,” I need an extended stay! I’ve been restless, anxious, caught up in the busyness of activity for too long. Like many people, I juggle half-commitments, leaving early from one event to arrive late to the next, then wonder why life feels unsatisfying.

The desert offers timeless space to discover, engage, and wrestle with restlessness,” says Father Tom Picton, director of the Desert House of Prayer in Tucson where I am retreating; “The discovery of what is on the other side of the restlessness is the quest! It requires silence, stillness, waiting, and the suffering of ‘not knowing’.” This rings true for me; I long for this stillness, yet the prospect of having so much of it brings its own anxiety: “What will I do with all this time?” “What will God say to me?” “What if I discover things I don’t want to know?” Worries have become my constant companions. As with guests who have overstayed their welcome, it becomes more and more awkward to ask them to leave. Or perhaps they are like old clothes I’ve outgrown but not yet replaced. What will be my new gear, my new habit? I can’t very well walk around naked!

Some guidelines provided by the retreat center are reassuring: “Trust how you are being led. Your journey will likely open up to you as you listen for what is inviting your attention.” It is about being open, aware, and receptive. The daily schedule of silent prayer periods provides the structure and practice to support this awareness. I’ve also brought Francis de Sales and St. Jane de Chantal to guide me on my journey. Though they never visited the desert that we know of, I feel their contemplative spirits at home here. Francis reminds me to get out of the way: “While I am seeking to find out what is God’s desire, I am not employed in keeping myself close to Him in peace and in calm repose, which is certainly His present desire, since He has set me nothing else to do.” Francis also gives very practical advice to gently redirect my intention (and attention) toward God throughout the day. He would have agreed with the last sentence of the guidelines in the retreat center’s brochure: “Be gentle with yourself, relax, and enjoy your time away.”

Jody Johnson

Jody Johnson

*Jody Johnson is a Visitation Companions leader and formation director on a two week study and prayer sabbatical. Tune into her reflections here

 

 

 

 

 

Praying Exodus: Reflections on God leading Community

Exodus Prayers: The sea of red and blue light along Interstate 94

Exodus Prayers: The sea of red and blue light along closed Westbound Interstate 94

by Melissa Borgmann-KiemdeVisitation Companion 

“Exodus is a story of a people, not a person – that God leads in community.” – Amy Long, Women of Prayer discernment participant

With the whirring sounds of a helicopter overhead and the flashing lights of emergency vehicles passing outside our windows along Emerson Avenue North in Minneapolis, we convened a community of prayer, story, reflection, and song.  Our community of discerning women gathered at St. Jane House last night for session 4 of the vocation series entitled, “The Prepositions of Call: Reframing Suffering and Vocation.”

Against this backdrop of protest sounds and justice-seeking circumstances surrounding the shooting of Jamar Clark by a local police officer, we began our evening ringing the singing bowl and moving into silence.

“What path is God leading us on? How do we know the wilderness in our journeys? Where are our pillars of cloud and fire? How is this journey, that we are all on, a communal experience toward freedom?”

As facilitators for the series, S. Katherine Mullin, Karen Wight Hoogheem and I gave voice to our distraction, marking the reality outside our doors. In honor of Jamar Clark’s life, we had a candle burning for him and his family — and by extension, our human family the world over – from North Minneapolis to other communities knowing upheaval from violence –including Paris, Beirut, Russia, Libya, Afghanistan, Syria, Palestine, Yemen.

We entered into prayer.

As part of every session, a member of our series facilitation team leads the participants in a form of prayer — meant to inspire and support women in their “listening and leading from within.”  Last night’s experience of Lectio Divina was led by Karen, who took us through Exodus 13:17-22. In this Old Testament passage, we heard the story of Moses and the Israelites being lead out of Egypt. God takes them on a circuitous route through the desert, into the wilderness, revealing himself in a pillar of cloud by day – and fire by night.

Pillars of Fire, photo from protester camp on Plymouth

Pillars of Fire, photo from protester camp on Plymouth

As Karen lead, she invited us to see ourselves in the flight of the Israelites and immerse ourselves in the literal and imagined details of the scripture. She invited us to listen for resonant lines in the text and for God’s invitation to each of us in our present circumstances. She asked us to consider the ways we know suffering, and the way God is faithful to us in leading us along the road to freedom.

As the scripture was repeated, the darkness of the Israelites path at night came alive in my mind. And too, was this flicker of light from fire, the smell of smoke in close proximity, the palpable feeling of anxiety that comes with uncertainty and next steps, and this potent question, “Will you follow me into this wilderness, into freedom, Melissa?”

The whole time, the whirring of the very real helicopters overhead buzzed in my ears; the faces of men, women, and children, who were marching along Plymouth Avenue when I made my way in traffic an hour earlier, came into my mind’s eye.

Together, in prayer, we asked, “What path is God leading us on? How do we know wilderness in our journeys? Where are our pillars of cloud and fire? Where is liberation? How is this journey, that we are all on, a communal experience toward freedom?”

***

This Saturday, Visitation Sisters all around the world will renew their vows. As they make their way toward this feast day, they remind me, and all of us, of our commitments before God. And too, of God’s faithfulness to us.

Join me, the Women of Prayer, the Visitation Sisters, Jamar’s family, and people grieving life lost to violence all over the world, in the prayer of Exodus. Together, let us recall that our journey toward liberation is bound up in God’s love and promises for all of us.

Vis Companion Profile: Bob Briscoe*

Bob Briscoe, Vis Companion

Bob Briscoe, Vis Companion

by Dave Nimmer, Guest Blogger

Bob Briscoe is a regular at the monthly, Monday-night Salesian Spirituality Meetings at the Visitation Monastery. He is one of a handful of men among a roomful of women and, along with his wife Khalilah, the former Chicago cop seems to fit right in with conversations about love, understanding and gentleness.

“We are companions on the journey, given to one another as helpers in doing God’s work.” — St. Jane de Chantal

“These monthly meetings lift my soul,” Briscoe said. “What is really good is to see the young people there, who are genuinely trying to help others in the community. That makes an old man feel good about the younger generation.”

The 73-year-old has nurtured his softer side but he is no pushover.  Briscoe defines what a good man is and what a good man does. He and his wife have been raising his 14-year-old grandson, Kameron, since his mother (Bob’s daughter Kontente) died. Briscoe and Khalilah have five grown daughters and two sons from previous marriages.

Bob and his wife Khalilah

Bob and his wife Khalilah

The wisdom he’s imparting to Kameron includes some of those “little virtues” that are the basis of Salesian thought and spirit: patience, humility, honesty.

“I’m also trying to teach him the lessons that the sisters give to me,” Briscoe said. “I tell Kameron that you have to give back. And you can’t get discouraged in the bad or tough times. You can always give your troubles to God.”

Briscoe has known some tough times and good times in his life. He joined the National Guard after graduating from Corpus Christi High School in Chicago. After his discharge, he was a motorman on the “L” in Chicago. And in 1971 he was sworn in to the Chicago Police Department, working the streets for ten years as a patrolman.

He left the force in 1981 and spent several years as a construction laborer. He came to Minneapolis in 2006 and it was no accident that Bob discovered the Visitation sisters. He went to Catholic schools in Chicago and married Khalilah in Ascension Church in north Minneapolis.   That’s where he met Sister Mary Frances.

“She came right up and introduced herself to me,” he said. “And that was the beginning. Being around the sisters remind me of the first women in my life. They live those virtues they preach, right out in the community every day. And they do it for everyone they meet.”

Bob and grandson Cameron

Bob and grandson Kameron

Briscoe’s also serving the community as a member of the Minneapolis Police Conduct Review Panel since 2012.  The panel investigates complaints of misconduct and brutality and makes recommendations to the chief. The former cop sees the issues from both sides of the badge and he passes that perspective along to Kameron. “Be polite. Do not resist. Do not run,” he said. “And call me as soon as possible.”

The Vis sisters appreciate Briscoe’s presence at their functions, and what he has done for them personally. “He fills his day with meaningful activities,” said Sister Karen Mohan. “He took me to chemotherapy (for breast cancer) a couple of times and sat with me.

“He is simply a willing spirit, ready to do anything. He’ll come to help us put labels on our newsletters.   And he’ll be a surrogate father to his grandson.”

For Briscoe, the gain for his soul is worth any pain to his body. “Kameron helps keep me young,” he said. “His curiosity, the questions he asks, always keep me looking for answers. I am always telling him to pray and that helps me to remember to pray.”

* This is the first in a series of profiles by journalist Dave Nimmer featuring Visitation 
Companions and northside neighbors. We hope you enjoy these stories of our dear friends -- 
as they reflect the blessed community that surrounds the monastery and sustains us
 in our ministry of mutuality. 
LIVE + JESUS! 

In Solidarity with the Sisters: Silent prayer

S. Katherine on Retreat at ARC

S. Katherine on Retreat at ARC

by Melissa Borgmann-KiemdeVisitation Companion 

“There is a healthy silence that heals and bonds us all.” — S. Mary Margaret McKenzie

The Burkinabe freedom seeker with his fist in the air. The Syrian mother lowering her babe into a boat. Pope Francis lifting the Eucharist at mass in Cuba. The police officer turning on his siren and lights just a few blocks away. The principal at my daughter’s school reaching for my kindergartner’s hand to walk her inside.  A quiet woman standing before a slow moving stream. These are images that come to mind in my prayer this day.

Sitting on the front porch of my Selby Avenue home in St. Paul, I hold a prayerful space alongside and for the Visitation Sisters who are on retreat this week. I’m in silent solidarity with all. No matter the distance, or circumstance, we are all bound up in this mystical body of Christ – in our common humanity, with our beating hearts, breathing bodies, seeking spirits. And it is a loving silence which unites and heals us all.

“Silence makes us whole if we let it.  Silence helps draw together the scattered and dissipated energies of a fragmented existence.”
– Fr. Thomas Merton Love and Living.

In a prayerful meditation on silence last spring, S. Mary Margaret described a quiet that unifies and bonds us; a silence where wholeness is revealed, compassion and reconciliation germinate.  I was in the living room at Fremont House with a group of other lay men and women discerning community life alongside the Visitation Sisters in North Minneapolis. S. Mary Margaret’s meditations struck a deep chord in me. I scribbled her words onto a slip of paper: “There is a healthy silence that heals and bonds us all.” 

The Visitation Sisters’ community is immersed in quiet this week: on the second floor of Girard, on the back porch at Fremont; up at the ARC retreat center; over in Collegeville; lakeside at a friend’s cabin; down in Fairbault. Each sister is entering into the fullness of silence — in that echoic room of her heart where God’s voice booms, Love pierces and connects all things — and softens all stances into a compassionate embrace.

In my own attempted practice of daily silence or stillness on my front porch, I have these fleeting glimpses of unity. I can travel around the world, into the darkest corners of my own neighborhood, contemplate the warring factions of humanity riddled by poverty and hunger, a desire for power, or freedom. I can see these across the river in Minneapolis, in my husband’s home country of Burkina Faso, in the headlines reporting on the Middle East, and inside my own beating heart.

The silence doesn’t scare me. It’s a silence that invites me. It’s a silence that contains all the ills and joys of the world, and melds them into a wholeness, a reconciled beauty that I have few words for, save Love.

I invite you into this meditation today, into solidarity with our Sisters on retreat. Can you carve five minutes of quiet in your day?  Find a spot in your home, in your car, on your block; in your church, temple, mosque, in a park, in a space you might claim as sanctuary? Go inside your heart. Find the beating, pulsing reality of your interior being. Ask for God to show you Love’s peace, Love’s will, Love’s desire for you this day.

Will you join me and the Sisters in prayer?

Nativity of Mary

by Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion 

“Let us celebrate with joy the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, for from her arose the sun of justice, Christ our God.” — Entrance Antiphon for mass, September 8, 2015

Today, we mark Mary’s nativity, the birth of the mother of Jesus. Pausing to consider her life, her arrival to Anna and Joachim, her own humble journey and response to God’s call, I think about all of our mothers — all whose arrivals have precipitated our own and made our lives possible. I wonder: What does the path toward parenting look like? What is the journey that informs a mother’s “yes” to life? What, in Mary’s life, cultivated her capacity to respond to God’s invitation to bear Jesus? What, in our own lives, nurtures love and allows us to be present to the call to bear life in our unique ways?

It’s like Mother’s day, this feast day,  this invitation to meditate on Mary’s birth. I think about my own mom, and the mother that I am coming to be. I think about my child and her role in shaping my call and response to God, daily, in saying “yes” to love. To Nurture. To be here.

***

Rising late and dressing for school this morning, my five year old kindergartner stopped to sit cross-legged on her bed.

“Mom, can you do this?” she asked, bringing her hands to her heart center.

I told her, “Yes!” and sat opposite on another bed. Then she started “omm-ing.”

The principal at our daughter’s school told us our job as parents was to bring our kids to school calmly. So, even though we were running late, I joined Marguerite in her “omms.” I copied her posture, brought my hands to the center of my chest, closed my eyes, and I breathed deeply.

Then, my five year old said, “Now imagine you are flying in the sky.”

It was a moment we both shared –where she lead. She walked me through this way of being still, if only for a few seconds, but that helped ground us, her, our day. 

***

I return to Mary’s birth. I imagine Anna and Joachim’s great joy at her arrival and the outpouring of love for their daughter. I try to imagine Mary as a kindergartner, leading her own parents through rituals of calm and postures of meditation. I think of God delighting, too, in this child, this girl as she grows and becomes a woman.

As this day unfolds, and this feast of Mary’s birth makes its way into our own rhythms of life, I invite us to note the way Mary arrives, stirs, interrupts, and inspires our paths. How do we know her birth? How do honor our own becoming? What ways can we mark, now, and in days to come, this feast of her nativity and the ultimate birth of Christ among us?

Women of Prayer: An Invitation this Feast Day of St. Jane de Chantal!

St. Jane de Chantal

St. Jane de Chantal

Wife. Mother. Daughter. Widow. Sister. Friend. Leader. Contemplative Woman of Prayer.

Co-foundress of the Visitation Sisters, St. Jane Frances de Chantal embodied and lived many callings in her life. At the heart of her vocation to love and serve God was this ongoing commitment to prayer. Perhaps you find resonance with her and have a similar desire to have a life anchored by prayer? A desire to lead from within?

On this Feast day of St. Jane, we invite you to consider joining us for our fall discernment series, “Women of Prayer: Be who you are and be that well” — a five session course starting Monday, October 5,*  facilitated by S. Katherine Mullin, Visitation Companion Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, and Pastor Karen Wight Hoogheem.

Join other women seekers to explore the way prayer grounds our discernment and calls us forward in leadership — in our faith communities and beyond!

Whether you are Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist or Baptist; single or married; a Pentecostal preacher or hospital chaplain; birth-worker, grief counselor or “From Death to Life” leader; a stay-at-home mother or corporate executive; a woman from the suburbs or dwelling in the inner-city; one immersed in justice ministry or simply desiring more from your faith journey– you are welcome in this series!  Come and explore how contemplative rhythms in community inspire your listening and leadership in life.

 

Register online. Or for more information, contact:

Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde

Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde

Karen Wight Hoogheem

Karen Wight Hoogheem

Sr. Katherine Mullin, VHM

Sr. Katherine Mullin, VHM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde: melissa.kiemde@gmail.com

Karen Wight Hoogheem: kwhoog@gmail.com

S. Katherine Mullin: katherinefmullin@gmail.com

 

When: 7-9pm; Mondays, October 5, 19; November 2, 16, 30.

Where: St. Jane House, 1403 Emerson Avenue North, Minneapolis, MN 55411

Suggested donation: $50, payable at registration time.  We are happy to accept a sliding scale fee.

Seek First to Love: Companion Anna Reflects

Anna Dourgarian, Vis Companion

Anna Dourgarian, Vis Companion

By Anna Dourgarian, Visitation Companion

Salesian service finds its wholeness and its joy in embracing the present moment. It speaks to my heart because I am very short-sighted and, when facing service goals, I see only obstacles.

Great feats of service rouse great doubts in my heart. World problems are overwhelming: racism, rebellions, resource depletion, lack of healthcare, lack of shelter, lack of food. Which will I choose? Then, even if I choose, the problems proliferate. Feed a community, and it becomes dependent on international aid. Revitalize urban slums and destroy hundreds of homes. Promote national security and threaten personal freedom. Defend a people and start a war. What hope is there for a better world?

There is hope in Salesian spirituality. With Salesian spirituality, we begin not by confronting the world’s evils but by treasuring its preciousness.

I have heard that the worst way to enter a romantic relationship is with the intention of changing the partner. The irony in service is the same: often we set forth to help the world and insist on changing it—a poor start to any relationship. Who are we, mere humans, to judge the world and the great schemes that have influenced its present state? A more loving soul would accept our world in all of its beautiful brokenness. This is what Salesian spirituality teaches us: seek first to love.

We recognize that each moment is a gift from God, perfect as it is. In this peace of mind, we open our hearts to the people around us and support them and are supported by them. This is Salesian service.

The Visitation Sisters of Minneapolis live this spirituality so fully that everyone feels at home in their monastery. I have witnessed strangers feel so safe and secure there that they cry. The Sisters are not a homeless shelter, a food shelf, or a school; they are simply friends. As friends, they inspire love in others through the power of their present-mindedness and appreciation for life.

Anna and service friends volunteering at the phone bank.

Anna and service friends volunteering at the phone bank.

Before I adopted Salesian Spirituality, service never captured my heart. Now, in Salesian service, my heart is all that is involved; everything else follows as needed.

I serve small. I serve with what I know. I serve at Ascension Church because there I have a friend burdened by her passionate work for immigration reform, so I show up with the hope of making her burden lighter. Mass and the meetings are in Spanish, so I barely understand them. My only role is to show up: I do not have the political or cultural expertise to do more. Slowly, as the weeks go by, the parishioners who are most comfortable with English approach to ask what on Earth I am doing there. They are joyful and welcoming, just a little confused. I am frustrated by my plodding advances in Spanish; I wish I could wake up tomorrow perfectly fluent. And I bet they wish the same about English.

I feel like I am doing nothing, but according to Salesian spirituality, I am doing the most important service possible: I am present. I celebrate Baptisms, First Communions, birthdays, and anniversaries with these people ignored by society. I get to meet the people living in the shadows, and I get to bond with them and work at their side. Before I can fight for any rights or instigate any change, I must embrace this step.

The risk is huge. Crises are desolating our world, and here I am stuttering to say, “hello.”

Yet, it is the love from saying, “hello” that saves the world.

On Service: Q & A with Vis Companion Heidi Akpaette

The following is the first in a series of interviews with Visitation Companions -- a lay 
community committed to the ministry of the Visitation through prayer, Salesian study and service.

The Call to Companionship

Heidi Akpaette, Vis Companion

Heidi Akpaette, Vis Companion

Q: In a few words, what inspired your call to become a Companion to the Visitation Sisters of Minneapolis? 

Heidi: I love the vision and mission of the Visitation Sisters and wanted
a tangible way to be involved.

Being a Companion offered me a way
to
invest in the community of North Minneapolis, grow in Salesian Spirituality, and be mentored
by the Visitation Sisters’ life.

Q: What is your favorite saying or teaching of St. Francis de Sales and St. Jane de Chantal?

Heidi: I am inspired by the concept of gentleness-gentleness towards self and gentleness towards others.

On Service

Q: What does the word, “service” mean to you?

Heidi: Service is giving of myself to other people, causes, and missions. It is intentionally moving beyond my own agenda into the agenda of others.

Q: What images of your service come to mind?

Heidi: Learning from the Sister’s wisdom and being in their presence. Advocating for North Minneapolis and the Visitation’s vision of presence to the neighborhood. Bringing ideas and a listening to others on the St Jane House committee. Celebrating Mass with the Sister’s. Planting sunflower seeds. Really seeing people who have their lives on the Northside.

Q: What is the setting for a recent experience of your service?

Heidi: I am at the St Jane house with two other Vis Companions and one of the sisters, we are sitting around a table. We are relaxed in the shared knowledge of the Salesian charisms and our ideas for the St Jane house and it’s mission.

Gifts, Challenges, and Salesian Aspects of Service.

Q: What gifts do you bring to your service?

Heidi: A different generation of experience, a wide variety of connections, networking abilities, and joy in meeting together.

Q: What challenges have you encountered while serving?

Heidi: Not always having the energy to bring more the table and not always having enough space in my personal life from which to give.

Q: What gifts do you receive from serving?

Heidi: Relationships with people that I would otherwise not encounter-hands down that is the best gift.

Q: Where have you found God in your experience of serving?

Heidi: In others-I encounter the living God working and breathing in other people’s lives, sometimes by their actions and sometimes by their words.

Q: What aspects of Salesian spirituality were reflected or manifested in this service experience?

Heidi: Humility in learning from others, seeing the innate dignity in other people, being present with who I am with others doing the same, enjoying a sense of humor with others, and having grace for self in judgment-and challenging myself to grow in my weakness.