Over this past weekend, I was in Omaha for the Word Made Flesh Board Meeting, where we marked and celebrated a significant transition in the leadership of the 17 year old ministry among the poor in the world. Chris and Phileena Heuertz now serve together as the international co-directors of Word Made Flesh (until now, Chris has served as the International director and Phileena as the associate director for community care). The transition into co-directorship is not only an affirmation of Phileena’s leadership and gifts within the organization, it is a celebration of the mutuality of the gifts of activism and contemplation, of advocacy and administration; of the outer and the inner calling; of St. Francis and St. Clare that Chris and Phileena model and live into as husband and wife, and now as co-directors for partnership and community accompaniment respectively.
There are many organizations that serve the poor around the world. What makes WMF unique is their commitment to community and friendship with the poor. In the ten countries in which WMF “operates,” the goal is not so much to serve or even minister to the poor, but to live among, and be friends with, the poor. As Chris Heuertz (and Christine Pohl) write in Friendship at the Margins (one of the titles in Resources for Reconciliation series of CFR):
“The possibility of and longing for local friendships is what drew many present staff members to WMF. Much like career missionaries, we learnt to love those we had gone to serve. But as the friendships on the streets and the neighborhoods grew, we came to understand that we were not ministering ‘to’ our friends, but in ministry ‘among’ them. We ourselves were being ministered to as authentic and humanizing relationships emerged.
“As our friendships grew and deepened, we discovered that we loved the people among whom we lived and ministered…. Gradually we realized that even more than we wanted to ‘minister’ to our friends, we wanted to be in community with them.
We were surprised. In relationship and friendships with those who are poor, we were learning to follow our friends to God’s heart. Along the way, we redefined success in terms of faithfulness.”
-Chris Heuertz and Christine Pohl, Friendship at the Margins, 33-4
Be sure to check out this wonderful book, but also be on the look out for Phileena’s book: Pilgrim of a Soul: Contemplative Spirituality for the Active Life (to be released in June).