Sister Karen: Teacher, Mentor, Witness, Friend.

“From the Hart” Devotional for Nov. 23, 2023

“Witnessing to the World Without Words”
by Julie Hart, Director of Connectional Ministries

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in faith so that you overflow with hope and power of the Holy Spirit
Romans 15:13

It was in the late 90s that I was appointed as the director of Protestant Campus Ministries at UNLV. New to the church and new to ministry, I was serving as part-time campus minister at UNLV and part-time youth director at University United Methodist Church. My office was in the Catholic Newman Student Center which at the time was an ecumenical student center housing Catholic, Jewish, and Protestant ministries. I was the youngest and least experienced of the three women who led the students, and I was blessed by the grace and encouragement that I received from both Melanie (Jewish/Hillel) and Sister Karen (Catholic/Newman Club).

I can remember walking into the center for the first time to set up my office. I was warmly welcomed by Sister Karen who took me on a tour of the center and invited me into her office to get to know me. She lit a candle that sat on the coffee table and began to ask me about my story. At that point, I was not sure I knew much about my story, but she made me feel as if my story was the most important story she had ever heard. Sister Karen was a Franciscan Sister who followed the teachings of St. Francis of Assisi. Pastor David shared a famous quote from St. Francis — “Preach the Gospel at all times; when necessary, use words.” That was Sister Karen every single day!

In my time at the Interfaith Center, Sister Karen took me under her wing, and we worked together to be in ministry with the students. We co-led weekly Bible studies, prayer gatherings, weekend retreats, game nights, service projects, and more — none of which I knew much about, but Sister Karen taught me. She even made me feel as if I knew what I was doing! She pointed out the gifts that I had and gave me places to contribute and grow alongside her.

Even though the three of us were tasked to run our own ministries, Sister Karen always had ideas about ways we could come together. One of the most beautiful times of sharing with the Jewish, Protestant, and Catholic students was the annual Seder Dinner at the center. The students from all three of the programs had richer experiences because of Sister Karen. And so did I. She helped us see our commonalities, more than our differences, and how it was the same God that we were all serving. She did this by helping us to share our stories and find ourselves in each other’s stories.

Looking back now, I can see how the Holy Spirit put Sister Karen in my life to be a witness to me at a time in my life when I had accidentally stumbled onto this path of faith. She is one of the three most influential women in my early days of ministry, along with Phyllis Murray and Phyl Nelson. She spoke many wise words in the time that I shared with her at the Interfaith Center, most of which I have forgotten. It’s not her words that I remember, it’s her actions and her love. It’s God’s light that shone brightly into my life and led me down the path that I most remember.

As you think about witnessing as a spiritual discipline that we are called as Methodists to practice, here are some questions to consider:

Knowing that your life is a witness to others, what do you hope that your life stands for?
Who has God connected you with that you were able to witness to?
Where do you see parts of your life that might be witnessed to others?
What opportunities do you have to hear other people’s stories and struggles?
Who has witnessed to you throughout your life simply out of showing love to you?

Holy Spirit of the Living God. I know that you are present in me and others at all times. Help me to recognize the times that you have put me in the path of another’s. Help me to hear the needs of others in their stories and stir in my heart the desire to be your instrument of peace and vehicle of hope where I am needed. Let the gifts that you have given me match up with the needs of others in a way that will be a witness not of my greatness, but of yours.