Maryknoll Lay Missioner, Karen Bortvedt
Categories: Podcast

Different signs, same connections in Cambodia, Karen Bortvedt, MKLM

We’re here today with Karen Bortvedt, who is the Recruitment and Relationship Manager for the Maryknoll Lay Missioners.

Karen coordinated various immersion trips while in college – including one to Nicaragua. She served with the Border Servant Corps for one year and has since worked with various non-profit organizations.

She worked at the Deaf Development Program as the Communication Coordinator. On any given day, she was found developing the communications strategy; documenting DDP’s many activities through photos and videos; visiting the provinces to document the field work of DDP; ‘playing Facebook’ as they say in Cambodia to share DDP’s work; writing blogs; creating mini-videos about the Deaf community; welcoming visitors; or coordinating volunteers.

You can check out more of Karen’s work by liking the DDP Facebook pagefollowing them on Twitter, or reading the weekly blog updates.

EPISODE TRANSCRIPT

Megan Fleming: So we’re here today with Karen [Bortvedt] who is the recruitment and relationship manager of the Maryknoll Lay Missioners here at Maryknoll and Karen was a Maryknoll Lay missioner in Cambodia and we were just talking about some of her experiences as well as Father Joe’s experiences at a 50 cent beer place.

Fr. Veneroso: Oh, definitely. This is in the village of Siem Reap.

Megan Fleming: Yep, Siem Reap.

Fr. Veneroso: If I’m pronouncing it … You fly into there if you want to go to the Angkor Wat, which is one of the wonders of the modern world, believe it or not. Not the ancient world. The modern world, the old old ruins of a once great temple that was part of a great empire. But tell us about your time in Cambodia before we get into your stuff you’re doing now.

Karen Bortvedt: So I went to Cambodia in 2014. When I was accepted to Maryknoll Lay Missioners, didn’t know where Cambodia was. I had looked at the different regions and was drawn to Cambodia because I wanted something that would stretch me. So I had studied Spanish, I lived on the U.S, Mexico border. So in my head I said, “I don’t want to go to Spanish speaking country. I want something that’s going to be a challenge.” The Cambodian language, Khmer, is not a Roman based language. So I ended up going with Cambodia and flew on a plane there having never been to Southeast Asia before and was in for all sorts of adventures.

Fr. Veneroso: What stretched you in particular?

Karen Bortvedt: I think the language was definitely sort of the mental stretch I was looking for. I think Cambodia is … It’s a primarily Buddhist country and so being in a primarily Buddhist country, some of the sort of cultural norms and cues that exists coming from a country that’s predominantly Christian were different. So getting to learn about that aspect and those perspectives from those I worked with. Then I actually ended up working with the Cambodian deaf population. So then I learned Cambodian sign language as well when I was there, which for me, I love languages and so it was sort of like mental acrobatics when whoever came up to my desk, I could be speaking in English, it could be Khmer, it could be Cambodian sign language. There could be two people who didn’t both understand the same language, so I’d be interpreting while being a part of the conversation and it was challenging and fun and I miss it a whole lot.

Fr. Veneroso: What impressed you about the Cambodian people?

Karen Bortvedt: Oh gosh. Cambodians that I encountered were very welcoming, especially the Cambodian deaf community, which is where I spent a lot of my time. A lot of the folks that I worked with hadn’t had formal education until they were in their teens, so they didn’t really have a shared language with a lot of other people until that point. But when I came in somebody from a different culture, from a different background, someone who was hearing, it was just assumed I was going to be one of their friends. So they worked really hard to explain their language to me and to put up with my terrible charades before I knew the formal language so that we could communicate. Anytime there was a holiday or we had time off work, they would invite me along and include me in things, especially the holidays when you were supposed to go and spend time with your family or go back to your homeland, I would always have this list of offers from people because they knew that I couldn’t go home to my homeland and so they wanted me to be included in their holidays.

Fr. Veneroso: That’s great. Yeah, I dealt with Buddhist culture in Korea and in Thailand. I’m presuming, but we will clear this up if it’s the same, where being born with a handicap is some … It’s kind of fatalistic, it’s karma and there’s almost a resistance to helping them. Did you find that?

Karen Bortvedt: That’s something that I had heard that existed that people would believe that their child was paying for something they had done in a past life and that’s why they were born deaf and there just wasn’t a lot of understanding around deafness. Even a lot of the families, they didn’t learn sign language even when their loved one learned sign language because they didn’t have an understanding of what deafness meant. So yeah, it was an interesting dynamic. It’s interesting though because even within the U.S there’s a lot of times where people don’t make the effort to learn sign language when they have a deaf family member. So it was hard for me to separate how much of that was related to their Buddhist background as opposed to how much of it is just a lack of understanding in general about deafness.

Fr. Veneroso: Here’s a question. Does the signing in Khmer translate to signing into English or does a whole different-

Karen Bortvedt: They are different languages.

Fr. Veneroso: Different word order or a sign order, I should say?

Karen Bortvedt: Yeah. I’m not fluent in American sign language, which is what we use here in the United States and so I can’t really do justice in terms of the comparison between the two. But each country typically has their own sign language and some countries have multiple sign languages, just like some countries have multiple spoken languages. The idea being that a sign language evolves from the culture in which it exists. So for example, the sign for girl in American sign language is if you stick up your thumb and sort of run it down your cheek like a bonnet string, because women in the U.S used to wear bonnets is my understanding where that comes from. Whereas in Cambodia, there would be no cultural reference for that. Women didn’t wear bonnets in Cambodia, so they sort of place their hand on the top of their head and bring it down to their shoulder indicating long hair.

Fr. Veneroso: It’s the hair? The long hair. I’ll try one. I’m placing my finger to the palms of each hand. Does that mean anything?

Karen Bortvedt: That means Jesus in American sign.

Fr. Veneroso: You got it.

Megan Fleming: There you go.

Fr. Veneroso: Now that’s the American sign language. Jesus in Korean sign language is pounding your fist through your palm, which is pounding the nail. But we did have a man working with sign language and within I would say an hour he was able to make the translation so it was much easier to go from sign to sign than from English to Khmer.

Karen Bortvedt: Yeah. That’s one of the things that I was astounded by with my deaf colleagues, is you could put them in a room with people who were all using a different sign language and they would figure out how to communicate. Whereas if you put a bunch of us hearing people in the same room, we go to our separate corners and pretend we don’t see the other people who speak a different language. The ability to connect with others just really blew me away and was very sort of inspirational, especially as I was struggling to learn the spoken language and the sign language. I was like, “Okay, I’m following their example, and just trying and you figure it out.

Fr. Veneroso: What would the deaf people do with their lives?

Karen Bortvedt: It’s evolved. So when the project was first started by Father Charlie Dittmeier who was serving as Maryknoll Lay Missioner at the time, but as a priest out of Kentucky about 20 years ago, there weren’t a lot of opportunities for jobs, for income, for those sorts of things. So many of the deaf folks that I met would have just stayed with their family if they were lucky, maybe helped with a family business, helped growing rice or whatever crops the family had, helped sending the animals. As more and more folks are getting education, there have been a lot of job opportunities in cafes. There’s a law in Cambodia that requires a certain percentage of your labor force be people with disabilities.

Fr. Veneroso: Oh, good.

Karen Bortvedt: It’s enforced to varying degrees, but from what I’ve heard from my colleagues that are still working there, those companies have realized that hiring deaf people works well for them because most of the folks they’ve hired are good workers and they have a desire to work and they have a desire to have an income and they’re dedicated to their work. So their only disadvantage is that they can’t hear and they communicate in a different way, but if they teach their hearing staff sign language, then they can be very successful in those jobs. So that has helped to increase the opportunities for deaf Cambodians. Some worked in factories, some learn different skills. There’s a barber training school at the deaf development program. Some do make up because for every wedding, if you are a woman, you have to have an extensive amount of makeup applied to your face. So weddings, funerals, hundred day ceremonies after someone dies, all sorts of things. So there’s a constant demand for cosmetology.

Megan Fleming: I think the project that he started, correct me if I’m wrong, has been pretty successful in Cambodia.

Karen Bortvedt: Yeah, we’ve had … I don’t know the numbers off the top of my head anymore, but each year they have the basic education classes that come through. Folks get two years of basic education, they do job training, they have interpreters. The problem that they’re facing now, which is sort of a good problem in the long run, is that a lot of our staff are getting hired on by other organizations. So our interpreters are getting picked up by other places that want someone with an understanding of Cambodian sign language. So they take all of our employees away and then we have to train more. So it’s bad for our organization but great for the Cambodian deaf community because it means more organizations and groups are getting engaged with that population.

Megan Fleming: So from a Maryknoll Lay Missioner perspective, is that sort of the main area where you guys will first send Lay Missioners? Is Cambodia one of the higher options or places of need if you will?For new Lay Missioners?

Karen Bortvedt: We definitely always need folks who are willing to go to Cambodia. At least when I came in, if you requested or had an interest in Cambodia, that’s where they would send you. Because as we were talking about a little bit beforehand, Cambodia is very warm. It’s over 90 degrees most of the year, 70 to a hundred trillion percent humidity. It is hot. So it takes a special person who can put up with that heat, and a lot of people are intimidated by the language and will tend to be drawn towards a Spanish speaking country or even one of our countries where they speak Swahili because they feel that’s more accessible.

Megan Fleming: Right.

Karen Bortvedt: So if someone is enthusiastic about Cambodia, we are enthusiastic to send them there.

Fr. Veneroso: Over the decades, Maryknoll Magazine has run various stories about Cambodia and one of the problems, I’m not sure it’s ever been resolved, is that of land mines. Is that still an issue?

Karen Bortvedt: As far as I understand, having not worked directly with landmines, the number of landmines are decreasing and they are clearing them out. One of the challenges is Cambodia floods every time the rainy season comes. So farmers will think their field has been cleared of land mines and then the water comes in, it moves things around, it moves new things into their fields. From what I’ve seen on maps, it’s sort of being reduced to smaller and smaller areas because there are NGOs that are working in collaboration-

Fr. Veneroso: And unfortunately they’re decreasing because a lot of them are exploding.

Karen Bortvedt: Yeah.

Fr. Veneroso: That’s the other thing. This came under the topic of the war doesn’t end just because the war ends. The casualties to the work can continue tens of years later, if they survived the explosion, the amputees and whatnot.

Karen Bortvedt: Yeah, I think the numbers are decreasing. There’s a Jesuit project that works there specifically with people with disabilities and historically they worked with amputees or folks who had suffered from polio, things like that, had different physical limitations. They’ve had to sort of shift their focus because there just aren’t as many of those people so they don’t have a full class, shall we say, of people coming in, which is great. It means polio is decreasing. It means there’s fewer landmine.

Fr. Veneroso: How long were you there?

Karen Bortvedt: I was there three and a half years.

Fr. Veneroso: So since I was there like three days, you can give me an insight. The thing that did not compute in my mind, I’ve visited a couple of the killing fields and you meet the people and they’re so gentle and so happy. It’s like how did that evil come out of these people? Do you have any insights into that?

Karen Bortvedt: I don’t. I mean, it’s one of the countries, from my understanding, that is showing signs of third-generation PTSD so there’s sort of been the suppressing of that experience. Father Kevin, one of our Maryknoll priests, works with mental health and there’s a lot of issues that sort of come up because that hasn’t been processed. I mean, I don’t know if it was desperation. What can lead to that? I think around the world where you see situations of genocide, what leads a group of people to that?

Fr. Veneroso: Exactly.

Karen Bortvedt: Some of it could be fear, some of it could be different things. Following the wrong person at the wrong. I’ve heard lots of theories, but many Cambodians don’t want to speak about that time. It’s not something … It’s too raw.

Fr. Veneroso: It’s too raw, exactly. Yeah.

Karen Bortvedt: Especially in the U.S, that’s something I’ve found time and time again. I’ve always very enthusiastic when I meet someone who’s Khmer or someone who’s from Cambodia. But I have to be very careful whether or not I bring it up because for many of the people, especially couple of decades older than I am, they came out of Cambodia during the time of the genocide. They were in the refugee camps. Whereas Cambodia for me is a place I love, for them it’s a place that they fear and that they ran from.

So it’s an interesting balance even figuring out how to continue to be connected with the Cambodian community here in the United States.

Megan Fleming: Walk us through how you first heard about Maryknoll and I’d love to know, you’re headed to Cambodia and let’s say you google it and you see the weather temperature is like Father Joe talked about. What were the feelings going through your mind when you first found out you were going to Cambodia?

Karen Bortvedt: So I first actually found out about Maryknoll Lay Missioners back when I was 18. I had done a short term mission experience and I told my youth minister I was just going to lose my passport so that she had to leave me in Mexico because I had so much fun just talking to people and hearing people’s stories. Lucky for her, I didn’t actually abandon my passport. She got me back to the U.S and said, “Hey, this group called Maryknoll” I think it was the affiliates, “We’re going to be speaking at the church.” She said, “You should go check them out. You might be interested.” So I went and at the time I said, “Three and a half years? There’s no way I could be away that long.” Then those seeds sort of get planted and keep coming up. So when I ended up applying to Maryknoll Lay Missioners, I think my family was very uncertain about that life decision. Most of my friends thought it made perfect sense and they were like, “Oh, of course you’d do something like that.” Then when I found out that I was going to Cambodia, I remember I was sitting in my little cubicle, I was just temping at the time and my coworkers knew that the call was going to be coming. So as soon as I got the call I went running through the office and I was like, “I’m going to Cambodia!” and then had to explain to most people where Cambodia was. But it’s one of those things, it’s hard to process exactly what you’re getting into. What does constantly being in 90 plus degree weather with 90% humidity actually feel like? I feel like until you’ve lived through that, it’s hard to understand the extreme heat that is there. But I think initially I was really excited and there were definitely ups and downs throughout the mission time. But I think life sort of has those ups and downs. It was just in a different context and I was very lucky to have the Cambodia deaf community and have other Cambodians that were a part of my support system and my community. So that when I did hit those down slumps, like finding out my head was infested with lice, there were people to pick the nits out for me, shall we say.

Megan Fleming: I guess before that, did you always have an interest in volunteering and sounds like you did that short term mission trip. Did you do anything when you were younger? Were you always helping people? Did you always have a knack for different languages? What sort of brought Karen to be Karen?

Karen Bortvedt: To Maryknoll Lay Missioners?

Megan Fleming: To Maryknoll, yeah.

Karen Bortvedt: I was definitely always a volunteer kid. I was homeschooled, which was nice in the sense that I had all this free time and I chose to spend it at the elementary school after I was in middle school. So I volunteered at the elementary school starting in sixth grade, all the way up through high school. In high school I was a weird volunteer kid. Everyone else was at the football game on Friday night and I was over at the elementary school volunteering or at the retirement home or running can drives. I was a part of key club, which is connected with the Kowanas. So service was always my thing. Especially when I started in college, I started to really see how service could connect with a deeper encounter and build on that. I studied political science and Spanish in college because I was interested in migration and where I grew up, migration looked like farm workers who were from Spanish speaking countries. So that sort of led my major, and then throughout college I did different service learning trips. I worked at the service center. I pretty much went in my freshman year and said, “I want to work here”, and they said, “Well, we don’t have any jobs”, and I said, “Here’s my information. I want to work here.” So second semester freshman year, somebody had resigned and so they called me up and said, “Do you still want to work here?” So that was sort of how my path had evolved. I did a year of post grad service with a Lutheran organization called [Borgia] Servant Corps in El Paso, Texas, and then went on, as I tell people, I tried to join the real world for three years, but still working with nonprofits or universities the entire time. Then was really looking for something that would get me back in a place where I didn’t have to keep faith and service and daily life separate. Because I feel within our culture we’re taught to compartmentalize everything, and that’s just not who I am. I like everything to be interconnected. So coming back to Maryknoll Lay Missioners gave me that opportunity for everything to be unified again and my faith could be shown in my actions in my daily life and I didn’t have to separate them out.

Megan Fleming: I was going to say, where did you grow up? So our listeners know.

Karen Bortvedt: I grew up in Hillsborough, Oregon, which is a suburb of Portland, Oregon.

Megan Fleming: When were you the … Now I’m trying to remember from NCYC when you were the biker, you were delivering messages.

Karen Bortvedt: I was delivering messages?

Megan Fleming: Weren’t you delivering packages on a bike in New York City or DC or something?

Karen Bortvedt: I did use to commute on a bike.

Megan Fleming: Maybe that’s what it was.

Karen Bortvedt: I’d just bought my first car 24 days ago.

Megan Fleming: You guys can’t see Karen, but Karen is this petite, shorter side, powerful young woman and I just am picturing her commuting in busy city streets and just rocking it.

Karen Bortvedt: I protested when I had to finally buy a car.

Fr. Veneroso: Your experience and certainly your positive attitude now makes you the ideal person to fulfill the job you are now in, whose title intrigues me. Say your title again.

Karen Bortvedt: My title is recruitment and relationship manager.

Fr. Veneroso: Recruitment and relationship manager. What does that mean in English?

Karen Bortvedt: I tell people it means that I get to travel around and make friends.

Fr. Veneroso: Isn’t that great? What a great job that is.

Karen Bortvedt: It is.

Fr. Veneroso: Now you’re recruiting obviously for the Maryknoll Lay Missioners.

Karen Bortvedt: Correct.

Fr. Veneroso: So for the sake of our listeners and those who may be interested, this is your time to give a call out to what people should do if they’re interested.

Karen Bortvedt: So our Lay missioners are folks from all walks of life. Our youngest missioner right now I think is 22 or 23. We take folks as youngest 21. Our oldest missionary is 78. So people from different age demographics, married folks, people with families. If folks are interested, you can find us at mklm.org. You can probably find my information through our website and we have all sorts of resources for discernment, discernment retreats. My phone number is up there. It’s a cell phone. So I always tell people, send me text messages. I’ve had an hour and a half conversation with someone once doing discernment questions via text.

Fr. Veneroso: That’s great.

Karen Bortvedt: We try to reach out to people and just help them as they’re trying to consider what comes next, and when they’re in that space thinking, “Maybe I want to do this, this is what’s holding me back”, and help them to really break that open because the more that someone has thought about that before their boots are on the ground in another country, the easier that transition will be. It’s still going to be challenging wherever you go, but if you’ve thought about it, it makes it easier.

Fr. Veneroso: How long have you been in this job?

Karen Bortvedt: A year and a half.

Fr. Veneroso: Have you found any differences in, say, region or age as to interest?

Karen Bortvedt: In terms of region within the U.S?

Fr. Veneroso: The U.S, yeah.

Karen Bortvedt: It’s fascinating. So this year I’ve been on both coasts. I was just in Alaska. I was in Oklahoma, which was a new place for me. It’s just interesting to see because everybody’s definition of mission is a little different depending on where you go. But a lot of times if we can introduce the idea of how Maryknoll’s mission, people get excited about that. They just didn’t know before we came there and that’s one of the reasons why I get really excited. When I got the invitation to go to Oklahoma, I was like, “Yes, this is awesome.” The person was like, “You realize you’re coming to Oklahoma, right?” I was like, “I’ve never been to Oklahoma. This is going to be great.” It was three days of multiple retreats and speaking at masses and just interacting with people and it was amazing because it was a lot of people who hadn’t heard of Maryknoll before, but we’re really excited about what it is we do. So those are my favorite parts of the job. There’s some places where Maryknoll’s more well known and those are easier places to go in a sense. But maybe it’s the missioner in me. Those are the places I want to go.

Fr. Veneroso: That’s it. We go where we’re not know.

Megan Fleming: Now do you have to be Catholic in order to join?

Karen Bortvedt: You do have to be Catholic in order to be Maryknoll Lay missioner. We have shorter term immersion trips that you can be of any religious belief, but for the longer term contract-

Fr. Veneroso: What would those entail, the shorter term mission?

Karen Bortvedt: The shorter term, their mission are immersion trips and so there are 10 days to two weeks and you go, you meet the missioners, you see the work, you go to places like Angor Wat and see them if you go to Cambodia, and so you get to learn about the countries where we serve, encounter the people we serve alongside and come back and hopefully help to build bridges between what you’ve seen and where you’re from, connecting places like Cambodia and Oklahoma.

Megan Fleming: Karen, did you have any kind of transformational experience in Cambodia that really was just a change in your life where you remember before that event happened and then your life after that event happened?

Karen Bortvedt: That’s a great question. I think one of the stories that I often tell was working with my colleague, [Leeka 00:21:41], who was one of our hearings staff members and she had been on staff for probably, I don’t even know, 10 years before I got there. And had this deep passion for working within the deaf community, but especially for helping to clear space so that the deaf voices could be heard. Because a lot of times they weren’t offered a seat at the table, but Leeka would stand up in meetings and just rail about sort of autism and hearing supremacy and things like that in ways that were not culturally normal within Cambodia or for a woman within Cambodia. So she’s just this fiery personality. She got promoted to a director role right around the time I was going to be leaving, probably six months, nine months beforehand, and she came to me one day and was really upset because of something that had happened and she felt like she needed to take it to the bosses. But within Cambodia there’s very much a hierarchy. You go to your boss, they go to their boss, they go to their boss. You would never just go straight to the top, which was something I had to learn because that’s not how I operate. But she was really upset about this and she was crying, and then she was laughing and then she was crying and I was like, “Okay, well what do you think you need to do?” She walked through it and I did what I did most of the time I was there, which was just kind of be a cheerleader and be like, “Yeah, that’s great, you should do that.” She was like, “I just don’t know”, and I said, “Well, do you want me to go and talk to the boss?” Because again, I’m an overly empowered woman from the United States who’s like, “I’ll talk to anybody and tell them anything that needs to be said.” But she looked at me and she said, “No, I need to be brave now because you won’t always be here, and so I need to learn to be brave now.” It still chokes me up every time I tell that story because that for me was what mission was all about. It’s about showing up and being a cheerleader and sort of being that support for somebody so that they feel empowered to use their own voice. So that would probably be one of the times that, as you can tell, still hits me in the chest every time I think about it and that she’s gone on. She still works there and is doing phenomenal work and oversees the child protection policy group and the deaf leadership group and all kinds of different things.

Fr. Veneroso: Now when you came back, usually when the missioner returns to the States, there’s a grinding of gears. There’s a reverse culture shock as we call it. Did you have that experience?

Karen Bortvedt: Yes. So I am not someone who’s good at slowing down. Also, probably a common trait among missioners I’ve met, but I was very intentional when I came back and had planned four months to give myself space. So I had lined up family members and friends couches for that time to create space to process. But one of the things … I mean the language was one thing that I found very overwhelming because I’d been used to working in a trilingual environment where it’s very easy to tune things out if you want to. Well, I came back to the U.S and so being in crowds where I could understand every conversation that was going on around me, it was overwhelming and I’m an extroverted person but I couldn’t handle it. One of the other things was very hard for me was being in spaces where everybody else in the room was Anglo because I had spent three and a half years oftentimes being the only Anglo in that group and so when I was in that space I was very uncomfortable and it was interesting to have conversations with friends of mine who don’t identify as Anglo because they wouldn’t even notice and I could tell you exactly how many non white people were in that room. I would walk in and could just … There’s two. There’s only one person and that’s what I’d usually say. There’s only one other non white person here and they’d be like, “You are white.” For listeners, I am white. I am very Anglo, but in my head I’d gotten so used to just being around all my Cambodians except when I was in Maryknoll gatherings, that it was a hard transition and there’s still some times where it makes me uncomfortable.

Fr. Veneroso: I remember coming back from Korea after … I think the longest was like four years when I was away, and going into my house and turning on the hot and cold running water and going, “Wow, hot water comes right out of the tap”, because it wasn’t that common then. Now of course Korea has a lot, but I’m sure in Cambodia too. You learn not to take those things for granted.

Karen Bortvedt: Yeah. A lot of our water was hot though because the water is stored on the roof.

Fr. Veneroso: It’s always hot.

Megan Fleming: I mean, even from the weeks, the month I should say, that I spent in Tanzania, I remember when I came back and that was for a much shorter amount of time compared to both of you. But I felt so selfish sort of. I had a lot of guilt where I came back to the States and I came back to obviously all of the first world things that we have access to and I remember going out with friends and they were just complaining about different things. I just remember sitting there quiet and I’m just like, “I can’t believe this is the conversation we’re having where people are complaining about first world problems.” It was a very hard transition for me when I first came back because I did, I felt a lot of guilt about it and I didn’t really know how to process this because I wanted to really … I don’t want to say smack someone, but I wanted to kind of shake them a little bit and say, “This is not the end of the world what you’re complaining about.” I don’t know if you guys had similar experiences.

Fr. Veneroso: Well, I remember coming back … Well first I was in the Peace Corps before I joined Maryknoll and it was in Korea. It’s such a life altering experience, and of course the people you go through this with, you’re a special bond there. So I come back and I got all this enthusiasm about sharing what I experienced and they’ll say, “How was it?”, and they realize that’s a rhetorical question.

Karen Bortvedt: Yes.

Fr. Veneroso: They really didn’t want to hear the details at that point. So you start by telling the story and you realize you’re losing them. You say, “It was fine”, but eventually, eventually that settles down and then they start to ask on at their speed, “What was it like?”, and then you get to share your story.

Karen Bortvedt: That’s the joy of working for Maryknoll, is I get paid to tell the stories people want to hear.

Fr. Veneroso: Isn’t that amazing?

Karen Bortvedt: That’s what I always tell people. I go to a church and they actually want the full answer, not just, “It was fine.” So it’s a good a way to transition out and hold those stories and continue to do that bridging.

Fr. Veneroso: The Holy father, Pope Francis, has called for a extraordinary month of mission. Is that what the title is, in October? What would you say to your average baptized Catholic about the duty to be a missioner, no matter where they are and no matter who they’re talking to?

Karen Bortvedt: I would say that it’s about encounter and deep listening. So it doesn’t have to be a world away. It can be the person you see walking down the street that you say, “Something about that strikes me as odd” or you might say, “Oh, that person seems a little weird.” I feel like is what we say a lot here. Instead of just having that thought, engaging and trying to learn.

Fr. Veneroso: Exactly. I know a lot of people think when they hear mission, you’ve got to cross the geographical border, but there’s a lot more borders out there that divide us. Racial, ethnic. Get out of your comfort zone. That’s the thing about being a missioner. You’ve got to leave your comfort zone and talk to the person or engage the person or listen to who’s different than you are.

Karen Bortvedt: Yeah, and be okay with disagreeing because you’re not always going to agree and you’re not always going to understand.

Fr. Veneroso: And they’re not necessarily going to be grateful for your coming over.

Megan Fleming: Anything else? Anything? All right. Thank you, Karen, for being with us..

Fr. Veneroso: This was fun.

Karen Bortvedt: Thanks so much.