Janice Andersen

Director of Christian Life
Christian Life

Janice Andersen has been on staff at The Basilica of Saint Mary since 1994, working with programs that serve our community and advocate for justice.  She currently serves as the Director of Christian Life, overseeing ministries that provide charity and care, justice formation, and volunteer ministry. She began her work as the Director of Social Ministry, working with Basilica St. Vincent de Paul to collaboratively build programs that offer relationship and service to those in need, and advocate for justice.  Janice serves on the Boards of City House and From Death To Life. She holds Masters Degrees in special education and theology, and is a certified Spiritual Director. 

(612) 317-3477

Recent Posts by Janice Andersen

One of the core elements of our Basilica community is the mission and work of our St. Vincent de Paul Ministry. In many ways, each member of our parish community is part of St. Vincent de Paul at The Basilica. Whether you volunteer, donate money, pray for the ministry, or simply live the mission in your caring response to our neighbors who are suffering—you are part of our St. Vincent de Paul Ministry. We are all Vincentians.  

Vincent de Paul faced challenges we can relate to. His life brought him both success and privilege. Yet he also experienced doubt and darkness. He came to intimately know we find Christ in the suffering and poor. He knew the joy and challenge of life choices that bring us toward Christ. Indeed, Vincentian spiritually invites us to see those who suffer as our teachers and mentors. Vincentians believe true religion is found among those who are often excluded—as we attend to their needs, they inspire us and evangelize us.

Vincent de Paul articulates five virtues that help us live the Gospel:

Simplicity
This is the virtue St. Vincent loved most. “It is my gospel,” he says. Hear how St. Vincent describes simplicity: “Jesus, the Lord, expects us to have the simplicity of a dove. This means giving a straightforward opinion about things in the way we honestly see them, without needless reservations. It also means doing things without any double-dealing or manipulation, our intention being focused solely on God.”

Humility
The Gospels teach the kingdom of God belongs to the poor in spirit. Provocatively: God resists the proud and raises up the humble. Vincent reminds us to stand before God humbly in our daily prayer, and have the attitude of a servant. Humility is understood as standing in awe and wonder. It is a stance where we can learn from everyone. 

Meekness
Meekness is often construed as weakness. Yet Jesus challenges—the meek will inherit the earth and find joy. St. Vincent takes this to heart and teaches that meekness develops as warmth, approachability, openness, deep respect for the person of others. Vincent tells us that he was irritable by nature. Continually, he implores God to change his heart: “Grant me a kindly and benign spirit…” 

Surrender and Willing to Sacrifice
Jesus calls us to follow him even unto death. He asks us to die to sin daily. St. Vincent challenges us to be faithful to our duties of serving those who suffer—to the point we prefer them when they conflict with other more pleasurable things.

Zeal
Vincent loved, with a burning love. “Let us beg God to enkindle in our hearts a desire to serve him…” We are called to persevere as servants of those who suffer—remembering always we are cooperating in the work of the Spirit. We must strive to live a balanced life, so that we might have the energy that nourishes zeal.

Together, we strive to grow in faith and live boldly the Gospel of love. We are all Vincentians. 

During this Year of Mercy, it seems particularly jarring to hear stories of families fleeing violence in Syria: The unimaginable terror at home turning into unimaginable terror on the trip toward safety. What state of desperation would lead a family on this journey? 

The whole experience of migration in the Middle East and Europe seems unreal, as I live safely in Minnesota. Vulnerable people fleeing for their lives. Countries welcoming—Countries closing their borders. Fear everywhere.

I want to help. But it seems unlikely that I can have any impact. So I wonder, what is the situation on the U.S. border? What is happening in my own country? How are we treating those escaping state sponsored violence or life threatening poverty?

To find answers to these questions, I joined a small group of Basilica parishioners on a trip to the Mexico/US border. We met with groups living and working on the border, and heard stories of people seeking shelter in our country. I learned so much about things I never hear on mainstream media. While I am still processing what I experienced, I am confident about two things: This is an issue our faith calls us to be actively engaged in.  And, this is an issue that is very relevant to us in Minnesota. 

To be sure, this is a complicated issue. The issue of immigration intersects with a myriad of laws and government policies. It taps into conflicting emotions on national identity. Yet, hearing people share their stories of desperation, and witnessing the physical drama of deportation, I became convicted of the simple truth that we must enter the confusion, learn, and get involved. We must act on behalf of the most vulnerable—to serve, accompany, and defend the migrants on our border. Complicated, yes. But through the lens of faith, a bit more clear.

I learned several things on this trip to the U.S. southern border:

I learned about harsh and punitive policies and laws the U.S. government has put in place, with the expectation that this will deter migration.

I also learned when one is desperate enough—fleeing violence or oppression—these policies or laws are not effective. It is absolutely beyond my imagination to understand the despair one must feel to cross the Mediterranean Sea, or the Sonora desert. Yet, this is the plight of our sisters and brothers all around our globe—including on our southern border. Our neighbors are desperate and need our help. How shall we respond?

I learned, while the Sonora desert is one of the most lush and beautiful deserts in the world, it has also become one of the deadliest corridors for migrants. Since the mid-1990s, at least 6,000 men, women, and children have died trying to cross the US/Mexico border.  In an attempt to deter migration, government policies have funneled migrants into the most dangerous and remote areas of the border.

I learned as immigration laws and borders have changed over time—it is now a felony to re-enter the United States without proper papers. A felony crime. As a first-generation American, I am troubled by the criminalization of migration. As a Christian, I am appalled. 

I invite you to join me over this next year to learn more about immigration, and to find ways to get involved. Together with migrant brothers and sisters in our community, we can work our way through this complicated issue. Pope Francis states, “Migrants trust that they will encounter acceptance, solidarity, and help, that they will meet people who will sympathize with the distress and tragedy experienced by others.” Let us live up to this trust. 

Are you interested in working on the refugee family committee, but a don't quite know what to expect? Cate Anderson, the Volunteer Coordinator for Refugee Service within Lutheran Social Services, has provided some answers to some of the common questions that volunteers may have.

  • What is something that people might assume about working with refugees that is usually proven wrong?

 One common assumption about working with refugees comes from the image that many of us have of people in refugee camps. It is easy to feel like refugees are weakened by their experiences or think of them as being exclusively sad or damaged. It doesn’t take much to fall into thinking about refugees in a two-dimensional way because of how they are portrayed in the media. While this assumption comes from a place of compassion and care, the reality that we see every day in this work is refugees’ amazing resilience.

Many refugees we meet have been strengthened in many ways by their experiences in the camp. Families may have drawn closer in their relationships with one another. A person’s faith within their own religious tradition may have been deepened. I certainly don’t want to underplay the gravity of the difficulties and dangers of living in a camp. However, we also constantly witness the beautiful paradox of refugees who, after going through such loss and suffering, find joy, laughter, and love in their lives. This complexity is hard to imagine until you meet someone who happens to be a refugee. We’re so grateful that your community at the Basilica has courageously said, “Let’s get to know our newest neighbors and challenge our assumptions head on!”

  •  How do you work through language barriers?

 Language barriers often play a big role in the relationships built between co-sponsors and the families they are matched with. Running into this particular issue is a good exercise for those of us who speak English fluently because it shows us how incredibly frustrating it can be. While it is difficult, we do our best to equip the mentoring team with training and tools to work with language barriers. Oftentimes, volunteers remark that after the first couple visits where there isn’t a common language, things get easier. You get used to it and find ways to make it work together. Adults will also be attending English Language Learning (ELL or ESL) classes and the kids will attend public school. The practice with the mentoring group can make a big difference in the progress made by the family in hurdling over a major barrier in their lives.

  •  What's the most rewarding part about doing this work?

 One of the most rewarding parts of working with refugees is that we get to actively participate in building our community together. The connection we make with a family going through the whirlwind transition of rebuilding life here in the United States is a precious one. It’s a privilege to walk alongside families as they figure it all out. It satisfies a moral calling to help those in need – in a different turn of events, we could be in their position and they could be in ours.

But beyond that, working with new Minnesotans gives us the opportunity to learn about different cultures, religions and values and to find our common ground as neighbors. Together, we can make our Minnesota community that much stronger and connected, simply by getting to know each other on a one-on-one basis. The most rewarding part of this work is the opportunity to not only learn about and love your neighbor, but also to grow together and love your community as a whole!

  •  What should people know before they get started? 

 One thing to keep in mind is that sometimes this work gets a bit messy! Coming from a Norwegian-American heritage which likes to keep things organized, timely, and rule-abiding, I’ve learned first-hand how important flexibility and humor are in this line of work. Some of the resettlement program is very black-and-white. For example, there are certain time deadlines for tasks such as applying for a social security number for the refugee within seven working days.

 Most other parts are less clear. We usually only get notice of a family’s arrival about two weeks or so in advance. Language barriers can call for moments of creative problem solving. Poverty presents exhausting Catch-22s. So, as we run into the little things that frustrate us, we can learn a lot from refugee families about what is really important. These experiences (and the messiness, I admit it!) encourage us to let go and “go with the flow” in a way that can be both liberating and rewarding.

  •  What's the most common concern potential volunteers have? And how do you work around that?

 One common concern that potential volunteers have is that they don’t feel quite qualified enough. They wonder if they know enough about the public transportation system, the cultural norms of the family, or the county system. The first step, I remind volunteers, is twofold. We don’t expect you to know everything, and we certainly don’t expect you to fix everything. As long as you’re someone who has lived in the U.S. for a good amount of time and knows how to navigate the basics, you are well-qualified!

 While mentor groups provide lots of good guidance to their mentees, it’s also good to remember that your role is not meant to be a fixer of all problems. Instead, we hope it will be an exchange where both parties learn a great deal. We also work with this worry with the help of our case managers who take care of the human services side of helping out the family. They know how to navigate the system and will perform the core services which range from securing affordable, clean and secure housing to enrolling kids in school.

In December 2015, The Basilica community whole-heartedly agreed to co-sponsor a refugee family with Lutheran Social Services (LSS). In preparation for their arrival, we held a second collection to gather funds needed for housing and other basic needs. We developed a team of dedicated, talented, and compassionate volunteers to organize the efforts and work with the family. We worked with LSS to set up their apartment and collected various household items to make their transition as easy as possible.

The Family Has Arrived!
On February 21, 2016, a group of Basilica parishioners were excited to gather at the airport to welcome the refugee family to Minnesota. Prepared with welcome signs, U.S. and Somali flags, new winter coats and gloves, and open hearts, Basilica parishioners greeted the family and began a journey of support and solidarity.

The family is originally from Somalia. Two parents, two teenage daughters and two sons in their early 20s arrived on February 21. Several older children immigrated separately a few years ago.

After two days of settling in, The Basilica mentoring team joined LSS in a meeting with the family. They began to share stories with one another and build relationships. Through a translator, one of the young men said he knew this transition would be a very difficult move, and he didn’t know if they would be able to make it. However, after meeting the people here to help them, he knows it will work. It was a humbling and sacred meeting.

The Basilica team began to learn how to help the family in their transition. All of their goals involve education and work. The family is deeply grateful for the opportunity to be in Minnesota and said they are committed to “Doing their very best.” 

Basilica volunteers are excited to work with LSS to help them reach their goals. We invite our whole community to hold the family in prayer over the months ahead.

The Family’s Journey
During the violent civil war and famine in Somalia, this family left their homeland in 1992 and settled into the newly established Dadaab Refugee camp in Kenya. The United Nations set up Dadaab in one of the harshest terrains in the Kenyan desert in 1991, housing 90,000 refugees escaping Somalia’s civil war. Today, Dadaab is the largest refugee camp in the world, home to close to 500,000 people. 

The children in the family that arrived in Minnesota on February 21 were born in the Dadaab Refugee camp. Even with lives beginning and ending, Dadaab remains purely temporary living. No permanent features of community life can officially be established: housing, employment, schooling, or commerce. While canvas tents are provided by the United Nations, they deteriorate in the sun after several years. Houses are then fortified with twigs and occasional tin roofs. Most homes stand less than six feet tall. While people are protected from civil war, security requires little opportunity to leave the camp. To learn more about the refugee camp, visit dadaabstories.org.

Several years ago, after living in the Dadaab Refugee Camp over twenty years, the family was transferred to the Kakuma Refugee Camp to prepare to immigrate to the United States. They have been awaiting the transition for a long time. They arrived tired, yet glad to be in the United States.  

How to Get Involved:
During this Year of Mercy, there are many ways to get involved in this ministry. There are several committees established to coordinate these opportunities:

  • Mentoring Team: to work closely with the family
  • Collections: opportunities to collect and package supplies for refugee families
  • Education and advocacy: to provide forums to learn more about refugees and immigration
  • Communication: to share information with The Basilica community throughout this partnership

LSS will resettle about 625 individuals in the Metro and St. Cloud areas in 2016.  Because they arrive in the U.S. with few belongings, there is an immediate need to provide them with basic personal and household items. In the coming months, we will organize several events to give our Basilica community an opportunity to collect and package the most-needed items.  

On a Sunday afternoon in early April, The Basilica and Masjid An-Nur will co-sponsor an event on Islamophobia in our community. Our speaker will be Dr. Todd Green, author of the book The Fear of Islam: An Introduction to Islamophobia in the West and Associate Professor of Religion at Luther College, Decorah, Iowa. This is a timely and important discussion for our community. 

The Basilica is already making plans to sponsor another family later in the Spring. If you would like to be involved in this ministry in any way, email Tracy at tracy.droessler@gmail.com or call 612.317.3477.

According to the United Nations, there are currently 43 million uprooted victims of conflict and persecution worldwide. Rooted in love and faith, The Basilica community is committed to a compassionate response in whatever ways possible. Look for upcoming announcements about how you can help this effort!

God Is With Us

In July 2013, Pope Francis gave a homily highlighting three “simple” attitudes: hopefulness, openness to being surprised by God, and living in joy. Recognizing that difficulties are present in the life of every individual and all communities, we are invited to kindle these three attitudes in life.

Hopefulness: “In the face of those moments of discouragement we experience in life… I would like to say forcefully: always know in your heart that God is by your side; he never abandons you! Let us never lose hope! The ‘dragon,’ evil, is present in our history, but it does not have the upper hand. The one with the upper hand is God, and God is our hope!”  
We are invited and challenged to identify the ways we are drawn away from trust and hope, and to let go of our need for control. There are times in each of our lives that we become discouraged. There are experiences that challenge us all. Let us recognize these experiences and moments, and remember that we do not have to deal with them alone. God gives us what and who we need, when we need it. God is with us.

Openness to being surprised by God: “Anyone who is a man or woman of hope…knows that even in the midst of difficulties God acts and surprises us….But he asks us to let ourselves be surprised by his love, to accept his surprises. Let us trust God!” 

We are invited and challenged to find ways to continually draw nearer to our God, to nurture and deepen our relationship with God as individuals and as a community. Once again, we are asked to let go of our need for control—to yield to the ever present goodness of God. Ultimately, we are asked to accept the incredible reality that we are God’s beloved, and God cares deeply for us. 
The simplicity of this request belies the challenge often experienced in living it out. It is amazing how many ways we find to doubt our own goodness or the goodness of another. There seems like endless ways we build walls between ourselves and God, between ourselves and our neighbor. So often, we place our trust in material and worldly powers—actively creating facades of protection that separate our selves from God’s reconciling and healing love. God is with us, and will surprise us—if we trust and open our eyes to see. 

Living in joy: “If we walk in hope, allowing ourselves to be surprised by the new life that Jesus offers us, we have joy in our hearts, and we cannot fail to be witnesses of this joy…If we are truly in love with Christ and if we sense how much he loves us, our heart will ‘lighten up’ with a joy that spreads to everyone around us.” 
We are invited and challenged to accept the profound gift of God’s love in our day-to-day life and embrace joy. As a spiritual discipline, joy is a powerful attitude that goes beyond the familiar experience of being happy. Our faith is full of sacred stories of people who have experienced deep trials and tribulations, yet emit joy. We may know people in our lives who have many struggles and hardships, yet radiate a deep joy. The joy appears to come from someplace deep—beyond the realities we can see. It is not simply a happiness. Perhaps we have had glimpses of this in our lives, as well. Once again, we are invited to let go of control—finding ways to choose joy, and let go of fear, resentment, or an attitude of competitive scarcity.

Our invitation and our challenge is to live a faithful life that puts our hope in God, recognizes the daily gifts of God’s love, and thereby finding joy amid the realities of everyday life. 

What do you need to grow in these three simple, yet profound, attitudes? How does The Basilica community support you in your growth? How do you support others? As we live as people of God, rooting our hopes and expectations in our faith, let us focus our lives on these attitudes and grow in love together. 

 

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