i want to serve

I walked into her room. She recognized me and started to cry.

I pulled up a chair and took her hand.

“I want to serve.”

That’s what she said.

She’s dying. Colon cancer. Four years. A couple remissions.

Fran and Phil Mortensen have lived in Fort Wayne for a long time. They have spent forty years focusing on people with needs. To use Phil’s words, he stirred up the riot and Fran got it organized.

They started a church called Love Church. In time, they started Love Community Center. They started a church that would actually care about people who lived at the margins of downtown Fort Wayne. They had services, which is what most people think makes it church.


They provided meals, they gathered clothing and had a clothing bank with racks and hangers and smiling faces. Tthey built a workshop to teach people how to make stuff, they gathered food, they taught people how to use computers, they loved. While Phil went around to other churches to get support and then preached and cared for people at Love Church, Fran made it work.

She kept track of money. She made it stretch. She called people. She organized. She planned. She set things up. She laid things out. She could be as tenacious as a bulldog, but because she cared so much, because she loved Jesus.

I got to know her about four years ago through a monthly networking thing for nonprofit ministry leaders. I spoke occasionally.  She decided she liked me. She constantly encouraged me. During a job transition for me, she prayed, yes, and she told me. And she talked about being encouraged by talking with me.

To be honest, I didn’t understand that.

Jesus talks about loving the unloved, caring for the sick, visiting the prisoners, clothing the naked, feeding the hungry. I acknowledge the concept. Fran did it. She never had any college training, but her understanding of practical love was at the graduate level. Anything I’ve thought about doing that would be about caring, Fran did or made happen.

For Fran to care so much about me was like an ant being noticed by, well by anything.

I don’t think she understood how much I was in awe of her. I think that she would laugh at me, a laugh of affection and modesty and incredulity.

Because here she is, after 40 years of pouring out her life into serving, in her last days, likely her last hours, saying “I want to serve.”

I assured her that she was. I assured her that she had. I assured her that she had been all the Fran that God built her to be. I assured her that she would be serving again in a little bit, this time without the cancer, without the pain. I talked to her about Martha, a person who worshiped by doing, who organized, who planned, who was practical.

And I let her sleep while I held her hand.

Fran gets “so what?” Fran decided that living a life of caring for and about others, making the name “love Church” true, was a so what that matters.

I prayed. I kissed her forehead. I stood up.

“I love you, Jon.”

I love you, Fran.


14 responses to “i want to serve

  1. I have tears in my eyes as I read this. Fran IS serving…and you’re helping her do it by showing the rest of us an example of what it really means to be a follower of Jesus. Thank you so much for sharing her special story with us. I look forward to getting to know Fran in Heaven some day.

  2. just wanted to say fran is a very special woman to me i have know her for 10 yr or so she is always helping others and wanting to serve the lord fran we love you

  3. thank you diana. fran would understand your passion against trafficking,

  4. thanks for stopping by to say that, Brian.

  5. God help me to be a Fran. I have prayed for her for 5 years, though I have never met her. What a legacy of the love of Jesus.

  6. Thanks for introducing me to Fran.

  7. Indeed the world would be a better place if there were more Frans. By sharing her story with us she continues to serve as we all are moved to serve in a real way as she has.

  8. Fran has been such an inspiration to me. She may be little, but she’s been mighty, and I have loved her sense of humor even in rough times. What an example of Christ’s love she is!

  9. If only we could get that kind of dedication and service out of the rest of the world. Thanks for sharing this with us. It is a great example of sacrifice that will be hard to live up to.

  10. Jim. thanks for the great post on writing and grieving.

  11. Philip – thanks for understanding how this is still serving.
    Becky, thanks for the personal connection.
    Chris – well, i think it is up to you and me to show that kind of
    dedication. You with me?

  12. Pingback: Fran died. It’s okay. « Levite Chronicles

  13. Martha Casselman

    You asked which of your 2008 blogs I remember – and without hesitation I have to say that this one about Fran Mortensen is one I will always treasure. I can’t express the deluge of feelings that come over me when I think of her. I miss her face and laughter especially when I’m working in the Love Church bldg. – her thoughtfulness and caring intensity when I have an idea I’d like to run by her…
    Yet I have joy in my heart as I remember her and think back on some truly special memeories. I am reminded in new ways now by those memories that I have the responsibility and privilege to be a committed servant for my Lord Jesus, too. I’m thankful to know that she is now at Home with Jesus and one day I will see her again. I wonder if she’ll have red hair in heaven… I’ve always liked red hair – so I’d like to have red hair in heaven, too – with Fran, my precious Sister in Christ.

    I thank you, Jon, for writing so tenderly about Fran. I thank you, God, for sharing her with me for a time.