Sucre Mission Reflections
At the end of each Mass the presider exhorts us to: “Go forth, to love and serve the Lord.” How we serve depends on our talents, situations, and opportunities. We serve the Lord by serving His people, ordinarily our family, friends, those we work with; on occasion, a stranger. But sometimes, the Lord calls us to move out of our familiar surroundings and challenges us to serve in a place or in a way that is different from what we are used to.
Last spring, five members of St. Cletus parish answered that call and spent two weeks serving the poor in Sucre, Bolivia. They were part of a multifaceted team which provided medical care, helped build houses, and worked in the preschool, orphanage, and soup kitchen. Let us tell you about it.
This experience emphasized, for me, that God does not expect us, as individuals, to change the world. Instead, he expects us to make a difference at least in one person. That is precisely what this mission was about; helping to change the lives of people one person at a time. Individually, we can do a lot of good for another, but what I witnessed, was that when two or more people are gathered in the name of Jesus, some sort of divine multiplication takes place. Suddenly, the limits of human generosity, love, and care seem to disappear. The construction and medical team brought, among many other things, hope, smiles, and comfort to the poor of Sucre. Most of all though, we brought the presence of Jesus; which in itself made this trip worth all the effort.
Being a part of the Bolivia mission team was truly a life-changing experience for me. It is so hard to put into words what the trip was like, because it changed my heart, and humbled me in ways that are hard to express. The biggest issue that I faced was giving up control to God. Early on, I questioned whether it was my will, or His will for me to go. What value could I bring? When I sought Father Clark’s counsel on this question, his response was, “you’re going, aren’t you?” It was that simple. I was going because God called me. These lyrics from “The Summons” song say it all for me:
Will you come and follow Me if I but call your name?
Will you go where you don't know and never be the same?
Will you let My love be shown? Will you let My name be known,
Will you let My life be grown in you and you in me?
So, my encouraging word to you is to listen for God’s call. You’ll know it, because your heart will burn with a longing to serve the Lord. Have courage! Answer His call! Give freely of your time, talents and treasures to serve the Lord in this very special way. It was an honor and privilege to be a member of the 2010 Bolivian mission team because, through my presence and love for the Lord, I was able to be the face of God to the people we served. I will never be the same.
I have had the privilege of serving in Bolivia three separate times. Each time I was influenced most by the children. Whenever you see images of any third world country, they show the faces of children because they are the most vulnerable and needy, and suffer the most from poverty. The time that I spent with these children has truly affected me. They give you everything when they can provide nothing but love. They exceed any expectation you can ever have. You go on mission to share your wealth and knowledge with others. Honestly, you return with more knowledge and a better spiritual wealth than you could ever expect. You may not speak the same language, or come from the same place, but you are still able to connect with them. I heard from someone that mission ruins you for life. Reflect on what that truly means to you.
For me, mission is many things:
- Mission is formation meetings of prayer, discussion, and getting to know the 30 people I will live and work with for two weeks. At the end of those two weeks they will be family.
- Mission is packing 30 duffel bags of medical supplies and then pleading with the custom officials in Santa Cruz to let us bring them into the country. Without those sutures, medications, instruments and surgical packs we cannot operate or treat the clinic patients.
- Mission is walking into the hospital in Sucre and greeting friends that I only get to see once a year. It is working with the doctors, nurses, and others who take care of the poor all year round.
- Mission is using the talent and skills I was given to operate on people who otherwise could not afford the surgery they need. This is what I trained for -to take care of people.
- Mission is Mass each morning which renews my spirit.
- Mission is talking at each dinner each night -- sharing experiences, fears, joys, our successes and disappointments, our hopes and plans for the next day.
- Mission is the medical student who calls me his teacher. He has returned each year for 5 years to work with us. This year he starts a surgical residency.
- Mission is trying to explain what mission is to those who have never experienced it.
During my many years as a teacher, I have seen many of my students travel to other countries to improve the health and living conditions of the very poor. It is one thing to show slides, flash pictures and videos on a screen, and talk about all the poverty and hardship in the world. It was another thing entirely to place myself in the middle of it, to see extreme poverty with my own eyes, know it, and feel its effect on all those it touches. A two-week mission to a third world country is truly life-changing. We were not there to make great changes, but rather to make a small difference with great love. We worked on construction projects, in orphanages, in schools, on trying to set up a Fair Trade program, and with basic public health issues. Our real purpose was to be with the people and share the love of God. How incredible it was to see the joy and depth of belief in a people who have so little. I was given the privilege of working with people from many parishes and all walks of life, who banded together to share the lives of the poor in Sucre. We became and remain a family. There are so many stories of the children with whom we played and sang with, of the rocks we carried with the Bolivian women, of the trenches we dug while working on the foundation of a one-room adobe dwelling, and of dancing the traditional Bolivian dances. I was humbled by the passion, faith, and commitment shown by those in the barrios of Sucre. I am forever changed in the way I look at the world, and in my expectations of it.
You are being called. Where will you go? How will you serve?
A trip to South America is not for everyone. But there are many other places and opportunities.