There are certain things that I have discovered here in Bolivia that are totally normal to most people but I am not used to. The churches in Bolivia usually have their doors open during the services and there are also a lot of stray dogs everywhere. One wouldn’t think that these two occurrences would be connected but my first mass in Montero Tom pointed to something and said look. I turned to see a stray dog wandering around inside the church. Since then I don’t think I have been to a single mass where there hasn’t been at least one dog that wanders in and out or comes in and stays the whole time. But, here that is normal and people aren’t usually easily distracted by it. Mass though is so beautiful and lively. This last weekend was Cochabamba day which included two marches/parades, two masses, party after party, and two days off of school. One of the girls invited me to go watch her and her senior classmates in the march with all of the schools around. I went with Hermana (Sister) Marlene and two of the senior girls to an area of Cochabamba near the airport. There were tons of people everywhere and just as many vendors trying to sell knickknacks and various types of food. Some would call it overwhelming but I just call it city life in Bolivia. Before the march began I stood with the girls, sisters, and some of the teachers. I started to feel like their mom there to cheer them on when two of the girls asked me to carry their stuff for them while they marched. I probably looked a little silly walking down the sidewalk with so many bags but being white I always stick out like a sore thumb anyway so I don’t mind. And if anyone asks I can just say “That’s what we do in America!” Haha I haven’t actually used that line but I know many other missioners who do in order to make the Bolivians think that they aren't as odd as they really are.Both of the masses that I attended at our beautiful church here in Itocta were filled with people and as an added bonus the music was played by a Mariachi band! In the past I have only thought of Mariachi bands playing at parties such as cincineras and holidays but was pleasantly surprised to see them in place of the choir at mass. I am really enjoying the Bolivian music that is played at mass which typically includes singing, guitars, and drums (even at the daily masses), even though I understand very little of what is being played.
Two of the Salesian sisters here in Itocta. The one on the left is the cook for the community, really goofy, and adorable. This day was the one on the right's birthday so of course we celebrated and ate well. She is also funny, silly, and has taken to calling me Winnie the Pooh.
I try to go to daily mass with the sisters every Tuesday and Thursday which consists of waiting outside at 6:30 with the sisters and a few of the girls from the Casa San Miguel (house for girls who used to be in the Hogar but are over 18 and are still being supported by donors) for Padre Pepe to pick us up in his red refurbished Bolivian van. Then he drives us to one of two nearby areas (Primera de Mayo or Pucharita) where there churches and other sisters from the same order. Living and working in the Hogar mass is a perfect and necessary opportunity for me to get away, spend some time with God in community with others, and remember my purpose and mission here. This week Monica and I went to town to work on my VISA paperwork and so I got to walk through part of the city to the terminal where there are many truffis/micros/taxis and even more people going every which way. After about 10 minutes the 104 truffi finally showed up and I hopped in. By the time we were about half way home the truffi (which that size van in the U.S. would normally fit about 7 people) had at least 20 people including some who were standing. But anyway, I caught my truffi late so I was worried that I wouldn’t make it back in time to leave with the sisters for mass. As we arrived outside the Hogar I got out and started running hoping they were just on the other side of the church. I saw the red van with Padre standing outside the sliding door and shouted to him to ensure that he saw me. I was the last one in the van and we sped off to Pucharita on the bumpy dirt roads. Every time I am mass there is no doubt that I am with Salesians first because there is either a beautiful statue/image/wall painting of San Juan Bosco (St. John Bosco) and Maria Auxiliadora de los Cristianos (Mary Help of Christians) and secondly because every sister has at least one if not more children sitting next to her. The children love the sisters, look up to them, and want to be with them and learn from them.
Although I barely understood the readings at mass on Tuesday and had a hard time understanding the homily me and Monica read them in English later and prayed about them. The first reading which touched me the most was 1 Corinthians 12:12-26:
Brothers and sisters: As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one Body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit. Now the body is not a single part, but many. Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are Christ's Body, and individually parts of it.
Similarly while waiting to meet with someone about my VISA process at the archbishop’s office earlier in the day Monica had done Bible roulette and ended on Judith 1. This is the story of king Nebuchadnezzar sending his servants out to gather all of the people in his kingdom to create an army to fight in war against King Arphaxad. But, all of those people were afraid they wouldn’t win or didn’t want to join sides with him and refused to join resulting in their own eventual destruction. Both of these readings have a similar message and theme: each and every person can make a difference and does have an important role to fill/call to answer. Of course the call to be a Salesian Missioner is the part of the body of Christ and army for God that I am being asked to be at the moment. But more specifically working in an orphanage where it is sometimes one of me to 40 girls that one part seems so small but so necessary. Whether it is a sick little 8-year-old looking at me with tired eyes and very stuffy nose asking for tissue paper, another girl is needing homework help, someone else wants a book from the library, or many girls shouting that someone is at the door I often wish I could be in more place than one at once. Along with that I continually need to be patient with myself and my level of learning when it comes to Spanish because it’s hard when I find a girl crying or wanting something and can’t understand more than two or three words of their reasons why. These readings reminded me that although I am only one person I am part of such a huge mission to live and to love as Christ taught us. Like one person in an army I cannot do everything but it’s more important that I do something and do that something well. Although I may be just a hand I cannot deny everything that I am and everything I can do as a hand. Even when a little girl tells me “I don’t you’re your help” but is clearly struggling I know that I am essential to and part of the body of Christ. I need to take care of and be present to one girl at a time. I need to know that whether they are crying, screaming at me, laughing, jumping up and down, or struggling to read each and every word they are Christ on earth, Christ right in front of me yearning for love, acceptance, and healing. I need to remember that in all things I am only a vessel for Christ to work through and I can best be who I need to be when I let Him lead me and depend totally on Him. Sometimes this means giving piggy back rides and good night hugs and kisses, other times this means sitting next to a girl and step by step working through the homework that she really doesn’t want to do, and sometimes this even means disciplining a girl when she needs to learn that hitting another person or stealing is not loving or appropriate behavior. This opportunity to do my part and answer my call is what gets me out of bed in the morning every day, pushes me harder than I ever thought I could handle, and brings me so much peace, joy, laughter, and empathy throughout the day. I have the best job that I could have ever asked for and it is more than a job, it is my vocation, it is my call, it is my way to be one person God’s army, one hand or foot or even toe in the body of Christ that without it wouldn’t be the same.
San Juan Bosco ... Ruega Por Nosotros (Pray for Us)
Maria Auxiliadora de los Cristianos ... Ruega Por Nosotros