At the course I took last weekend on Mission & Ecumenism in Bolivia, we had a group devotional every day. One morning it included a time when we each took a folded paper flower, placed it in a bowl of water, and watched as the petals opened to see what special word was hidden inside. Mine said “credibilidad” (credibility), a word that seemed quite fitting for a new minister and mission worker. To me, it has something to do with integrity, sharing of myself in an authentic and transparent way. It requires coherent, ethical living, joyfully communicating my purpose and faith convictions in simple, concrete ways. I’m not sure I can articulate it particularly well, but these concepts began to come together for me when I was discerning what sort of ministry I was called to carry out, what my “next step” after seminary should be.
I remember a conversation I had with my friend Tatiana about halfway through seminary. I was struggling with the appropriateness of going as a U.S. citizen to be in ministry in Latin America. Would any work I did somehow be taking a place that could be filled by a local minister? Would I be perpetuating unhealthy power dynamics? Tatiana (who happens to be originally from Bolivia but has lived, worked, and studied in several other places, most recently Chicago) assured me that there was, and probably would always be, a place in Latin American churches for brothers and sisters from the U.S. who were called to be in solidarity with them. I’m not sure I ever told Tatiana how much her words did to assuage a deep fear that perhaps what I felt deeply drawn to wasn’t right somehow. Now that I’m here in her native land, I feel very clearly that this is exactly where I am called to be right now.
These first three weeks have been a time of growth, challenge, joy, and learning. The topics and perspectives that emerged in that class, and later in the week at an ecumenical workshop, are still percolating in my heart and mind. I imagine the weeks and months to come will find me exploring some of these questions in various ways:
- What can local churches do to increase responsibility and accountability to the needs of the people in Bolivia’s financial and economic decisions?
- How can we all move and change and challenge one another in a process of decolonization—creating non-exploitative, creative dynamics, in political institutions and society in general, and in the church–both in Bolivia and internationally?
- In what ways is (or not) indigenous Andean spirituality compatible with Christianity?
- Can legislating anti-racism yield meaningful change in society? What does this look like in Bolivia?
- What is mission, and how can the church engage in it more ecumenically, witnessing to the power of unity in Christ?
I’m still sorting through it all, with an additional, personal question in mind: How can I, as an international mission co-worker, engage responsibly and lovingly with my new neighbors? I don’t have any bold, definitive answers right now, but this is a peak at the questions and musings that have been filling my days this week. I’m eager to delve deeper and reach out to my new friends in the ecumenical community here, and see what responses emerge.