Last week I accepted an invitation to visit the Catholic student ministry center. I attended mass and really enjoyed meeting the priest and getting to know the students, professors, and others who are active in the center. They offer a broad range of activities, including classes on mission, forums on ethics, and origami lessons, and it seems like a generally fun place to be. I ended up hanging out with a group after mass and teatime were over, and joined them in attending a panel presentation at the university on interculturality and decolonization.

You may be wondering what’s going on with all the heavy subjects here–my last entry was about credibility, and now we’re on interculturality and decolonization! But these sorts of issues are all around me here, not just in classes and intellectual circles but on the streets. Stalls and kiosks in the center of town offer copies of the constitution and the new anti-racism law in pocket editions. In a country (officially called the Plurinational State of Bolivia) where over 30 indigenous languages are spoken and officially recognized, learning what it means to give fair representation and voice and self-determination to everyone is a complicated process. So it makes sense that these concepts would take up a lot of space in public discourse.

One of my favorite ideas from the panel discussion was that interculturality is not a concept to be grasped intellectually. My capacity for logic will never permit me to comprehend the reality of the other, which has not only a history and context but dimensions of meaning and symbol and feeling that are foreign to my understanding and will forever be out of reach. Interculturality is not a concept to be grasped, it is an experience to be lived. In that respect, it is an essential element of mission, which I recently saw defined as “ministry in the dimension of difference” (in this article by Titus Presler). This is true not only of international or otherwise “obviously” intercultural mission, but in all places the church is involved in reaching beyond its walls to encounter the experience, the needs, and the gifts of the other.

In my personal experiences of interculturality, from multicultural schools to adventures in public transportation and living in South American countries, I’ve found that moments of surprise are frequent. These surprises can be frustrating, eye-opening, bewildering, painful, and sometimes delightful, but it’s a journey well worth taking.

The unexpected musical interlude at the panel presentation fit several of these categories for me, and since I had my camera with me you can take a peek!


About Sarah

I serve with Presbyterian World Mission as liaison to the Andean region. This blog is a place to share stories, experiences, and observations, both my own and those of friends and colleagues and the occasional item of news.
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