Today we kick-off a special series written by lay missioner Annemarie Barrett.

“You can feel it. You can feel the energy!” She told me, beaming, the two of us surrounded by a room full of women sharing hugs and laughter and walls covered in poster board and notes.

We had just finished another nonviolence workshop and she was right, you really could feel the energy in the room. It was contagious and the space we had created felt sacred.

That sacred space has been a very important part of my ministry here in Cochabamba and this month I’d like to invite you into that sacred space with us.

Annemarie (far right) sharing a sign of peace with the Christian Base Community

Every Wednesday in July, I will be sharing a new blog related to my ministry of facilitating nonviolence workshops.

I will explain what a nonviolence workshop is and why the transformation it invites, to me, is sacred.

I will also share how the facilitation I am practicing, as a ministry, is deeply Franciscan and is inviting me to grow in our charism.

To stay true to my roots as a Communication Studies major, I would love to begin this blog series by defining my terms. When I say “nonviolence workshop,” what do I mean?

The nonviolence workshops I am facilitating come directly from a book called Engage: Exploring Nonviolent Living,” a project of Pace e Bene Nonviolence Service.

In my last semester at Loyola University Chicago, I had the privilege of participating in a practicum course with Pace e Bene. I was able to participate in their workshops as well as relate my experiences back to my course work and activism outside the classroom. When I finished the course, I was gifted a copy of Engage and later decided to bring it with me to Bolivia.

The subtext of the title of Engage explains that it is a “study program for learning, practicing, and experimenting with the power of nonviolence to transform our lives and our world.”

And I’ve learned that “our lives and our world” includes all of us, you and me. My experience has been that these workshops are relevant to each of us. In fact, the reoccurring revelation that emerges from participants in these workshops is the recognition that violence exists in our everyday reality, in all of our lives, in a variety of forms, whether we’ve realized it or not.

And when I say, “participants,” I mean women and men, older and younger. I mean families, mothers and fathers and their children. And here in Cochabamba, I mean people who are part of faith communities that typically gather to read the Bible together, but have made the choice to engage these workshops together because they have seen over and over the direct connection between what we are discussing in the workshops and their daily lives.

There are twelve sessions in the Engage program, which guide the progression of the workshops, the themes discussed and the activities we work through together.

Descriptions of nonviolence and violence from Engage written on the papelógrafo used during the workshops

The woman who said she could “feel the energy” in the room after our third session together is a part of one of the Christian Base Communities where we have started to offer these workshops. She was also in the room when we first discussed nonviolence as a community just a month earlier.

I had been joining their Bible reflections each Saturday night since I finished language school and each week I was moved by their reflections about the interpersonal conflicts that they were dealing with daily. I listened closely, each time reminded of the experiences I had in the States with the Pace e Bene nonviolence workshops.

One night, I responded to one of their reflections with an expression of my own practice in trying to handle conflicts, I shared a tool I learned in one of the Pace e Bene workshops. We talked more about the tool and others like it, wondering aloud if we could explore them more as a community.

The start of these workshops was as simple and organic as that and from the beginning has been a process we have engaged as a community.

The power in this process lies in the opportunity to identify the violence that exists in our lives, the violence that we not only receive but also perpetuate by our actions. And surrounded by community, begin to experiment in choosing another way of being in relationship together, a way that I have been taught by those at Pace e Bene, embraces our brokenness and affirms our sacredness.

In this series of blog posts over the next four weeks, my hope is to share with you more about how our community is engaging this transformation here in Cochabamba and how you too can join us in this journey in nonviolent living.

I look forward to sharing some of my favorite tools that we discuss in the workshops!