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National Volunteer Month Profile: Joel in Bolivia

Husband and wife Joel Vaughn and Lynn Myrick are in their third year of service in Bolivia. Their ministries are primarily in education, using teaching English as a way to connect and be present with the poor. Today we highlight Joel’s current ministries in Cochabamba.

Two days a week, Joel teaches English at Carcel Abra, a men’s prison for those with longer term punishments.  He recently combined his students into one class, hoping to now have few hours to provide an open invitation to the men to play chess or checkers and talk.  

The couple spent Easter at the prison and were presented with Easter eggs colored with red and blue magic marker. The men invited them to stay after Mass for lunch, and together they feasted on cheese rice, a salad of potatoes, peas and carrots, and beef steaks and chorizo hot off the parrilla.

Both Joel and Lynn were involved with prison ministry in their home state of Tennessee. Part of Joel’s decision to spend the bulk of his ministry in prison was in honor of the couple’s friend Harmon Wray, a restorative justice advocate who created a teaching project at a maximum security prison which brought together inmates and students at Vanderbilt Divinity School.

“And also because we know that volunteers from the free world are always needed and appreciated by the society within walls,” Joel said.

He has brought his teaching ministry into the walls of a hospice at Santa Vera Cruz one day a week. 
“On my first day, I talked for a while with one of the hospice residents, a Bolivian man older than I.  His eyes drifted away or half closed as I talked, and occasionally he drew a long breath and coughed in a way that seemed to unsettle his whole body.  I sensed that he was the one that the facility identified as not wanting to live anymore.

His disease, HIV (here called VIH), was apparently well-advanced by the time he sought medical help. According to one of the sisters at the hospice, he had once had money, but not anymore. Also, because of the social stigma associated with the disease, his family did not want to take care of him.  This unwillingness to care for their own breaks the custom here that families care for their own aged and infirm.  What a powerful disease that it can destroy individuals and social custom.

I was reminded of the story in which St. Francis of Assisi came across a leper.  Though repelled by the appearance and the smell of the leper, Francis jumped down from his horse and kissed the leper’s hand. When his kiss of peace was returned, Francis was filled with joy. As he rode off, he turned around for a last wave, and saw that the leper had disappeared. He always looked upon it as a test from God…that he had passed.

In this man with HIV, I could see my leper. While I might not expect to restore his will to live, at least I should be able to interact with him in a way that would declare my own acceptance of him.”

Joel is also beginning to volunteer in one of the houses in the Amanecer Foundation which provide a safe, stable home environment for orphaned and abandoned children.

Please support Joel’s work in Bolivia by making a donation to Franciscan Mission Service. 

Charles Joel Vaughn is a returned missioner who served with his wife Lynn Myrick in Cochabamba, Bolivia from 2009 to 2012.