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National Volunteer Month Profile: Michael in Bolivia


Michael Redell started his first year of lay mission with FMS in January. Originally from Grand Rapids, Michigan, his background is in education and coaching. Before coming to FMS, he went on a short-term mission to Peru and taught for a year in Alaska.

“Ever since I had volunteered down in Peru…I knew I wanted to work in places of high need,” Michael said. “I felt a strong calling to go out and try and walk out what the Gospel calls us to with those most in need.”

After arriving in Cochabamba, Bolivia, Michael and his fellow mission classmate Kitzi Hendricks started  language school and exploring the different ministries that match the community’s needs with the their own interests and skills.

After making connections through his host family and language school, Michael has been invited to serve in solidarity with the poor of Cochabamba through three different ministries:

1. Co-teaching physical education at El Salvador “San Javier,” a faith and happiness school

Twice a week, Michael works with kids ages 6 to 12 in the afternoons. In the physical education classes, they do exercises for strength, endurance, and flexibility as well as games such soccer, basketball and volleyball.

Recently, Michael started teaching the kids games he learned when he was a kid. Tuburons y pescado (sharks and fish), – an adaptation of Sharks and Minnows – was a big hit.  “After we got done playing the game, the kids started chanting ‘otra vez, otra vez‘ which means again or another time,” said Michael. “I look forward to getting to know the students and the families who live in the community and starting to become more a part of it.”

2.  Building and repairing with the International Orphanage Union
International Orphanage Union creates homes for 10 orphans so that they can be raised in a Christian setting by Bolivian Christian house parents. In addition to constructing orphanages, IOU needs help with some of their side business that help finance their mission, including farming tilapia and produce. Michael only recently connected with UOI, but he is very excited to have the opportunity to serve and travel with them to other parts of Bolivia.

3.  Helping on the mobile hospital 
Two or three times a week Michael rides out in the mobile hospital with a one doctor, one dentist and a driver/social worker to serve five different rural communities. He is learning a lot about the health care conditions in rural Bolivia while he helps to set up, clean up and put together packets of information about medications.

While everyone always wants to know what missioners “do,” it is more important that they “be” – be open, be loving, be in solidarity, be present with the people. Michael recently blogged about being present with one of the mobile hospital patients:

“There was a lady who came in with wooden crutches because she had been having a very hard time with her leg recently from an automobile accident she was in a year and a half ago. She had a wrap on her leg and when she took it off you could tell she had some pretty serious problems going on. She had an open wound that had gotten infected. The infection or bacteria had gotten within her bone and was spreading.

She needed to have a specialist operate on it or the situation would continue to get worst and she could/would most likely lose her leg. Well, even the cheapest option for surgery is way above what she can afford. (I’m not sure but I thought the doctor was saying something like $400). 

The woman was obviously distraught over the situation and on top of that while the doctor was examining her he says that her heart (esta faltando) is not doing well or failing. Well, the combination of the information she had just received was too much and she started to lose it. She broke down and started to sob. Her daughter also had tears rolling down her face although she was trying to console and calm her mother. 

I felt helpless to the situation, but felt an urge to offer what I could, compassion, love, and faith. I asked her daughter if I could pray for her mom and she said yes and that she is a Christian. As I knelt down, I put my hand gently on her leg and began to ask God to work within this woman. 

We soon were both in prayer. The sobs that I had once heard were no more. While we both were offering up prayers, my emotions were deeply moved for this woman and her situation and tears began to run down my face. Our joined silent prayers had a very powerful affect within me. Afterwards, I got the name of the woman, Maria, and told her I will be continuing to pray for her. 

They both thanked me for the moment we spent together in prayer. I don’t know what will happen to this woman, but I pray for something miraculous to work out or to happen to her. There was a powerful sense of oneness/connectedness with her and it was such a powerful example of how we are called to feel, love, and act with compassion towards all our human family. 

This situation also made me think of my mom. Here is this woman who is 61 years old and needs to have a surgery to keep her leg and to restore or improve her health, and as of now, unless something miraculous happens, she is destined to live out her remaining shortened life in lots of physical pain. I thought of my mom and what if she was the one in this situation. The thought was unthinkable, but yet its the reality for so many throughout the poor marginalized world that we live in.”

For more stories from Michael’s mission, check out his blog, “We Are Called to be Lights of Hope, Peace and Love.”

Consider supporting Michael’s service in Cochabamba with a donation.  Please keep Michael, the students, patients and orphans in Bolivia in your prayers. 

We prepare and support lay Catholics for two-year international, one-year domestic and 1-2 week short-term mission service opportunities in solidarity with impoverished and marginalized communities across the globe.

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