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Update From Bolivia: Patience and an Open Heart


New lay missioner Annemarie Barrett has been in Bolivia since January 2013. Here is her update on her experience so far.

Without the comfort of familiar schedules, places and plans, I can tell you now that the process of growing into a new context is even more challenging than I had expected it to be.

My constant prayer is for patience and an open heart.

Just three weeks ago, I finished my Spanish courses at the Maryknoll Language Institute. At that same time, I celebrated my last few days of living with my Bolivian host family and moved with my fellow Franciscan lay missioners into our new home in the Centro Social Franciscano in downtown Cochabamba.

My own casita or ‘little house’ that I called home for my six weeks in language school.

All that to say, after beginning to get comfortable in one place and one context, yet again I moved out and away from what I knew and moved into more unknown.

I moved into the process of discerning where, how and with whom I will be serving over the course of the next two years. This process is known to take weeks and will likely not conclude in any more formal way than deepening my relationships within certain communities and focusing my energy on the work that evolves from those relationships.

Recently our Franciscan friend, Ignacio Harding, OFM, said during one of our Lenten reflections, “We typically think we know, or that we should know,” in reference to our discernment process, rarely embracing what we do not know. Rarely do we forgive ourselves for what we do not know.

But what we come to realize is that it is not all up to us. This process, as Franciscans, has everything to do with the expressed needs of the communities we are meeting, a combination of where we see ourselves fitting in and where these communities call us to join them. It is a mutual process of discernment.

And it invites patience and an open heart.

View out my new bedroom window in the Centro Social Franciscano.

During this time, I often wake in the morning, wholly uncertain about what the day will bring. I am spending much time and energy listening. I am often asking questions. I am constantly noting my expectations and actively choosing to either release them or learn from them.

And as much of a struggle as this posture can be, I try to remember that it is exactly the point. As Leonardo Boff explains, “Francis’ path is evangelical, a new path that is only discovered when each one is open to changing direction, directing themselves toward the other.”

In the midst of this discernment process, I have been welcomed into a small Comunidad Eclesial de Base (Christian base community) in the north of the city, where each Saturday night we reflect on the Gospel from the perspective of our own lived experience.

I have spent time in a parish gardening project in the south of the city, learning to build retaining walls with recycled tires and planting trees with a group of women from the local community.

And I have also attended many meetings, met many new people and spent a good deal of time discerning where I hope it all will lead.

Praying for patience and an open heart now especially, I have been deeply consoled by the many stories of transition and change that I have heard recently from friends, family and the communities I am meeting here.

I have been inspired by others’ faith in the midst of that unknown because it reminds me that I am not alone in the not knowing, in fact, in that shared unknown is where we find one another.

From St. Paul, Minnesota, Annemarie graduated from Loyola University in Chicago in 2012 with a degree in Communication Studies. Possessing a strong interest in social justice issues and some experience with international travel, she began her service in Bolivia in January 2013.