New lay missioner Annemarie Barrett shares what her time so far in Cochabamba, Bolivia has taught her about being open to new opportunities and the unknown. 

I have been reflecting lately on what it means to live as a lay missioner and to constantly be saying “yes,” and on what it takes to be able to say “yes.”

Living in another culture, with so few people that I know, a language I am still learning and a whole new city to navigate, nearly every time I walk out the door I am walking into the unknown. I might be trying a new route on public transportation, searching for a shop or restaurant for the first time, visiting the market to buy groceries from a new vender, going to a meeting where I will meet a whole community of people for the first time. And all of this, with the added challenge of a new language and new culture.

And in the midst of all of this unknown, I also have had the responsibility of finding work, networking within all of these new circumstances in order to navigate where, with whom and how I may be invited to spend my time and energy throughout the next two years. And so in the midst of all of the unknown I have had to rethink my natural instinct, that comes from fear, to say “no” to the many opportunities I encounter everyday, because I am too scared to step out of my comfort zone. But I know I cannot hide from all of the unknown and so instead I have had to have faith and learn to say “yes.”

For example, the way that I first became connected to the parish gardening project in Santa Vera Cruz is a perfect example. I met Nora, a former FMS lay missioner, not long after she returned to Cochabamba. Sometime during the first few times we met, she invited me to a meeting that was happening downtown about urban sprawl in Cochabamba and how it affects farming land outside of the city. I had really no experience with this topic or any connection to the location or people hosting the meeting. But I had no plans that morning and was interested, so I said “yes.”

I attended the meeting with Nora and a religious sister from Mexico. After the meeting, I began talking with a friend from language school and the Maryknoll lay missioner and the Chilean student that had come with him to the meeting. The Chilean student immediately started sharing with me about their project in the parish Santa Vera Cruz. After learning just a few details about me, he invited me to learn more about the project and potentially be involved. He asked me if I was interested, so I said “yes,” and we exchanged contact information.

My friend from the language institute then invited me to the garden to check out the project. I knew very little about it still, but was curious, and so I said “yes.” I spent the morning in the garden and then decided to come back another day to work and learn more.

Pretty soon we were meeting with this student and discussing the larger goals of the project and what skills and experience each of us had to offer to it. Could I lend a hand in building a recycled tire retaining wall? Yes. Could we translate this pamphlet about creating gardens using recycled tires? Yes. Could I re-draw the illustrations and make them more culturally relevant? Sure!

Honestly, it is a bit exhausting to say “yes” all the time, never quite knowing where these opportunities might lead. And so the exhaustion has taught me that this posture of being open and patient really necessitates a deep faith, a process of discernment that listens close, fosters awareness and gratitude. And from what I can tell, it is how we are called to live and learn as lay missioners.

This posture has invited me to deepen my own faith, to surrender and to trust, to see myself as part of something much larger than myself.

About a month later after that first opportunity to say “yes,” as I become more involved in the team working on the parish project in the garden, I am now learning to celebrate the joys, big and small, that have come from the many ways that I said “yes” along the way.

I am so grateful for the supportive community that has given me the courage and the energy to maintain this posture and the faith that has invited me to continue to say “yes.”