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Learning to Be in Bolivia


Short-Term Mission and Global Awareness Trip participant Jennifer Peresie reflects on her experience of going with Franciscan Mission Service to Bolivia in May 2014. 

When I signed up for this trip, I think I had illusions – no delusions! – of changing the world. That is a lofty goal for anyone, but certainly in a two-week span. While in Bolivia, I certainly had great opportunities to serve, but I had even more opportunities to learn from and to share with others. Initially, however, I reacted to these opportunities not with joy, but with complete frustration that I could not do more – or sometimes anything – to help.

Bolivia is a very poor country. Approximately 60 percent of Bolivians live below the poverty line and 25 percent live in extreme poverty. Clean water, healthcare, and housing are luxuries many go without. Learning about the daily struggles of many Bolivians left me speechless (admittedly a rarity for me). I wanted to do something, anything, to help. And by not doing more to help I thought I was failing.

But I came to realize that there was also value in listening and just being with others. As one teenager we served and interacted with put it, “thank you for caring.” She said she was thrilled and surprised that people from the United States would want to spend time in Bolivia with Bolivians. Her thank you initially perplexed me. Of course I wanted to be there and I listened, but if I really cared shouldn’t I translate that care into action? Shouldn’t I do something to help her economic circumstances or to make her struggles easier? But to her – and to the others I met – my caring was action. It was empathy, respect, and even empowerment. It was the power of being.

Eating empanadas with the ladies of Manos Con Libertad

Just being is difficult. We are told to “Just do it.” We are all doers, constantly moving and struggling to get that one more thing done. But are we be-ers? Do we value sitting still and taking it all in? Do we value just being with others?

In Bolivia, I learned that just being often carries as much or more value to others as doing. Further, I have recognized that sometimes God calls us to just be.

To borrow from Jesuit priest Gregory Boyle, who reflected on his ministry to gang members in “Tattoos on the Heart,” God’s expectation is often that we just be with the excluded, stand with them, and see it (whatever it is) through. Sometimes success and outcomes are bad measures. What is needed is being – a ministry of presence.

Being is more than the proverbial stopping to smell the roses. It is getting in and really experiencing. It is dirtying the heart. In Bolivia, it was very challenging for me to just be. But in being with the excluded, the poor, or the needy, I was also doing.

As I continue on my Catholic journey, I will strive to spend more time just being. Admittedly it is going to be hard. I would probably rather be doing. But just as God calls me to do, he also calls me to be, to a ministry of presence with others.

Jennifer Peresie is a parishioner of Sacred Heart in Tampa, Florida, and was encouraged by her pastor Fr. George Corrigan, OFM, to participate in our program. Fr. George was an FMS missioner to Kenya before joining the Franciscan friars. 

If you would like to go on a Short-Term Mission and Global Awareness Trip, please contact the FMS office at info@franciscanmissionssrvice.org or 202-832-1762.

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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