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Comfort and Joy: A Sense of Belonging


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Editor’s Note: As part of our “Comfort and Joy” Advent/Christmas blog series, missioner Tom Little shares how he’s found joy through integrating more into the community where he lives and serves in Carmen Pampa, Bolivia.

When I first arrived to Bolivia in January I was lost in a cloud of culture shock. Everywhere I turned I saw something that was different than what I was used to and it made me feel disconnected to my surroundings.

Thankfully, in the past 10 months, I have become much more comfortable in where I am and what I am doing here. It is interesting to take a step back and realize that some of the things that were a total shock when I arrived have become so commonplace that I barely recognize them.

The comfort that I now feel in Bolivia allows me to better experience my full range of emotions, including joy.

During my second semester at the university I started attending the Pastoral group meetings. When I first arrived on campus I was still sorting out what I was doing and felt like I was too busy to get involved with the group. Pastoral is a group that meets weekly to play games, pray, and do service projects within the community.

Dancing at the party

Dancing at the party

The first event of the new semester was a lunch and party for the elderly members of the Nor Yungas community. I am so glad that I was able to be a part of this event- there was so much joy in the air.

The morning of the event was spent preparing the lunch and decorating the cafeteria. I was put on barbecue duty with several other students. We were in a very popular spot; other people were constantly stopping by to say hi, crack some jokes, and grab a small piece of chicken.

Cooking the chicken

Cooking the chicken

During the actual celebration I was seated with a group of older men in their 70s from a town over. The men spent the meal joking with each other, eating a lot and teaching us words in Aymara, the local indigenous language. I imagine that these men have been friends their entire lives; I saw a lot of the same joy in them as I did in the students.

Events like this are not required of the volunteers at the university, and sometimes after a long week it’s easy to talk myself out of going to them in favor of having more personal time. Luckily, I am now comfortable enough in what I am doing to break out of my comfort zone more and more, because that is where the true joy is found on mission.

Question for reflection: How can you get more involved with your community and the people in it?

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From Southern California, Tom graduated from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, with a degree in crop science. He feels a deep connection to food and plans to work on agricultural development and food security while on mission. Tom served at Carmen Pampa University in Carmen Pampa, Bolivia.