Editor’s note: Missioner Maggie Van Roekel contemplates her immersion into the culture of the rural University in which she works and what this means for her personal spirituality.
“For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ.” (1 Corinthians 12:12)
Frequently in the Bible, we read that we are all members of one body making up the church in our world. We must work as one body, sharing as one large group–the Church. In Spanish, the word compartir means “to share.” One of most noticeable parts of the culture here at the Unidad Académica Campesina (UAC) is the compartir culture. Not only do people share with their friends and the people they know well, but they share with everyone.
So far in my time here in Carmen Pampa, Bolivia, I have witnessed everyday acts of sharing. On campus, students have shared their snacks with me. A student invited me to his home and shared his hospitality with me. Whenever students attend events and are asked why they chose to come, the resounding answer is simple: “compartir.”
I learned a powerful lesson while on a trip to a local town with a group of students from Pastoral, the campus ministry group at the UAC. It was a day full of activities to get to know one another: we played games and music, celebrated Mass, and ate wonderful food. I had a great time and really got to know some of the students better. I was amazed by the way that everyone shared their time and energy, even when it would have been easier to let someone else take charge.
Because I was so blown away by all of the generosity, I was caught off-guard by a conversation that occurred a few days later at our Pastoral group meeting. The group leader asked each person to reflect about the trip. The first student to speak shared that she thought the trip had been más o menos,”–“more or less.” I was a bit confused. As we continued around the circle, many people voiced similar thoughts. I was shocked that the trip I thought was so beautiful had left others feeling disappointed.
Then someone started to go deeper: the reason many people had felt a little discouraged was because during most of the trip, people had been in separate groups—one group working on the cooking, one group singing, one group playing soccer. We hadn’t truly been experiencing the moment as one.
I thought back to what was the most powerful part of the trip to me, and I realized that it had been in Mass. The church was small and made of cement. It had plain, cracked windows, and we sat in red plastic chairs. But during the service, we had all come together as one group to give praise to God, to listen to the word of God, and to partake of the Eucharist. It had been so powerful because we were all there together.
Jesus taught us that we are the Church. Wherever we are in this world, we have a mission. tt is our mission to act as the body of Christ here on earth. We aren’t truly acting as the hands and feet of Christ until we use those limbs to reach out to others. And reaching out isn’t a task we were made to do on our own. Christ’s body was made to work as one unit. When we spread our gifts as one people, we truly embrace what it means to be in community.
My students’ desire to work together as one community and one body has been such a powerful experience. I am still learning what it means to truly “compartir” each and every day as a part of a larger body. In embracing this life of sharing, I have found myself more deeply appreciating my time with others, as a part of God’s church, and so becoming closer to Him and to His people.
Reflection question: How does your faith connect you to others, and how can you strengthen these connections?