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Conversations with Desi


Editor’s note: Missioner Anna Klonowski experiences the ministry of presence with a new friend at a ministry site.

I met a woman named Desi the other day at Hogar San José, the nursing home in Cochabamba that is one of my ministries. She was sitting alone in a courtyard, and I said hello as I passed by. We struck up a conversation, and she invited me to sit with her.

We chatted about the beautiful surroundings and the clear blue sky. We talked about her favorite activities: she likes taking walks, though her bad knee often prevents her from doing so, and she loves to read. Desi confided that once she fell asleep on a bench in the courtyard and woke up with a small book in her lap—she suspects that one of the staff members put it there for her to enjoy. Desi smiled as she talked with me about her favorite things to read.

I also asked her which of the nine Bolivian departments she is from (departments are much like US states). Bolivians are very proud of which department they are from, and no matter how long they have lived outside of it they talk about their home department with fondness. Desi told me that she is from the department of La Paz, which is over eight hours away by bus from the city of Cochabamba.

When I asked if her family lived in La Paz, Desi started to tear up. She told me that she has no family—she was orphaned at age 10—and had been living and working in Cochabamba for several years before she entered the nursing home. She had no one to visit her, and it made her feel very alone. I could see the weight of her loneliness as she spoke with me, the heavy look on her face a stark contrast from the smiling woman I had been conversing with just moments earlier.

As much as I wanted to take away that sadness, there was nothing I could do about the tough experiences she had endured in life. I could only listen and offer her my company in the present moment.

I told Desi that I would be serving at the nursing home throughout the week and asked if I could come and visit with her. Her face lit up once again, and she responded that she would love for me to come and talk with her more often.

Since that initial conversation, I’ve talked with her several times. I hope to bring her a good book to read soon.

These short, yet meaningful, interactions with Desi reminded me of why I committed to serving with Franciscan Mission Service. The value of accompaniment, of walking alongside a person as they live, work and share their life’s joys and struggles, has profound significance for me in moments like these. Though I had nothing more to offer than my presence, it was enough—for Desi and for me. Such a simple gesture can make a world of difference.

Reflection question: Recall a time when a small gesture meant a lot to someone else—how can you perform acts like this more often?

Long-term overseas mission is a natural extension of the ideals and interests that direct Anna’s life. At the College of St. Benedict in Minnesota, she connected her deep faith with her enthusiasm for social justice and women’s leadership while studying theology, Hispanic studies, and global business leadership. Anna fell even more in love with the Spanish language and Latin American culture during a semester in Xela, Guatemala. Her call to care for creation revolves around a desire to preserve the world for those who are marginalized, as well as for future generations.