Editor’s Note: Sabrina Portner, Missioner in Bolivia, reflects on the definition of “home” and the vulnerability that she is experiencing as she discovers a new home within her ministry site in Cochabamba.

Hogar. Home.

Ambiente familiar que se desarrolla en la vivienda habitual. Family atmosphere that develops in the habitual residence.

When I think of home, whether that be the family farm in Minnesota, my various homes throughout university, in Ames, Iowa, my grandma’s house, or now San Martin and my apartment in Cochabamba, Bolivia, the general feeling is one of warmth, comfort, acceptance, and companionship.

But really, what defines a home? It has to be more than warm fuzzy feelings. It has to be a place where I can be my true self. Where I can lay out all my shortcomings and struggles with life. Home is where vulnerability is mutual. All of a sudden, home is less of a place and more of a relationship with individuals. It’s far less geographic than I thought (lucky for me, as I live 4,626 miles from my original home). Home, defined as true, real, raw, mutual vulnerability is also far more rare than I anticipated. Maybe it’s only so rare because I can’t seem to let my rough edges show. I can’t seem to even admit my failures to myself let alone someone else.

“Home, defined as true, real, raw, mutual vulnerability is also far more rare than I anticipated. Maybe it’s only so rare because I can’t seem to let my rough edges show. I can’t seem to even admit my failures to myself let alone someone else.”

What immense capacity we humans have to love if only we could move past the fear of suffering, that is bearing our weaknesses, which is an inevitable part of true love.

My home is defined by the few blessed people with whom I have been able to put away my fear of the sacrifice that comes with love. I can count these people on one, maybe two hands.

My prayer has often been that God would give me a heart bursting with love. I imagined something sort of like the Grinch’s heart by the end of the movie; growing three times larger. Maybe though, that potential for love, I have always had. I just couldn’t access it because I was unwilling to offer my full self; faults, virtues and all. I wasn’t ready for the messiness of love. I was chasing after the love portrayed by movies.

I use the word “was”, thinking I have progressed in some way; garnished a better understanding of love. I am sure, actually, I have progressed but I don’t want that knowledge to get in the way of the continual search for growth in this idea of love.

When did this change occur? Unclear. Sometime after university when I took the time to breath, I realized I didn’t know who I was. If I don’t know who I am, how could I offer myself in relationship to others?

The boys at San Martin playing soccer.

As I write about home, love, and vulnerability, the only thing I can think about is my friends at San Martin. Angel, Jairo, Cristian, Pablo, Richard, Richard, Eddy, Jhon Sebastian, Alvaro, Diego, Eddy, Edward, Chuma, Gonzalo, Jheyson, Yeison, Julio Cesar, Santos, Fernando, Cesar, Israel, Benjamin, Alex, Alexander, Correa, Ferrufino, Catorceno, Ricardo, Juan Carlos, Limbert, Eddy, Jonathan, Moises, Ferril, Onam, Jordy, Juan David, Jhoel, Kevin, and Alex Rueben.

Although by my age alone, I hold some sort of superiority in these relationships, I choose not to dwell on this dynamic. In her book, Embracing Weakness, Shannon Evans explains how she has learned to develop her relationships with her children from Empowered to Connect instructors. We need to “stop clinging to power as a solution, be with your child in their need. Connection is greater than control.” Shannon notes, “it wasn’t a relinquishment of action; connection will always accomplish what control cannot. This is the very message Jesus embodied on Earth…the only way to be a good parent was to choose the way of the incarnation.”

This is how I want to love the boys and young men at San Martin. I don’t want to lose my temper and get angry when they aren’t listening, or rather, when I feel like I’m losing control. Instead I want to connect with these boys. I want to jump down in the hole where they are struggling and climb back out with them. Yet, an even harder challenge will be for me to allow them and all those whom I love to jump down in my hole of struggles that I have been so good at camouflaging.

“I simply show up everyday offering to help in the small ways I can and learn to live life with these boys. My weaknesses are pretty obvious in this situation, which is why I am overwhelmed by the way I am still so welcomed and loved by all my coworkers and the boys of San Martin.”

The very nature of my ministry here in Cochabamba is that I am not offering any concrete skills to San Martin. I haven’t studied child psychology, I haven’t been a parent or teacher before, I don’t have any agronomy skills (easily confused here with my degree in Dairy Science and International Agriculture), I’m nowhere near fluent in Spanish, I haven’t played soccer before, etc. I simply show up everyday offering to help in the small ways I can and learn to live life with these boys. My weaknesses are pretty obvious in this situation, which is why I am overwhelmed by the way I am still so welcomed and loved by all my coworkers and the boys of San Martin. I am so overwhelmed it seems almost unjust.

Just the other day the boys performed some traditional dances for one of the sisters who has served and lived in Cochabamba for 60 years. Watching them dance, I was filled with a great emotion I could only describe as being proud of the boys. However, am I even in a position to be proud of them? Do I even have that privilege?

Proud is defined as feeling deep pleasure or satisfaction as a result of one’s own achievements, qualities, or possessions or those of someone with whom one is closely associated. This pride is definitely not a result of my own achievements, qualities, or possessions. But, I suppose the emotion is real and valid just from the budding relationships I have with these boys.

Reflection Question: How can you join in on this mission of operating from a place of weakness in pursuit of building genuine relationships?