Editor’s Note: Overseas Lay Missioner Domonique Thompson challenges her preconceived ideas about life in Bolivia and reflects on the power of small changes for the betterment of her new community.
Since I have been in Bolivia, I have been overwhelmed by the overflowing grace that has been present since I arrived. It’s honestly been difficult to find something to write for this blog. So much has happened and yet I’m speechless. I’ve been so pleasantly surprised by how different life is here from what I was anticipating. When we hear “developing countries” or any other synonym, there is an immediate image that comes to mind. And when anticipating being here, I also had that image.
But that image has completely been flipped on its head. It was an adjustment of mindset. I struggle to live out the Franciscan charism when I’m privileged to live in the center of the city, where you can find almost anything. With all this at my fingertips and all the wonderful things my host mom has provided, I ask myself, “How can I be amongst the poor when I live in a place they would never be able to afford to be?”
I’ve been to the south a few times, where it is said that a lot of people on the margins live, and it’s like night and day. They’re the ones who experience the floods of nightfall, the scarcity of water during the dry season, the immense uncertainty that comes with basic daily needs. So I often think to myself, “How can I use my place of privilege for the people I wish to serve?”
When I reflect on that, I think about what I learned from my host mom. When I first arrived here in Bolivia, I was immediately made aware of the scarcity of water. My host mom showed me how she actively conserves water by using dishwater to water her plants. Even though she, living in the north, would never have to experience a lack of availability of water, she uses that awareness to guide her actions. This is how she lives her life while caring for others.
In a further reflection of this idea, I realize that I’ve been comparing my lifestyle to what I thought it was supposed to be. I am “supposed” to be living in a hut with mud flooring with a bed on the floor, etc. I have been faced with my own unconscious biases about what mission life is supposed to be. For example, my host mom doesn’t compare her lifestyle to the people in the south but uses her lifestyle for the betterment of her community as a whole. By comparing my life to how I “should” be living, I am ignoring the need that is present here in this city. I am bringing the focus onto myself instead of being present with the people of this country.
In many ways my normal life has changed, such as washing my clothes by hand … and let me tell y’all, it’s a whole different experience! These are the little things that God calls us to reflect upon and focus on and not to compare ourselves to our own expectations. By reflecting on our own small changes, we open ourselves to grace and understanding. It is normal for most Bolivians to wash their clothes by hand, and you may not do it right the first, second, or even third time.
As I continue with my life as a missioner, I hope to open myself to the grace of God and grace for myself and my transition. While it is not what I expected, it is what I need more than I am probably aware of. I hope that I can focus on the ways that I am living more simply and intentionally.
What steps have you taken to live more simply during the season of Lent?