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Walking Toward Christ, Even in Discomfort

Blog Headers 2023-24 (16)

Editor’s Note: Lay missioner Ralph Anderson, OFS describes how Christ has been calling him to prayer in a special place in Cochabamba, Bolivia.

I have been living in Cochabamba, Bolivia for seven weeks now. Things are very different here. I have spent time in Latin America throughout my life. My first mission trip was when I was 11 years old. I lived in Mexico City for three months one summer, so it wasn’t a complete shock coming here. The rules of the road are the same. 

I learned how to drive in Mexico City when I was 19 years old. My friend was born in Mexico City, and he knew the culture. He told me I needed to drive like everyone else has brakes and pedestrians have to watch out. I don’t know how accurate Miguel’s interpretation of the rules were, but it seemed to work. 

I asked a lot of questions about driving and customs at language school. Having built some skills on walking the busy streets of Cochabamba, I felt confident enough to walk to the giant statue of Christ on a nearby hill. Walking to the statue is a common pilgrimage in Cochabamba, and I’ve decided to walk it a couple of times as a prayer practice.  The last time I made this walk was shortly after the death of Ryan, a Cap Corps volunteer, who died from a gunshot wound during a robbery in Washington D.C. and I offered my walk as a prayer for him.* I had been told there are 2000 steps up the hill. When I arrived at the steps, I noticed that each step had a tile with a name, and some steps had dates. I decided to make each step a prayer. I prayed for Ryan, his family, Cap Corps, and all his friends. It is hard to accept that a young 23-year-old man who had volunteered his time and talent with the Franciscans would be killed. Each step was a prayer.

It took a week for me to decide to do the steps again. I am constantly reminded of Christ and his suffering. I see the statue towering over Cochabamba. I can’t get away from Christ beckoning me to come to him. He is there night and day. I only have to look west, sometimes between the tall buildings. 

I prayed the liturgy of the hours and then examined my conscience during this season of Lent. What is holding me back from doing the steps? Fear of being pickpocketed at this popular tourist attraction? Fear I may be flattened like a bug crossing the street on the journey through the city? I decided I am going to do it. I go to the kitchen to fill my water bottle before leaving. Victor, my fellow missioner, wants to talk. I say nothing of my plan. I know it is more important to be present to him. I finally leave at eleven. 

I walk two miles and reach the base of the steps. I now know why I am called here. I am here to pray for every person who supported me to come to Bolivia. Some have only been able to give their prayers, some could only give a lump sum, and some give on a monthly basis. All receive an equal share in the prayers. A name, three steps, three prayers over and over. Finally, I reach the summit and I see the giant Bible, and I am reminded how Saint Francis would go into town and preach without uttering a word. The people see him, they know he lives the Sermon on the Mount. Enough said. I kneel at the base in front of the Bible and look up 183 feet to Christ’s face. No words need to be spoken aloud. I am there worshiping in plain sight. A silent witness to the miracle that is to come Easter morning.

Questions for Reflection: Where do you encounter Christ? Where do you feel Christ calling you to pray?

*For more information about Ryan, visit the Cap Corps website: https://www.capcorps.org/ryanrealbuto

Ralph Anderson, OFS, is from Eugene, OR. He was born in California and spent 63 years of his life there until he retired. During his working career, he made many short-term trips to provide clean drinking water in the developing world in Latin America. He served in Ecuador, Honduras, and Mexico. He became a Secular Franciscan and his heart remained in mission at home and abroad. Before he knew about Franciscan Mission Service, he felt God tugging at his heart to serve full time in a foreign mission. When he served in Honduras, he learned the importance of being present to the people you are serving and avoiding being focused only on the success of a project. When he discovered FMS at a Lay Franciscan gathering in Phoenix, AZ, he knew what God was calling him to: practicing a ministry of accompaniment in a foreign country; not to teach them "our ways," but to learn their culture and traditions, and to learn how we can best serve them; building a relationship of mutual respect with a spirit of humility like Saint Francis of Assisi.