Missioners in Bolivia Get Visit From Br. Paul O'Keeffe
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From the streets of Cochabamba to the cloud forest of the Andes Mountains, FMS Development Director Br. Paul O’Keeffe, OFM, experienced just a hint of the vast diversity of Bolivia in his recent two-week trip in early May.
Br. Paul made his first trip as an FMS staff member to engage in ministry that we ask our missioners to practice: a ministry of presence. He was there to get to know the lay missioners in Bolivia, lead a retreat, and spend time with them in their ministries. He also used this opportunity to explore potential sites for a Short-Term Mission and Global Awareness Trip FMS hopes to sponsor to Bolivia sometime next year.
Announcing Short-Term Mission and Global Awareness Trips To Africa And Latin America
Br. Paul’s travels took him to several places in Bolivia, beginning with a town called Tarata, a picturesque colonial village about on hour away from Cochabamba where the missioners live. He and our six missioners spent their retreat in a restored Spanish mission, a center of evangelization for the area in the 17th century that now serves as a retreat center and museum.
The theme of the retreat was based on the discipline of living simply. Missioners prayed, shared meals, and discussed the challenges and rewards of simplifying their lives while on mission. Recently-arrived missioners Kitzi Hendricks and Michael Redell talked about adapting to a simpler lifestyle while the more seasoned missioners Nora Pfeiffer, Lynn Myrick, Joel Vaughn and Catherine Giller talked about which aspects of simple living they hope to continue practicing when they return home at the end of the year.
Upon their return to Cochabamba, Br. Paul accompanied the missioners on their daily routines and to their ministry sites. “Our missioners are well-respected in their ministries because they understand that, above all, their loving presence and consideration for the needs of the people they work with is the greatest work they can do,” he said.
For instance, new missioner Michael is integrating into the community and making lots of friends in his neighborhood. He has been invited to co-teach physical education classes at local school in his community.
Recently, Michael taught the children “Tiburons y Pescado”, or Sharks and Minnows, a game from his own childhood in the United States. “After we got done playing the game the kids started chanting ‘otra vez, otra vez’ which means ‘again’ or ‘another time,’” Michael said. “I look forward to getting to know the students and the families who live in the community and starting to become more a part of it.”
At the Franciscan Social Center, Nora continues to work with children who come to the center to recover from burns they have sustained in kitchen fires. Their time with Nora is a good opportunity for exercise after they’ve been in therapy all day. “Nora really embodies the ministry of presence when she spends time with these kids,” Br. Paul said. “She can’t do anything to help their medical needs, but she provides them with an outlet to be kids: to be happy, to have fun and to learn about the new varieties of plants and vegetables she is growing in the courtyard of the center.”
Short-term mission exploration
After a few days in Cochabamba, Br. Paul set out to research and visit potential sites for FMS’ new Short-Term Mission and Global Awareness Trips.
One such site was Universidad Académica Campesina in Carmen Pampa, a rural college in the Andes founded by a Franciscan sister. The school addresses the need of poor, rural communities by educating local students in the areas of health, education, agriculture, ecotourism and animal husbandry.
Several FMS have taught at Carmen Pampa there over the years, including current missioners including Lynn and Joel.
Br. Paul, joined by Lynn and Joel, hiked to a neighboring village to visit a farmer of coca leaf, a traditional crop used as a remedy for altitude sickness and stave off hunger. Plans for the Short-Term Mission and Global Awareness Trips also include a visit to a coca farm to learn about the illegal trade of coca and its impact on local people.
After his own brief journey through Bolivia, Br. Paul is excited about the varied experiences the country will have to offer visitors on FMS’ Short-Term Trips.
“Bolivia gives us an opportunity to explore some of the social justice issues prevalent in Latin America such as the scarcity of resources, the drug trade, and the global systemic poverty that makes Bolivia the poorest country in South America,” he said.
For more photos of Br. Paul's trip, check out our Facebook album.
We are excited to announce that FMS will launch Short-Term Mission and Global Awareness trips to South Africa, Kenya and Bolivia beginning in 2013.
Returned Missioner Continues Call As A Mother
Although FMS has traditionally supported long-term mission service, we know that not everyone is able or called to serve in full-time mission for this length of time. However, our experience facilitating mission service for more than 20 years provides ample evidence for the transformational impact “crossing borders” has on us, our faith and our understanding of the world.
In mission, we do not just cross physical borders, but we have the opportunity to enter into the reality of others. Unlike tourism or travel, mission trips with FMS offer provide:
Daily prayer and guided reflection
Time to meet and to visit with local people with whom FMS has relationships
Glimpses into the ministries of FMS missioners based in the area
Opportunities for service
Since our founding days, FMS has been committed to proper preparation for mission. Our long-term program provides 14 weeks of full-time training before our missioners depart. Our short-term program will provide pre-departure preparation as well. Depending upon the group, we will either provide materials or guide a weekend preparation retreat.
And just like our long-term program, we will offer re-entry materials and/or facilitation to help process the learning after the experience. Like our long-term missioners, those who go on short-term trips will learn how to share their experience and the social realities of the host country with their own communities upon returning to the U.S. We believe the experience of mission gives all people the potential to transform North American societies and churches and to act as advocates for peace, justice, reconciliation and care for creation.
How is a Mission Trip Different from Travel?
We are committed to “treading lightly” in our host country and to approach the people we meet with respect as listeners and learners, as opposed to seeing the negative aspects of the realities we will face and then trying to find ways to “fix” or make them better.
Our intention is to nurture an appreciation of different cultures and customs. Participants will be exposed to the economic and social realities faced by the people by engaging with different ethnic groups, local youth and teachers, fair trade and artisan cooperatives, and human rights advocates.
In Kenya, for instance, a visit to a volunteer testing clinic to interact with teenagers who are living with HIV/AIDS will foster a better understanding of the pandemic and how it affects children and families. A safari and visits to animal refuges not only allow participants to see the natural wonders of Africa, but to learn about the local impact of poaching and ecological degradation.
Our approach and philosophy is based on the popular education model and the “Pastoral Circle” approach of “see, reflect, act.” This model asks us to be observant, to reflect and ask questions as we face puzzling and new realities, and then to consider how this new information will impact our behavior. Group learning, prayer and reflection will allow for discussion, debriefing and processing. Participants will think critically of their experiences abroad in order to better appreciate God’s work and to better discern their responsibility as Christians in building the kingdom of God on earth.
This group learning and common experience of a mission trip are an excellent way to build community. We look forward to working with parishes, secular fraternities and schools to help them build and strengthen relationships among their members while connecting with the poor abroad.
If you are interested in learning more about ours Mission and Global Awareness Trips, please contact Br. Paul O’Keeffe at email@example.com or 202-832-1762, ext, 7.
Spring Fund Drive: Help Us End Our Fiscal Year Strong
stories from missioners about their time accompanying the poor and
oppressed assures us that we are not walking this earth alone. Even
more, it reminds me that us have a mission to serve. At FMS, our
personal connections with communities in great need allow us to directly
and effectively bring hope where it is needed the most. We hope your own mission includes joining us in this.
you support FMS missioners, you are not only reaching out to poor and
oppressed communities across the world. You are also helping prepare
servant leaders for our church in North America – our Returned
Missioners – who are deeply committed to the Gospel and their neighbors.
Will you make a gift to help us continue to serve those in
greatest need? Donate today. In early May we sent out a letter asking your support,
and we only do this twice a year.
Last year's Spring Appeal made an important difference in our planning
for our incoming class of missioners. With your help, we can end our
fiscal year strong.
Every dollar will help our missioners reach
out to those who need their touch. Your prayers are always your greatest
gift to us, and we invite them as always.
Where one mission ended, another began for Patty Sollmann of FMS’ second lay mission class. Just two months after she and her husband Lorenz returned from Guatemala (1992-1994), their first child was born. Mission Matters: Updates From Africa and Latin America
“I see my mission experience as a beautiful preparation for that vocation to motherhood which would be my calling even before I would leave the mission field,” Patty said. “Somehow, for me, it seems that motherhood was simply renewing my mission commitment not for another three years but for a lifetime.”
Patty draws many parallels between the experience of mission and motherhood: both have stretched and challenged her to embrace God’s plan of transforming grace. And both have shaped her, changed her and challenged her to grow in love.
After returning from mission, Patty chose to forgo a career in wildlife biology and become a stay-at-home mom. The Sollmanns also decided to homeschool in order to instill their Catholic values more deeply in their three children: Jehannah, 11; Josef, 13; and Lea, 17, who graduates in June.
“Motherhood is such a blessing and vocation, but there are many secular influences within our culture that seek to devalue motherhood,” Patty said. “Motherhood, for me, has been the greatest blessing of my life.”
A few people told her that she was wasting her college education by staying home with her children, but Patty finds fulfillment in enriching, loving and shaping her children full-time. Her mission experience bolstered her decision to go against the mainstream.
“Mission taught me to be comfortable with becoming a stranger even within our own land. It taught me to be happy with less and to love more,” Patty said.
Inspired by the poor mothers in Guatemala, Patty chose to breast feed and carry her children in a sling around her body. And no cribs for her family: each child slept in Patty and Lorenz’s bed for the first few years of their lives. The couple knew a family in Guatemala who shared two cots with their five children.
“I can truly say that it was our time in mission that has shaped most prominently the choices we have made in the raising of our children and living our baptismal missionary call.”
For their first three years back in the U.S., Patty and Lorenz did not own a television. They eventually got one with a VCR so they could enjoy with their children movies that reinforce Catholic values.
“Being without TV for three years in Guatemala really had made an impact on our life and the way we would spend our time,” Patty said. “And we could see how much of a distraction TV had become in the lives of many of our family and friends.”
The Sollmans strive to teach their children the Franciscan value of living with less in order to share more with others. They aim to live out the charism of poverty of spirit and detachment by driving used cars, shopping at Goodwill instead of at the mall and building their home themselves.
Every Advent the family lives in “darkness,” relying on natural light of day and candles at night. They eat simple meals and support Food for the Poor. Patty describes the four weeks as a “quieting experience of anticipation for the true Light of the World.”
For more than 12 years, the family has sponsored children abroad through the Christian Foundation for Children and Aging. So from the time the Sollmann children were old enough to write, they have been exchanging letters with the poor, helping to build a bridge between the first and third world. Recently, CFCA changed their sponsorship to a child in Guatemala who is associated with the orphanage that Patty and Lorenz visited while on mission.
“Our experience in mission with FMS has become engrained so deeply within our life that it is truly inextricable,” Patty said.
In 2009, Patty and her family became affiliates of Instruments of Peace, a Catholic nonprofit that organizes and sponsors concerts of Catholic musicians to raise funds for charitable causes, especially those that seek to alleviate poverty. Read more about Patty and how mission prepared her for motherhood on our special Mother's Day blog post.
Bolivia missioners on retreat
Michael Redell is currently co-teaching physical education to
children ages 6 to 13 at a school in Bolivia two days a week. Several
days a week, he works on the mobile hospital, which educates the rural
community on health issues and provides medical and dental care.
Additionally, Michael helps with construction on house for orphanages
and helps with agriculture projects that generate income to keep the
orphanage financially self-sustaining.
“I’m definitely learning humility,” Michael said. “There has definitely
been many times of feeling helpless but giving what I can: compassion,
love, and presence, which can be extremely powerful in themselves.”
Kitzi Hendricks is mentoring adolescent girls in
Cochabamba, Bolivia at Madre de Dios, a shelter for women and children
who have been abused, neglected, and abandoned. A few of the girls have
been involved in prostitution or have been sexually abused. “They have
been taught from an early age to endure and look for the wrong types of
relationships and the wrong type of love,” Kitzi said. She works with
them on math, reading and grammar. She also spends time with them
through other activities such as celebrating birthdays and tie-dyeing
Catherine Giller accompanies the teens at the Franciscan Social
Center by lending a listening ear and joining them for medical or dental
appointments. Catherine also ministers with Voces Para Latino America,
which works with kids who are living on the street. She spends a night
and a day at their therapeutic center for teen boys supervising meals,
games, lessons and activities. Both the social center and Voces Para
Latino America have asked Catherine to help with bookkeeping.
Nora Pfeiffer continues to work on the two ecological radio shows and live at the Franciscan Social Center with children who are recovering from burns. A guest on the show, a biologist, recently invited Nora to a man-made lake for bird watching. Nora and Catherine thought it would be a great activity for the children so they took them. At the lake, they learned that are more than 1,440 species of birds in Bolivia but that fewer and fewer come to that lake because of contamination and climate change. The kids enjoyed participating in a drawing competition and spending time outside of the center.
Lynn Myrick has been invited to join a new ministry: the Andean Information Network, a news service that corrects misinformation in the news about Bolivia. It also highlights the significant international news about Bolivia in English. She currently edits news stories and book chapters, but will eventually have her “beat,” or special interest. “It is good for me to use my writing and research skills to convey Bolivian news to the English-speaking world,” Lynn said.
Joel Vaughn still teaches English in Bolivia at a prison and at a
hospice, and he and his wife Lynn have started teaching basic English
to 16 friars at the San Francisco Church. The couple has also helped to
initiate a lunchtime English conversation group for Cochabambinos who
are experienced English speakers and want to practice and maintain their
language skills. The group includes college students and working
Susan Slavin continues to help the Franciscans in Nairobi, Kenya establish a legal clinic, recently named the Franciscan Legal Aid Project, to assist locals experiencing human rights violations. She has visited a slum, talked with the people in an Internally Displaced Persons camp, and has accompanied a family whose home was bulldozed and children went missing.
Tim and Cecilia Marcy continue their work in Johannesburg, South Africa at the St. Francis Care Center. As a nurse, Cecilia massages and helps exercise 25-35 adults with HIV/AIDS. Tim's primary work is in the anti-retroviral clinic where he is a counselor and pharmacist. He also drives patients and staff members to hospitals or other destinations. As a deacon, he brings communion to patients and shut-ins in the community, regularly helps with Mass, and presides over funerals as well as liturgy of the word and communion services when a priest is not available for Mass.
2012 World Care Benefit and Celebration
Congratulations to our Anselm Moons, OFM Award recipients Ambassador Thomas P. Melady and Dr. Margaret Badum Melady, and thank you to our sponsors and to everyone who attended our event on March 16!
Couldn't make it? Check out our World Care Annual Benefit and Celebration page for coverage. Watch videos of our speakers: