Sunday, February 21, 2010


So we've been here about half a year, we should be feeling relatively competent, right? Maybe.
I've heard some great comparisons between entering a new culture and restarting childhood. As the months have passed we've tottered through and "grown up" a bit. I can decide where I want to go and how I'll get there. I know my Bolivian ID number. I can take myself to the doctor. I can take responsibility for the work I do and bring new ideas to the table. Of course, culture is like an iceburg and there's a lot that I have yet to realize is there, let alone adapt to, but over all I finally feel more likea "big girl" in Bolivia...except for one big glaring obnoxious hole: the language.

Yes, I know, I teach in Spanish, translate letters between girls and their sponsors, translate documents and emails, make small talk with strangers on busses...I'm not exactly incompetent. But every once in awhile, I get slammed with a situation that makes me feel incredibly child-like. The other day I was at a meeting with the sisters and they read a letter from the rector-major that I understood perfectly. After they finished the director of the community asked me a question about it and I just sat there for a good thirty seconds, completely oblivious that a question had even been posed to me, let alone what it was. Why was everyone looking at me? What just happened? Finally I stammered out an irrelevant and vague answer and tried not to stare to helplessly at Hermana Ellie sitting next to me who had clued me in by whispering "you're turn, Niki. Talk!" Of course, my image of competence was totally blown at that point when it appeared that I did not even understand the letter we had been reading pieces from for three days in a row. Damn.

The superior of formation of the entire order is visiting from El Salvador in place of the Mother Superior and she and I have had some passing small talk during her visit. Knowing that my language still isn't the best I can't help but feel a little intimidated when we talk, which certianly doesn't help me understand her any better. The other day she came up to me at a party and asked if I had been thinking about what she had told me. Um...what? Sure...of course...every day? Great then. For how long? The year or longer? In Bolivia or El Salvador? How did my family feel about it? And don't worry, we can arrange it with the mother superior. WHAT!? What did I just do!? Damn my mono-lingual ears! The next day in mass, she came to my pew after communion. Oh my gosh, please God don't let her be here to talk to me! So I did the best thing I could think of...I ran away while she was praying. That's right. I'm a coward and hid from a nun because I didn't feel like speaking Spanish...or being invited to move to El Salvador again.

I used to be a competent, articulate, confident person. Last week I ran away from a nun. There seems to be a bit of a contrast here. Cross cultural work is tough, friends. You have to give up a lot of your abilities and power. I'm not bold in Spanish. I'm not tactful or intelligent either and I'm definitely not witty. Maybe I wasn't overwhelmingly any of those things in English either, but I at least had a shot. That's okay though. There's a parable in Matthew about a merchant who discovers a pearl of great value and sells everything he has to buy it. It seems silly. Why would you give up your security, your status, the things you've worked hard for, for a pearl? Because it's that good, and you know it's that good. Why would you give up your confidence, your competence, your image of composure to come to Bolivia and stammer and stumble through your day like a confused little kid? Because God's call is a treasure of infinite value. It's that good, and despite the frustration and embarrasment and fatigue, I know it's that good. Praise God for the things in our lives that are worth sacrificing (even our language) for.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Half a Year?

Happy Six month anniversary (Wednesday) to us! Time really does fly. In reflecting on what this half year has meant to me here in Bolivia I decided to look back at some journaling I had done about deciding to come here, preparing for a month in New York, and eventually arriving and settling in. I found this entry, from the my last night in the US, and felt it was a pretty good reminder of what I'm doing here and why. Why did I feel compelled to come to Bolivia? How does I understand my arrival in Bolivia as a response to the gospel? What am I striving towards not just through my labor, but through my growing love for these girls and our neighbors? So here it is. You're reading my journal right now, is that awkward?

"I've been exploring the layers of Jesus' example to us over this last month. Jesus demonstrates to us loving interpersonal relationships. We carefully examine who he passed the time with, what they spoke about, how they treated each other, etc. We look to our own personal relationships with Jesus for a model of relationships with our family, friends, and even enemies. We cannot forget, though, that Jesus also is presenting to us a model of relationship with the world. He is not simply speaking to us about God's relationships with each individual person, but also about God's relationship with the whole earth. What is Jesus's message, not just to the poor man beside Him, but to the poor of the earth? What about the oppressed? The grieving? The rich and prideful? I fear that we embrace the task of following Christ by being a loving companion, but we forget that Christ's primary example by the cross is reconciliation and restoration of the world as a whole. To neglect our role in bringing peace and justice in to the world, not just our homes, is to deny the major significance of the cross and the restorative work we are invited to partake in when we "take up" this cross. To honor our baptismal call we must look at the mission of Christ the companion of each individual soul, and Christ the redeemer of the whole earth, together. Christ's message is to the world. His works are for all people. He restores the entire human race together and His concern, as ours should be, is for the state of entire world. He was sent to bring peace to humanity, not just to your dinner table. This fact alone places a demand for social justice and global evangelism at the heart of our Christian faith.

If Christ shows us that we must be concerned with the state of the entire earth, He also teaches us that this concern is a call to genuine and loving interpersonal relationships. We see by His incarnation that we can step back to engage the global injustices we encounter by stepping forward to enter in to the lives of the individuals Christ came for (that would be all of us...the great and lowely alike). Remeber that the crucifixion is staggering, not simply because the Lord died for us, but because to do so He had to take on man's mortality to begin with (Think about Ephesians 2:5-11 and be awed again by the incarnation). He came near to participate in our suffering. He became intimatly connected to our lives in ways we could see and touch and perceive, and it was through this intimacy, this connectedness, that the love which freed us was revealed. Thus Jesus showed us that, following His example, we must seek to heal the world, but this healing must be accomplished through loving and compassionate relationships the individuals around us. The interpersonal and the global are equally essential in our response to the gospel, though we rarely express our faith as though it were so.

We cannot ignore the role of social justice in the gospel. How often does Jesus speak in favor of the poor and marginalized? How clear was His condemnation of those abusing their riches and power? Though we each individually are invited to receive His grace, His redemptive sacrifice was intended for the world as whole. Thus we too must follow Christ and take an interest in the world as a whole. We must bring good news to the poor and reject the abuse of wealth and power. Our mission, as followers of Christ, must absolutely take us beyond our own neighborhoods to engage the world as Christ did. This however, is not a sterile and distant mission. Again, God redeemed the world by coming near to us personally. Jesus' miracles frequently are preceeded by an expression of His pity and compassion. He knew these people. God walked amongst us and entered in to our suffering. He wept with the grieved and celebrated with the joyous. He accomplished His salvific work by entering in to our lives and showed us that, to take part in His plan, we too must abandon our status and enter with love and humility in to the lives of the suffering around us. Christianity was never meant to bind us to our familiar "circles." In fact, Jesus' first followers were instructed to do just the opposite. As we look beyond ourselves, however, we must be willing to love the poor and despairing and suffering not simply through our wallets, but as God did by the presence of Christ: in the flesh."

Also, our director, Adam came to visit for a few days. It was a great time. We ate steak and played guitar and overall felt very spoiled. He took some great photos of us actually working (as opposed to partying like all our other photos) and of Johanna teaching voice and me teaching dance. There are also some great shots of the scenery and the gorgeous February flowers (what? it's snowing there? haha, suckers).

Adam's visit