A Letter from Chenoa Stock, serving in Bolivia
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I gave them one last hug, thanked them for their friendship and the times we shared, and walked away with a bittersweet feeling in my heart. Another despedida (“farewell” in Spanish) of dear friends I have met in my time here in Bolivia who have finished the Bolivian chapter of their lives and are moving on. I am no stranger to goodbyes. Having served a total of 12 years abroad as a mission co-worker in Sri Lanka and Bolivia, I have seen many friends come and go. Though I always try to base my community in local folk, it’s not rare to come upon other expatriates with whom I connect and share a bond, but who are sometimes not here long-term and eventually leave for the next part of their life journey.
Over these 12 years, I have come to see community in so many different ways. There is short-term community — those friends and colleagues mentioned above who come and go, leave a special mark in your heart, and with whom you sometimes keep in touch and sometimes do not. I admit that I sometimes shy away from people when they say they are only in Bolivia short-term. But sometimes you just can’t deny a connection and you enjoy the company and support while it is present. You live in the moment and treasure the time shared. These friends and colleagues come in cycles but are no less important than others in my life. I learn from them, I grow, and I am enriched by our relationships, even in that short period of time. No matter what, it is always sad to say goodbye.
Then there is long-term community — those friends and colleagues who are local to the country, who are also working long-term or like myself are married to a local. I rely on them not only for deeper support and relationships, but also for guidance regarding the ins and outs of the country and culture. This community provides a foundation on which I build my life and values and the decisions I make in the country.
Both of these communities are a map of the path my life has taken — the people who have been with me in the ups and downs, during work and recreational travels, through challenges and successes. Each person is a memory to hold onto with gratitude and love.
In the Bolivian Joining Hands Network, UMAVIDA (Spanish acronym for Joining Hands for Life), with which I serve, significant colleagues in my life have come and gone, but there are also those whose continued presence has allowed us to cultivate important and meaningful relationships. Ely Lopez, a strong and intelligent woman who has been involved in various capacities with UMAVIDA and its ever-evolving environmental justice campaign for the past 15+ years, has been a friend and confidant of mine since I arrived, and I know she holds that place for many others as well. I trust her opinion and perspective and know she will always tell it like it is when I ask her about anything. She has a steady grasp on the country situation and context and is a critical thinker when it comes to problem-solving and strategic planning. Her friendship is part of my long-term community — we can sit and talk about life and personal struggles over coffee and also discuss the government’s involvement in the extractive industry and how it affects the economy in the same sip. She is a pillar of my community here, whether I see her every week or every other month.
I speak of community in my countries of service abroad, but know full well that I am blessed to be a part of other life-giving communities as well. One of these allows me to be a part of a greater community that extends well beyond any one country. My colleagues and fellow mission co-workers of the Presbyterian Church (USA) are an inspiration and motivation for me as we work in various ways for God’s mission around the world. Though we serve in different ways, we are united in our call to be the body of Christ, sharing God’s love.
I recently had the chance to share in that body with my colleagues from Latin America and the Caribbean in our Regional Gathering in Lima, Peru. Our time together included presentations on policy updates and the information and discussions that are necessary for our service; but it also had a strong focus on “Reclaiming Our Center.” We were guided each day in this theme by our spiritual leaders, Jeannene and David Wiseman, as we learned and carried out different spiritual practices to examine our “Sacred Story” and to reflect on both our personal and vocational lives. Though many exercises called us to look within and contemplate our own pasts, we also had time to share with our colleagues our stories of joys and struggles, opening up ourselves and our vulnerabilities with this body and community of trust and support.
Though they can be challenging, I always appreciate and enjoy these gatherings of sharing and just being together as one body. There is nothing more rejuvenating and soul-filling than singing, worshiping and being in the presence of this community of solidarity and faith. This gathering was particularly special, as my husband and son were able to join and become a part of this community as well. They were welcomed with open arms into the body.
As 1 Corinthians 12:12-27 tells us so well, we are all different members and parts of this global body. We each have our individual gifts and talents to share. But it does not stop there. We are not meant to work alone or isolated in our individuality, but are called to work as a community of faithful partnership. Only with the gift of community, the body that God has bestowed upon us, can we grow in strength and solidarity to work for a better and more just world.
I give thanks for all of the people who have been a part of these communities, both short- and long-term. I also give thanks for my relationships with another special community — all of you who support me through your prayers, spiritual encouragement and contributions. Thank you for being the body of Christ in accompanying me in my call to service and care for God’s Creation with our Bolivian partners. Though we each are different members of the body and play our different roles, we are only whole together, in the short- and long-term journey of life and God’s love.
Peace and blessings,
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