By Maggie Fogarty (Class of 2003)
My husband and I and our two young children had been living in Amachuma, Bolivia, for about two years when I had an experience that enabled me to recognize what it truly means to be in mission.
It was Christmastime, and a local church had organized a Nativity play for the children who live in our village. Everyone was thrilled. There would be costumes and hot chocolate and the whole village would be there to watch the play.
On the morning of the play, three little boys came to my door. “Hermana,” they said, “we are shepherds in the play, and we need your help for our costumes.”
“What do you need?” I asked them.
“We need the towels we’ve seen drying on your clothesline. We need the big ones for our bodies and the little ones for our heads.”
“But, Juanito,” I said to the oldest boy, “you are already a shepherd. Every single day, after school, you take your family’s 30 sheep to pasture, and you wait with them to keep them safe from thieves and hungry dogs. And then you bring them home; you give them food and fresh water; and you put them in their shelter for the night.”
And to Carlos I said, “Do you remember one morning last month, when you brought a newborn lamb to my house?” The lamb had been born on a frosty morning, and was freezing to death on the hard ground. Carlos had thought to pick up the lamb, stiff with cold, and run to our house because he had seen us use a portable gas heater in our kitchen. “You saved that little lamb, Carlos. You held it in your arms by our heater until it was warm and kicking to life. That, my friend, makes you a smart and wonderful shepherd.”
There were many times during our years in Bolivia, where we served as Maryknoll lay missioners, that we were given good news to proclaim. We witnessed indigenous people organizing to demand a more just society and a more dignified economy. We witnessed farmers and mothers, miners and teachers insisting, nonviolently, on political change that would honor their values and identity as a nation of indigenous people.
When the people of Bolivia elected an Aymara man, a farmer and union leader, as the country’s first indigenous president, we said to the children of our Aymara village: “Look, a man who looks like you is now president of your country!”
It is good news for all of us.
This reflection appears in the November-December 2019 issue of Maryknoll magazine. It is excerpted from A Maryknoll Liturgical Year: Reflections on the Readings for Year B, an Orbis book edited by Judy Coode and Kathy McNeely.
Maggie Fogarty is a returned Maryknoll lay missioner who served with her husband, Tim Provencal, and their two children in Bolivia from 2004 to 2007. She is currently co-director of the New Hampshire Program for the American Friends Service Committee and lives with her family in Dover, New Hampshire.
Photos by Sean Sprague