Home » Bolivia » ‘Unless you become like children, …’

Advent 2023 newsletter


Joe Loney and Filo Siles, Bolivia

In the stadium in Cochabamba

From left, Filo, Edwin, Elmer and Joe in the stadium in Cochabamba

My Christmas gift arrived early this year. Through our sharing with two persons with disabilities, I acquired a new understanding of what it means to be childlike. When I first heard the Gospel passage that we had to turn and become like children to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18), I literally wondered how I could turn back the clock. Today I begin to truly comprehend Jesus´s teaching.

Edwin and Elmer are two young men with substantial intellectual and communication disabilities born in Tacopaya, Bolivia. During the last several years, Filo and I have been able to give both of them a hand up with their health, education, civic participation and economic sustenance needs.

In the coliseo

Elmer, Edwin and their teacher march around the coliseo.

Just a few weeks ago, we learned that they had been invited to participate in the athletic games for persons with disabilities. Since they live with their families, who are peasant farmers, we received their petition that, in order to participate in the running races, they would need the bus fare to the City of Cochabamba, along with shorts, socks, tennis shoes and lightweight athletic jerseys that are neither useful nor common in the high plains of Bolivia.

On the day of the inauguration of the games, Edwin and Elmer transformed before us as they changed from their everyday attire suitable for farming to the athletic apparel that we had purchased. With resolute faces, they marched around the outer circle of the coliseum along with their teacher, Navel Quispe, in the style of the Olympic Games. I wondered if they would encounter and express pleasure on race day.

The next day a bright sun, low humidity and nearly 90 degrees greeted Edwin and Elmer as they awaited their respective 100-meter dashes. Everyone looked in vain for shade as the brightly painted cement grandstands that encircled the track only doubled the impact of the sun.

Edwin with mother and Elmer with sister

Thumbs up for Edwin, with mother, and Elmer, with sister.

Finally, it was time for them to head down to the staging area. Edwin and Elmer ran amidst a lot of cheers and “soccer horns.” Immediately afterwards, Filo gave Edwin a thumbs up and asked him if it went okay. He sat himself down on the cement bleacher, accepted a refreshment, glanced at his mother, looked up and gave Filo a highly emotional thumbs up.

Elmer spontaneously looked at Filo and me, glanced at his sister and then blessed us with a wide, contagious smile. Filo and I could feel their joy and responded with smiles and thumbs up. No one asked about their race times, places in the race or whether or not they would receive medals. The pure, simple joy of participation was all that mattered. Everyone agreed to preserve the moment with pictures.

Two children of God taught me to appreciate the elation of participating where everyone is given an opportunity and is treated equally. I learned that the Gospel passage was not asking me to turn back the clock; rather, Jesus was asking me to move my development forward and to revel in the beauty of an inclusive moment.

Due to your generosity, Filo and I were able to facilitate the simple joy of participating in organized, integrated recreational activities. Elmer and Edwin are just two of the more than 300 persons with disabilities that we assist. With your prayers and financial collaboration, we can continue to collaborate so that our sisters and brothers with disabilities can experience compassion, inclusion and dignity.

May the birth of Jesus bring you and your loved ones the gift of renewal.
Filo and Joe, December 2023

Please consider supporting our mission work with people with disabilities in Cochabamba with a donation through the link below.

We also invite you to walk with us as our “COMPANIONS IN MISSION.” Companions in Mission are friends and generous donors who give financial gifts on a regular (usually monthly) basis. For more information, visit Become a Companion in MissionThank you so much for your generosity! 


Joe Loney
A Maryknoll lay missioner since 1995, Joe Loney oversees a social-inclusion project for persons with disabilities (Avancemos Juntos para la Inclusion Social de las Personas con Discapacidades) in Tacopaya, Entre Rios and Cochabamba, Bolivia.