Witnessing missioners’ lives up-close - Maryknoll Lay Missioners
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Caren Thompson with Hamesi, a new friend at a center in Mwanza, Tanzania, where lay missioner Susan Carpenter worked. (Photo by Laurie Rumpf)

Over the past two years, I have gone on two immersion trips with Maryknoll Lay Missioners. These Friends Across Borders trips allowed me to witness up-close the good work missioners are doing in Tanzania and Bolivia.

In 2017 in Tanzania, we met Joanne Miya, who had gone there after college. Thirty-six years later, she is still a Maryknoll lay missioner at the Uzima Centre in Mwanza, improving the lives of adults and children affected by HIV/AIDS.

Friends Across Borders participants join lay missioner Hong Nguyen (third from left) for meal preparation for a local food ministry.

We also visited Susan Carpenter, whose program provides meals for kindergartners, many of whom walk six miles to school without eating breakfast. The program also sends rice and beans home weekly.

I am still thinking about a very promising student, about 19 years old, who had a medical condition that had interrupted her studies. Although she was shy, she made a great impression on me, and I admired how she didn’t give up. With the help of a solar light, she was able to read after dark and continue her studies. Recently I heard that she has finished a computer training class.

Meeting her and others on this trip showed me that you don’t always have to do or build grand things. Touching one person’s life really is a big deal.

Last year in Bolivia, I witnessed the love and care lay missioners Sonny and Hong Nguyen give to children in orphanages in Cochabamba. We also joined Phuong (Minh) Nguyen in packaging and serving basic food items to the abuelas (elderly “grandmothers”). They hugged and kissed Minh throughout their greeting. Because Minh brought us with her, they greeted us with love as well.

In Cochabamba, Bolivia, Caren Thompson (right) helps lay missioner Minh Nguyen prepare bags of oatmeal and sugar to be given in a food basket to a group of older women called the abuelas, the grandmothers. (Photo by Irene King)

A trained hair stylist, Minh teaches women prisoners to cut hair, enabling them to make a living when they get released. One of the prisoners gave me a haircut—a Bolivian experience I will always cherish.

In Tacopaya, we were touched by the hospitality of high school students who welcomed us with homemade leis. They prepared and served a wonderful meal for us and taught us their local dance, drawing all of us in.

Joe Loney and Filo Siles took us high into a remote area of the Andes to visit families and check on a project that provides education to children who do not have access to schools.

Observing firsthand the work of Maryknoll lay missioners in both Tanzania and Bolivia has inspired me to look into becoming a lay missioner myself. When you experience that beautiful simplicity, you are changed forever. You not only learn about the culture, customs and people in a faraway land, you see Jesus there.

Caren Thompson
Caren Thompson is a bank manager in California.