Last October, Dr. Joe Sherman helped lead a medical mission trip to Bolivia with Solidarity Bridge serving the role of chaplain/pediatrician. He and his family served in Bolivia with Maryknoll Lay Missioners from 2005 to 2009.
After spending three and a half years in Bolivia with our family as Maryknoll lay missioners, my wife (Becky) and I realized there were some words we used in Spanish which just couldn’t be translated into English and convey the same meaning. The three most common words which fell into this category were choque, lucha and cariño. As I look these words up in a Spanish/English dictionary, there are 10 English synonyms for each of them, and none convey the meaning as well as the Spanish versions. These three words describe the experiences I witnessed as a first-time missioner serving as assistant chaplain with the Solidarity Bridge Multi-Specialty Mission Trip in 2019.
A choque is an experience of impasse when two or more objects unexpectedly crash into each other, necessitating some maneuvering in order to continue functioning. Our week was filled with cultural and operational choques; from running out of oxygen in the OR right before anesthetizing a patient, to differing opinions with some of our Bolivian colleagues about how to treat certain conditions, to confusion about our meal schedule. Even though choques can be extremely frustrating when they occur, they always provide opportunities to learn more about ourselves and those with whom we wish to be in relationship.
A lucha is a fight or mission of commitment which is integrated into someone’s being to the point that it cannot be extracted or ignored. All week long, we encountered Bolivians whose commitment to a cause inspired us to serve in whatever way we could––staff from Puente de Solidaridad working tirelessly for months to build partnerships with the hospital and doctors and prepare patients and families for our arrival; Bolivian health professionals working long hours for very little pay to care for patients who could not afford to pay for treatment; patients who waited for years to get the surgery or treatment which would change their lives. Each of us was inspired in a particular way to create our own lucha as we returned home to the U.S.
Cariño is that special gift of deep kindness and affection which one person gives to another like a warm blanket, creating a relationship which is embedded in God’s love and ever enduring. It is often used to close letters written to friends. Instead of “Sincerely” or “Kind regards”, Bolivians use the phrase “Con cariño” to express their deep sentiment. We were constantly overwhelmed with cariño everywhere we turned. The sense of deep appreciation for our time and service was conveyed in tears of joy from patients’ families, embraces from our Bolivian colleagues and special gifts at the time of our departure. True cariño is contagious and mutual. We each left with the glow of this mutual affection, inspired to pass it onto others as we returned.
As I re-acclimate to my “normal” life here in the U.S., I continue to use the Spanish words: choque, lucha, and cariño when I get stuck searching for an appropriate English expression. But after my mission trip, I will do so in a deeper context, inspired and emboldened by the experience of relationship with my fellow missioners and Bolivian compatriots.
Originally written for Solidaritybridge.org