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Joe Miller

 

Year Joined MKLM: 2018

Country: Bolivia

City: Cochabamba

Ministries: Centro de Orientacion & Capacitacion “Creciendo Juntos” and CARITAS Albergue Sumaj P’unchay / Casa de la Migrante

Ministry Areas: Education & Leadership Development, Justice & Peace

Ministry Goals:

The “Creciendo Juntos” center provides a space for junior and senior high students to continue receiving more individualized help/tutoring on their schoolwork, with a focus on developing character and ethics as well. Sumaj P’unchay was formed as a temporary shelter for both internal and foreign migrants to Cochabamba, while they search for work and permanent housing in the city. 

Ministry Context:

For many Bolivians in more rural areas of the country, it is difficult to find sufficient work, which leads them to move to a large city. While Bolivia calls itself “plurinational” (respecting all ethnic backgrounds), for indigenous populations it can still be difficult to complete education, realize gainful employment, and better their lives. Also, Sumaj P’unchay is housing an increasing number of Venezuelan refugees who have left political strife and oppression in their homeland.

Current Ministry:

My afternoons at the Creciendo Juntos center begin at the front door, greeting students as they come in. After most students arrive, I will assist usually a handful of students with homework: usually reading, (simple) math, and English. Often, this involves some nudging and encouragement to see a task or assignment through. 

So far, I arrive at the Casa just as residents are returning (they are required to search for work during the day); after which many are watching futbol (soccer) or the news on TV – during which some of us will play dominoes, Bolivian poker, etc. At 8 pm we all share supper together, after which residents clean up and turn in for the night. Soon I plan to begin visiting residents during the day while they are out in the city to better ascertain what needs they have and what stumbling blocks to finding work they encounter. 

Personal Data:

Originally from St. Paul, Minnesota; I came to an interest in justice and peace issues in high school – somewhat ironically as a JROTC cadet! I traveled to Ireland and Northern Ireland two months before graduation, and was taken by the visible effects of “The Troubles”: walls sectioning off entire parts of the city, police and British military in camouflage armed with automatic rifles, occasional bomb threats. I studied theology and justice and peace studies at the University of St. Thomas, and sought to be a high school religion teacher, which I finally did after a short period of discernment with the Jesuits. 

During the last 15 years, I have made more than a half-dozen trips to Central America and the Caribbean–all with a focus on justice & peace/service. After teaching in three different secondary schools in Massachusetts and Chicago, something was still missing. The daily grind of teaching classes and correcting papers got stale, and teaching teenagers why they should care for the poor got more difficult in the social media age. After 11 years in the field, I decided it was time to set teaching aside for a while and give international mission work a try. I appreciate the care and mutual discernment Maryknoll Lay Missioners and potential missioners engage in to place missioners.