The challenges of returning to life in the U.S. - Maryknoll Lay Missioners
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Joe Sherman shares his stethoscope with children during one of the medical outreach trips he and his wife, Becky, took to the mountain villages above Chilimarca, Bolivia.


Respond to the call of your gift and the courage to follow its path.
—John O’Donohue (from: For Presence)

When we arrived back to our home in Seattle in 2009, the same house in the same neighborhood that we had left four years earlier to join Maryknoll Lay Missioners, I told my wife, Becky, that I needed to find a job as soon as possible. We had been away for four years — orientation in Ossining followed by language school and mission in Bolivia.

With two young children and a mortgage to pay, the provider in me kicked into high gear and became anxious about how to find a job that I liked at a decent salary. I was a doctor, so it couldn’t be that hard.

Becky, on the other hand, said, “I’m going to take my time, get the kids settled into school, and spend some time reflecting on how to integrate my experience in mission into our lives back here in the U.S.” She has always been the brighter partner in our marriage.

Becky enrolled in the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises in Everyday Life program, the kids headed to elementary school with our neighbors’ kids, and I began the most challenging period of my life, trying to integrate my experience in mission while learning how to be a doctor again in the U.S. During our “Mission Integration Program,” we had heard from our guides to be patient with ourselves as we re-entered U.S. culture, but I felt I didn’t have the time or freedom to delay my process. I got to work right away.

As I struggled to keep up with the demands of running a pediatric clinic within a busy county hospital, Becky gradually transformed what she used to do as a pediatric neuropsychologist into a new career in community mental health and teaching. While she flourished, I sank.

Becky and Joe Sherman, with their children, Cecelia and Joshua, in Chilimarca. The Shermans served as Maryknoll lay missioners from 2005 until 2009.

Everything I loved about being in mission in Bolivia seemed to disappear in a flash. The spaciousness, the slow pace of life, the variety of mission activities, the tight supportive community were replaced with the demands of fixing a broken system that I inherited after a financial crisis that we weren’t aware of in Bolivia.

The end result was that I eventually crashed and had to leave medicine all together. Becky expanded her work to full-time, and I stayed home with the kids while I recovered from the trauma of my re-entry.

I read books on transition and living life more authentically. I sought out the support of a therapist, spiritual director and life coach. I prayed, meditated, and talked to innumerable people in pastoral care, social work, teaching and ministry, desperately seeking out the magic answer of how to transport my experience in Bolivia back to my life in the U.S.

Eventually, I realized that the person I had become in mission was my true self. That person acting as a pediatrician in the rural clinic, the teacher in the community, the medical counselor for language school students, the cultural ambassador for other expats visiting Bolivia, was the real me!

When my work as a doctor in the U.S. was defined by community, spaciousness, common mission, and reflection, I thrived. When it was reduced to just making sure all the work got done and fixing everything that was wrong, I withered.

I finally found the courage to respond to the call of my gift and follow its path. While working part-time with non-profit organizations that viewed healthcare as only one component of caring for the needs of the marginalized, I pursued additional training in how to accompany other doctors in finding the joy they hungered for in their careers.

Now I work as a career coach and retreat facilitator for physicians and other health professionals as they seek a more balanced way to serve their patients without getting completely overwhelmed and burned out. I lead workshops on well-being, self-compassion and living out your values in your work. I accompany medical mission teams abroad to help them reflect on their experiences and integrate what they learned into their lives back in the U.S.

Maybe I couldn’t bring Bolivia back with me to the U.S., but with God’s grace and a lot of support, I was able to discover what truly brought me life there and find the courage to use my gifts to help others do the same back here.

Joe Sherman
Joe Sherman (Class of 2005, Bolivia) is a pediatrician and consultant in the areas of cross-cultural medicine, leadership, and provider well-being. He is a facilitator with the Center for Courage & Renewal and a certified physician coach with the Physician Coaching Institute. Together with his wife, Becky, and their two children, he served with Maryknoll Lay Missioners from 2005 until 2009 in Cochabamba, Bolivia.