As a Maryknoll brother candidate, I have been overseas in mission in Bolivia for the past two years. Bolivia, the poorest country in Latin America, has a rich culture and the people are welcoming and kind.
Although I have had the opportunity to study theology and pursue a degree in art, I have discovered that the real education is here in the developing world, where I am learning much from the people I work with by entering into relationships with them.
Currently I work with Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity from Calcutta, India, at a home for men with HIV/AIDS in the city of Cochabamba. This disease carries with it a terrible stigma here, making life all the more difficult for these patients. We also have men suffering from various respiratory problems and addictions to alcohol and drugs. Others are mentally challenged. A number of men have been involved in serious accidents and need someone to help them recover. The majority of these men are abandoned by their families and friends.
I talk with the men daily and listen to them very carefully, trying to be a part of their lives and be there for them. It is through this “accompaniment” that I feel I am part of their lives, especially since they have no one else to visit them. The sisters tell me the patients all suffer from depression from time to time, and how important it is to spend time with them. I am grateful for the skills I have in art, music and cooking that I am able to share with the patients.
I feel I have been called to be a missioner of hope to these men, encouraging and supporting them and caring for them where they are. It has been a humbling experience for me. It also has been an honor to enter and be a part of their lives and to share in their joys and sorrows.
During my time here, I have also worked with children at an after-school program, teaching them art and helping them with academic subjects. And I have worked at a Franciscan senior center assisting the elderly with their meals and daily exercises, and simply being present to them and accompanying them on a daily basis.
I discovered that loneliness and depression were daily challenges for many of these elderly people, and they appreciated having company and someone just to talk with them. I prayed for them daily and for the strength and patience to be of assistance to these, my brothers and sisters in Christ.
I have another year to serve in Bolivia before I return to Chicago to complete my studies at Saint Xavier University. I will take courses in adult psychology, social justice and theology. I expect to take my final oath at Maryknoll in New York in 2019. I feel I am truly blessed to be a missioner, and look forward to finishing my studies, and then returning to the developing world as a Maryknoll brother to help the poor and the marginalized and respond with all my heart to my call to be a brother to all, like Jesus.
I keep in mind the words of Jesus, “Whatever you do to the least of my people, you do to me.” This is what mission is.
Featured Image: Brother candidate Ryan Thibert helps children in Bolivia with their schoolwork as part of his preparation for a lifetime of mission with Maryknoll. (Photo courtesy of R. Thibert/Bolivia)