These letters are sent out by mail periodically by Maryknoll to our family and friends. If you are interested in receiving these mailings, please contact us by e-mail with a mailing address.
November Missson Newsletter
November 11, 2007
Game of the Month
The other day while I was working in the clinic, as I often do, I looked out the window at the playground of Josh and Celia’s school. Most of the time I am curious about how they are adjusting to school and if they are having fun or not. This particular day, I saw a bunch of boys throwing things against the wall and Josh kind of walking around by himself. Of course, it was very hard for me to see my son separated from the group and I decided to walk outside and check on him. He was happy to see me and asked if I could get him some bottle caps. I didn’t quite understand so I asked him again what he wanted and he described to me the caps on top of beer and soda bottles. I asked why he wanted these and he pointed over to the kids in the playground. They were hammering down bottle caps with rocks and then using them to pitch against the wall like we used to pitch pennies when I was a kid. Josh didn’t have any caps so he couldn’t play. I told him that we could probably find some near the tienda which sells beer and sodas. Later that day, I had to go into town and got out of the bus early in front of a tienda and proceeded to pick up as many bottle caps as I could find. I’m sure it made for a funny sight to passers by, but, I knew how important it was to my son. When I returned home after school to give him his caps, he was elated and joined the crowd the next day at school.
First it was marbles, then spinning “tops” (caps from the top of acorns), then paper airplanes, then spiders made out of old wire on the ends of string, then bottle caps. The children of Josh and Celia’s school do not need video games, Toys-R-US, or any of the latest popular toys to have fun together. Most of what they play with, and engage in heated competitions with, are things that they make from stuff which they find on the ground or things which cost less than 10 cents to buy. One child gets the idea to start playing with one of these creative toys and the others follow along. The interest lasts about a month or so until another child comes up with some other invention to take over from the last. The children of Bolivia don’t have many toys to play with. They don’t have parents around most of the time to supervise them or engage them in any fun activities. So, they become creative inventors and come up with fascinating ways to have fun with very little to no money. Josh is just trying to fit in with the crowd. He wants to be accepted as one of them. He doesn’t want to be the “gringo” who everyone finds interesting to look at. So, he gets his marbles, his paper airplanes, his tops, his wire spiders, and his bottle caps (with a little help from his dad) and joins in with his new friends without being considered the outsider; and this makes him happier than any fancy new toy ever could.
Probably the first question that our family members or close friends ask us when they call or write is, “How are the kids doing?” I am happy to report that they are not only surviving, but, thriving. Many of the kids who attend their school come from some of the most troubled and poorest families of the neighborhood. Yet, Josh and Celia really don’t see much of a difference between themselves and their classmates. I remember one day when Josh noticed how many of the kids at school wear shoes which are falling apart. But, then he noticed that his shoes were also looking a bit raggedy so he wasn’t sure if their parents couldn’t afford to buy new shoes for them or if all shoes just get beat up on the concrete playground. Celia is blessed with a view of life which is only concerned with the present and who happens to be in front of her at the time. She is too busy playing and talking to her friends to worry about what kind of homes they come from. At times like this during mission, we realize that the impact that Becky and I are making in our ministries may not be quite as important as the impact our children are making within their school community. Our little missioners are doing an admirable job and learning great lessons of life at the same time.
How can you help?
We would like to thank all of you who have contributed so generously to our mission here in Bolivia thus far. One of the benefits of being a lay missioner with Maryknoll Lay Missioners is the support we receive both from the organization itself in the form of financial assistance and also the emotional and spiritual support we receive from our community among which we live here in Bolivia and Peru. We are blessed to be part of a region of Maryknoll which has a great reputation for supporting families in mission and we could not do what we do without their presence around us. At this time, we are a community of 2 families, and 3 single adults. All of us are involved in outreach activities which include healthcare, counseling, prison ministry, social justice, water resource management, and campus ministry. We come together on a regular basis to plan, pray and support each other as we continue to discern our callings here in the Andean Region. Normally, any contributions which come as a result of these newsletters go to our mission account which we use to fund our own particular projects. However, we also feel an obligation to Maryknoll and our local regional community to somehow solicit support for our general financial needs and living expenses. At this time, we are asking for your support for the general fund of Maryknoll Lay Missioners in order to keep us going in the mission field. Any funds donated as a result of this letter, or another letter which you will receive directly from Maryknoll in December, will go toward the general fund and not our own mission account. In the future, if you wish to make a contribution to our mission account, please indicate on the check memo area “Becky and Joe Sherman”. This will direct the funds directly to our ministry activities. We thank you for any support you can give to the organization which is taking such good care of us. We also ask for your continued prayers and support in the form of e-mails and other correspondence.
Joe (Becky, Josh and Celia)
What is a “Missioner?”
Joe and I are often asked “what is a missioner?” (or “missionary”? Really, they’re the same, just a different word that sometimes holds less of a stigma). Many people have written books on this topic and spent their lives researching it (“it” being missiology, or the study of mission). My humble understanding of what it means to be a missioner is very personal, not professional or academic and I’m sure that my current understanding will continue to change as I live abroad in mission. So, though I’m no expert, I will give you my current understanding of mission and how I hope to live out my next few years as a missioner.
Although there a many aspects of being a missioner, the following elements are those that speak to me most deeply and by which Joe and I try to live our lives as missioners.
For me, liberation means reaching one’s full human potential; to become one’s most authentic self. We could all use some liberation if you ask me. I know I could. But, I think what this means for me as a missioner is that I am called to see where people are pushed down in such a way that they are not able to reach their full potential. They may be pushed down economically, politically or socially. My role is to recognize this and find out what I can do to help in the process of creating justice and equality. One great quote by an Australian Aboriginal woman that I love is: “If you are coming to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you are coming because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” Another concept which helps me understand my role in this area is that “we are called not to serve the poor, but to empower the poor.”
As missioners, we are called to be witnesses to the lives of the poor and share their realities with others. Thus, making their voices heard. This is not to say that the people we will live among have no voice, but many of us in the so called developed world have a difficult time hearing it or listening to it. One way I can do this is by sharing their stories and how we are touched by their everyday lives. When I write to you and tell stories of the people with whom we live, I am giving witness to their reality and calling upon us all to be more aware of the inequities that exist in our world today.
One priest in New York described proclamation as “giving reason for the hope that’s in my heart”. As I see it, one of the roles for me as a missioner, is to give hope to those who need to see and feel hope. Maybe one way to do this is to simply live my life as a hopeful Christian woman who believes there is a better life in this world for the huge numbers of people who live on the margins of society. Many people living lives of quiet desperation are so heavily weighed down by their day to day existence that it is hard to see that life can be different, the world can change, and we can change it together. Proclamation does not mean that I am out on the corner yelling bible verses nor is it trying to sell Christianity to others. It means that I am present to others and that I am able to look at life differently and share that there is hope in this world. One great quote that is often mentioned in relation to this is by St. Francis, “Preach always. When necessary, use words”.
One strand that pervades all of these elements is “relationship.’’ As missioners, Joe and I talk about this all the time. We are constantly trying to prioritize our lives around being in relationship with others rather than “doing good things”. To be in relationship with God, with each other as missioners, with our friends and family, with the Bolivians in our community, with those in our faith community, with those whom we like, and with those whom we find difficult to be in the same room with. Being in relationship is not always easy, in fact it is often difficult and takes a lot of work, but God calls us to love one another and to be in community with all of God’s people, not just those who look like us, talk like us, and think like us. This is a great challenge for me, one that is full of difficulties yet many rewards.
“Don’t just do something, sit there”.
Joe and I often try to explain to others that our lives here as missioners is very different from what our lives would be like if we worked for a non-profit organization or government organization. If we worked for the latter, our objectives would be to “help” people. Our focus would be very much “charity” oriented. For the above reasons, we made a very conscious decision to move abroad as missioners, to have the very different objectives of Proclamation, Liberation, Witness, and Relationship. Although sometimes it would be nice to just go work 9-5 each day and know that we’ve “helped people”, it would not feel as authentic as the life we’ve chosen as missioners. Our mission lives are certainly not a productive as our North American ways would sometimes prefer, and we can often feel frustrated by this, but in the end, we feel we are being transformed and we are growing in a deep way in this life we have chosen.
Again, we thank all of you for your support in the form of prayers, correspondence, and donations. Without our supportive community in the US, we could not be missioners here in Bolivia. Please continue to keep in touch by e-mail and through our website at www.familysherman.com. If you wish to make a financial contribution to our mission account to help us continue to live and work as missioners here in Bolivia, please follow the directions below and be sure to write “Becky and Joe Sherman” on the memo line of any check you send in.
Much love and many blessings,
Becky (and Joe, Josh and Celia)
June 9, 2006
This is the last newsletter we will send from Bolivia. We have been here for the last 6 months studying Spanish and living with our host family- the Palomino’s. We have had some wonderful experiences here which will help us as we move on to our mission site in Venezuela at the end of June. As Becky and I reflect on our time here in Bolivia, we realize how much we have learned (besides a little bit of Spanish) and wish to share some of those lessons with you.
Every morning at about 7AM, we make our way across the courtyard from our apartment to the Palomino’s house for breakfast. Julia, the empleada (literal meaning is “employee”, but here in Bolivia it means housekeeper/cook/babysitter) has been up since 6 AM preparing our breakfast. She silently works around the family as we eat. This occurs at every meal as she stands by almost unnoticed. Yet, she cooks for us, does all our laundry, cleans up after us, and runs down to the tienda to buy anything Celia requests. Julia is a 23 year old Quechua woman who works about 14 hours a day 6 days a week. The reality is, we could not get along without her. We try to say “gracias” as much as we can and show our appreciation, but, we really don’t know what she thinks about her life.
Everyday I pass by the neighborhood security guard, Jose Luis, saying “Buenos Dias”, but, never really struck up a conversation with him until about a month ago when I saw him playing with the neighborhood children and Josh and Celia joined in. Everyday I pass by the gate of the language institute greeting the guards, Julio and Mario, but never bothered to say much more until I played street hockey with Julio one night and realized there was more to him than just a being a guard. Now, we talk about all kinds of topics each day.
As we prepare to leave Bolivia and move to Venezuela, Becky and I have both realized that Julia, Jose Luis, Julio, and Mario are the people whom we are called to accompany. All the people who just do what they have to everyday trying to get by and are relatively unnoticed by others are the exact people who make the difference in our lives and who hold the most importance. These people represent Christ in the world. We are called to recognize them; affirm their dignity; and learn from them. We have often used the language barrier as an excuse. The reality is that they really don’t care how well we speak Spanish. They care about our relationships. Realizing the importance of the “invisible” people in our lives; struggling to communicate with taxi drivers, store clerks, and our Bolivian family; being stripped of any previous identities which we had professionally or personally, are all part of the humility we have been struggling to accept as lay missioners and students. It is a hard lesson which we will continue to face as we move to Venezuela.
One day, there was a general transportation strike in Cochabamba. I was standing at the corner trying to find a taxi to take Celia and Josh to school along with about 10 other people knowing I would be late for my classes. I finally caught a bus with the kids and got dropped off about 5 blocks away from their school. I was frustrated, angry, and impatient. Then, I started to look at the other people on the bus as they saw this gringo dad and his two kids standing next to them. Many people offered to have the kids sit on their laps while I stood. I looked around and realized that these are the real Bolivians who take long bus trips to go to work or look for work downtown. When we got off, we had a leisurely walk to the kids’ school. We passed many people working in their shops as they all smiled and greeted the blue-eyed kids walking to school. The kids loved the adventure. I made it back by bus easily making my first class and learning a major lesson in the value of patience.
Whether it is spending longer hours with the kids at home, waiting for taxis, trying to understand and speak Spanish with our Bolivian family, or enduring months of waiting for our ministry to begin in Venezuela, we have learned that patience may be one of the most important traits of a missioner. Even though we have been here for only 6 months, I believe we are all more patient people. I have learned to let go of medicine for awhile (except for my morning consultations with my fellow students). Becky has learned to let go of psychology for awhile (except for trying to figure out Josh and Celia). The kids have learned to just “be” in the house or in the park without being entertained all the time. Let’s hope we can continue growing in patience.
When I arrive early at language school in the morning, I often make my way to the chapel for some silent prayer before classes begin. Inevitably, my prayer focuses on trust. Can I really let go of all the control I had and want to have over my life, my career and my future? Can I really trust that God knows what is best for us and guides us along the way? Can we really believe that all this time of preparation and waiting will result in what we believe we are called to be? I’m not sure. However, when I sit and really listen on those mornings, I feel God’s presence reassuring me and joking with me about my lack of faith. “Have I not taken care of you all your life and opened the doors which need to be open to you at the right time?” It is true. Why do I have such a difficult time believing it? I’m still working on this lesson.
When it comes down to it and I have the time to take it all in, I realize that we have so much to be thankful for. Not only do we have two beautiful and amazing kids who ask us very provocative questions about poverty and faith, but, we have the opportunity of a lifetime which many other people never get or take. We have a wonderful Bolivian family who loves us and our kids and takes care of our every need. We have the freedom to spend everyday studying and learning another language with interesting and caring people. We have more time to spend together as a family than ever before. We are healthy and following the path we truly believe we are called to. At the end of the day, that is what we are left with. Every night as we put the kids to bed and lie next to them, we each recount what we are thankful for from that day. Celia is always the best at this because she is thankful for all the people we never seemed to notice; all the events we were too impatient to recognize; and all the hope that lies ahead for next day. Thank God for kids!
Thank you all for your support. Your contributions, correspondence, and prayers have gotten us this far. Now, we look forward to Venezuela and the challenges which lie ahead. We hope to continue to include all of you in our journey through newsletters, photos, e-mails and our website www.familysherman.com. Remember if you ever wish to make a contribution, please write “Becky and Joe Sherman” on the memo line of your check.
God Bless,Joe (Becky, Josh, and Celia)
March 6, 2006
Dear Friends and Family:
Since arriving here in Bolivia and living in Cochabamba, Josh has been full of questions and comments such as, “Mommy…why don’t you give money to that poor person?.... can I have some money to give to the poor person?... why do the poor people wait for us outside of church?... what happens to the poor people?...that poor person has some food today, she and her baby have a piece of bread to eat…why can’t the poor people find jobs?...what happens when they don’t have enough to eat?...I know what we can do, find them all jobs and then they can feed their children…poor people are lucky they don’t have to go to school…why are those poor children staring at us? (while we sit at an outside restaurant)...what are those boys doing in the dumpster?”
How am I supposed to answer these questions? What is the right response? How do I explain poverty and the very painful realities of those living in the margins of society to my 5 year old? Every question Josh asks raises ten more questions for me.
Now I’m used to the questions and I just do my best to answer them, but the first time, I was speechless. We were waiting for some friends on a busy street in Cochabamba on our second day in Bolivia. An indigenous woman with her two children came up to us begging for money. Josh was confused. Why was she asking for money and why didn’t I give her any? I had to tell him that I would talk to him later about it because I needed to think about it. Our friends arrived and we began walking. Within 10 minutes we had walked by, or stepped over, at least 10 different women with children of all ages ranging from apparently just weeks old to maybe 12 years old, all of them asking for money. Josh’s questions continued and now he really wanted to give them money. He asked what would happen to them if they didn’t get any money.
By this time, I needed to say something to Josh. Since we had just arrived in the country the day before, we actually didn’t have any money so it was a non-issue from that perspective. But what if we did have money? Would I have given some to each and every woman? Only to some? I asked my friend what she did and she mentioned that when her family goes into town, she often carries a pocket full of change and gives it out one Boliviano (about 12 cents) at a time and when it’s gone, she’s done for the day. When her son is with her, she gives him 3 Bolivianos and tells him he can give them to whomever he chooses. Is this what I should do with Josh? When we go into town, should I give him some pocket money to give out? What kind of pressure does that place on him? Would he worry about how to choose who to give his money to? Would he be upset when his money was gone? What is the answer? I have no idea.
In the past, every night before dinner, we would pray in thanksgiving for what we have and petition God with requests. We always prayed for those without food or shelter. Josh has heard these prayers many times but he has never come face to face with the people for whom we have prayed until now. It’s hard to see these women with their children -rags for clothes, dirty faces and hands, sad and hopeless. When I attempt to think of myself in such a position, it’s unbearably painful and I have to turn my thoughts to other things. Josh is very obviously imagining some of the realities of the lives of these children as he asks questions and tries to come up with solutions.
What I finally said to Josh as we were walking that day is that the reason we were living in Bolivia and then in Venezuela was to help the poor. That is the whole point of why we are here. It certainly felt good to say that and think that we are here to do something good for others but really, the good feeling only lasted for a couple of minutes. Then the reality of these peoples’ lives set in a bit more deeply and I certainly didn’t feel so good about myself any more. My heart is in the right place but what am I really doing to help? As of now, not much. We are in Bolivia to learn Spanish and we are living a relatively easy life. And, this is the way it’s meant to be for now. I know this in my head, but in my heart, when faced with the poor on a daily basis, it certainly doesn’t feel like enough.
I wonder if much of what mission is about, is trying to live in the tension of the contrasts we witness each day. We are currently living in one of the poorest countries in the world and we encounter the poor every single day. Every time we go out to a restaurant or to a park with the kids, just outside the gates we always see hungry children looking on in desperation. It’s hard to eat a meal with the knowledge that those children will go without food. The other night, when we were out to dinner with our kids and another family, one of our friends asked the waiter to pack up all of our leftovers which he gave to the kids outside the gate when we left. Is this the best way to handle it? It certainly felt good when we did it, knowing those children would have at least something to eat. But is it enough? What is enough? What is the right path? I don’t know.
We have just begun our journey as a missionary family. As hard as it is to face these realities and struggle with Josh’s questions, I love that he asks the questions and that he tries to come up with solutions. The tensions of the contrasts in our lives are difficult, yet they evoke the questions we are meant to be asking right now. I’m often reminded of my spiritual director who used to tell me that having the answers is not always the best path; rather, living into the questions is more life giving in the end. For now, Josh will continue to ask the questions and I will continue to struggle with which response is the best, knowing full well that we are called to continue to live with the questions.
Much love and many blessings to all of you,
Becky (and Joe, Josh, and Celia)
January 5, 2006
Dear Family and Friends,
As I (Joe) lied on the floor in Josh and Celia’s bedroom to read to them before they went to sleep on the last night we spent at Bethany (our residence during our orientation), I looked up and saw the only object hanging on the bear walls. It was the Serenity Prayer: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I can not change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference”. I remembered back to the night I put the kids to bed when we first arrived at Bethany and feeling lost and uncertain about our future. That first night, I looked up and saw that prayer and felt a certain calming reassurance; a reassurance which has grown more and more over the last three months; a reassurance which has allowed us to leave friends and family and go on mission to Venezuela.
We left Seattle at the end of August and moved to Ossining, NY to begin our lives as candidates with the Maryknoll Lay Missioners in a three month orientation program. Becky and I had been discerning our choice of moving the family overseas in mission for over a year and a half and we finally had taken the leap of faith which began us on this amazing journey. Josh and Celia had no idea what was in store for them as they moved into a dormitory with 25 other lay missioners including one other family. We grew together as a couple, as a family, and as a class of new lay missioners. We learned about history, economics, culture, theology, scripture, and spirituality. In the end, we felt we had found a home with Maryknoll and were excited about our future lives serving in mission in Venezuela. On December 10, our family was “sent off” in a very moving ceremony along with our fellow lay missioners, three associate priests from dioceses around the US, and three members of the Maryknoll Congregation of sisters. We are being sent to countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America to live and work among the poor and discover God’s presence in the diversity that exists in our world. For our family, that means moving to Cochabamba, Bolivia on January 9 for six months of language school and, then, on to Venezuela for three years of ministry. We will live and work in a barrio outside of Barquisimeto. Joe will work as a pediatrician in community clinics and hopefully learn about the country’s emerging healthcare system. Becky will work with children and parents in our surrounding community. Josh and Celia will go to school with their Venezuelan friends and help us with our Spanish. We are excited and challenged about what lies ahead for us.
Saying goodbye has been very difficult. Our group of new lay missioners discussed how important it is to say goodbye to our friends and families with intentionality and openness to all the emotions of fear, apprehension, excitement, and sadness. We practiced saying goodbye to each other during our last week of orientation. We have been saying goodbye ever since then; first to the Sherman family and friends on the east coast and then to the Frink family and friends in Seattle. Now, we wish to say goodbye to all of you as we leave the United States and welcome you to our experience of mission through these newsletters. You are all an important part of our mission experience. If we didn’t have you here supporting us through your prayers, communication, and donations, we would not be able to survive as a family living among the poor in Venezuela.
You can follow our lives through our website: www.familysherman.com and through these newsletters which will be mailed to you several times a year. If you also wish to receive letters electronically, please notify us at email@example.com so we can add you to our e-mail list. We will share our stories and photos with you so you can experience mission without ever leaving your homes (although we do hope you’ll come down for a visit). If you wish to make a financial contribution by check, please make it out to “Maryknoll Lay Missioners” and write “Becky and Joe Sherman” on the memo line. Your contribution will go directly toward our expenses as a family and to our ministries.
We wish you and your loved ones peace and hope in the coming year. We also pray that everyone in the world will some day share in the peace and hope that comes from mutual understanding and concern for one another. We will keep you in our prayers as we travel to our southern neighbors on January 9th.
God bless you,
Joe, Becky, Josh, and Celia Sherman