God's Mission, Not My Adventure: Returning to Bolivia

It is amazing how easily we can make mission about ourselves and not about God. I found myself falling into this trap recently when discussing an upcoming trip to Bolivia, where I will accompany Catholic school teachers from the US on immersion.  This will be my second visit with Maryknoll missioners and the people with whom they serve in and around Cochabamba.

As I was discussing this next trip with colleagues, I almost lamented the prospect of "having" to go. My first immersion experience to Guatemala stands out to me as one in which I came face to face with my relationship as a US citizen and a Christian to the rest of the world and the injustices that people face. My experience in Haiti still tugs at my heart as one of encounter with the sheer depth of suffering in this world and the witness of those who forge ahead in faith and hope. Bolivia as a place simply does not ignite my passion in the same way.

And yet, Bolivia as an experience represented perhaps the greatest conversion of all for me, a seismic shift in consciousness. What I took from it was not a pressing need to share stories and advocate against injustices, but a new way to encounter the world. I returned with an overwhelming desire to be fully present, fully involved in the lives of those around me. The deep sense of relationship and oneness that I sensed in the people that I met - with one another, with me in their presence, and with the earth that nurtures us - affected me greatly and altered how I acted with almost everyone around me. It brought into focus the joy and beauty of living a life that puts people first.

Given this, I ought to have been jumping for joy at the prospect of returning to Bolivia. And yet, as with so many things, I instead viewed the opportunity only in terms of my own preference and plans. Wouldn't I rather be going back to Guatemala or Haiti? Aren't I more excited about a future trip to the Texas-Mexico border?  But mission is not about adventure and excitement.  It is not about going to those places and doing those things and meeting those people that suit our agenda. Mission is about going to those places - physical, mental, and spiritual - that God calls us to. Mission is about following Jesus into unexpected places, often even unattractive places.

For the second year in a row, I have a participant on this Bolivia immersion with a real heart for Africa. In both cases, these people were open to the Bolivia experience as God calling them to see in new and unexpected ways. This is an attitude of openness that helps us to discover God and God's hope for us in creation. This is a great witness to a true faith in God, who seems more concerned with leading us where we need to go than those places that we want to. And, as was my case with Bolivia, we can often forget the awesomeness of finding God in those very places.

Kevin Foy is Associate Director for Mission Education in the Western US.