By Louise Locke
“Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.” When I reflected on the scripture readings for this Sunday, this sentence stood out loud and clear to me.
As a new lay missioner in Bolivia, I deeply feel a tension between the hope I believe to be true in my Christian faith and the reality of the grinding poverty, injustice, and corruption that is the experience of the majority of the people with whom I come in contact in my ministries. Add to that the violence experienced by women, discrimination against indigenous communities and a severe drought that is bringing even more hardship and worry to the Bolivian people — one would have every excuse to sink into despair. One might ask: hope? What is possible for these beautiful people to hope for? What hope do I have for them? Would the hope of my Christian faith translate into something meaningful for them?
And then, my thoughts go to the men with whom I interact in one of my ministries. These are men who, through violence, accidents, or from birth, experience physical and/or mental disabilities that prevent them from being independent. They have been abandoned by their families and have nowhere else to turn except to the Missioners of Charity and the home they are able to provide for them. Quite a few of these men struggle with depression and a sense that their lives have no meaning or purpose. They deeply grieve the loss of their independence. What reason do they have to be hopeful?
And then the images and stories of specific men come to mind. Jamie is a relatively young man whose legs from the knees down are paralyzed from a fall 10 years ago. He has been consigned to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. He has tried living on his own with his disability but has not been able to be successful to this point. Yet, he is unfailingly cheerful, propelling himself with strong arms to all corners of the property, helping take care of other men who need more assistance, using his creative, artistic talents to repair shoes and make various items like key-chains and rosaries to sell at the market, advocating for people with disabilities, and spending quality time with some of the other men to encourage and uplift them.
Guillermo is a man in his mid-30’s who almost lost his left leg three years ago in a horrific motorcycle accident. He spent a whole year in the hospital and was discharged to the home for further care and treatment as he had nowhere else to go and was unable to be independent. Happily, through the care and support he received, he was recently able to move to another part of Bolivia, reconnect with his family, and start a business that is giving him independence and a sense of purpose.
There are many more of these encouraging stories and, as I reflect on the lives of these men and gather up their stories like the precious gems they are, I realize that they are the reason for my hope. In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t seem like much, especially weighed against the magnitude of the suffering surrounding me, but it lets me know that the Holy Spirit is present and working in the world and within each one of us, just as Jesus promises in today’s Gospel.
Maryknoll Lay Missioner Louise Locke, who earned master’s degrees in counseling and in pastoral studies, served as a parish pastoral associate and as a chaplain in hospital and hospice settings before joining the Maryknoll Lay Missioners in 2021.
Featured image: A resident at Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity home in Cochabamba, Bolivia, where Maryknoll Lay Missioner Louise Locke serves, is assisted by Maryknoll Lay Missioner John O’Donoghue. (Nile Sprague/Bolivia)