But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.
If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” 1 Corinthians 12:25-27. These verses, which I have known since my Sunday school days, take on a different meaning after 8 months with WMF in Bolivia. It is one thing to know about community and the importance of the Church from reading the Bible and attending services.
It is another thing entirely to live as a member of a community that truly lives out what it means to be in communion with other beloved children of God as we seek to serve among the vulnerable here in Bolivia. My time in Bolivia has vastly changed my faith from one solely focused on trying to hear God in my individual times of prayer or Bible study to one that recognizes Christ in my community. I now realize it is not possible to be a Christian alone and it never has been, despite what my hyper-individualistic North American cultural upbringing might tell me.
When I arrived in Bolivia 8 months ago, I arrived at a freshly independent foundation, with a lot of staff turnover in the past year, and truthfully, some institutional growing pains. The departure of 4 more staff members in the following months, including a pillar of a leader, added to these pains. I had entered a hurting community, one that was still trying to figure out its identity as an independent organization, how to continue its Christian mission, how to truly be a community after so much turnover and institutional departures in the past year, and all of this among a world trying to figure out how to move on and heal after a devastating pandemic.
And so, throughout my time here I have watched and participated while this community took on the challenge of recentering ourselves in Christ – of recognizing the gifts of all of God’s children, suffering together through trials, leaning on one another as the tertiary trauma of working with women and children affected by sexual exploitation takes its toll, and rejoicing together in times of hope.
Seeing this community grow into itself over the past months has taught me so much about what it means to be a Christian. Christian community had never been modeled with such integrity before in my life. In this community I see the Church. I see a strong community of believers centered in faith working to proclaim Christ’s Kingdom.
As my time in Bolivia wraps up, I am deeply saddened to be physically leaving the community that taught me what it means to be a Christian. But I am heartened to know that the work we have been doing and will continue to do in the red-light districts of El Alto and La Paz (and that I will continue to support in prayer as I return to the States) glorifies God not only because we share the love of Christ with the people we serve, but because we hold firm to one another as a community as we do so.
Tess Hartley, WMF Bolivia Intern