Keeping In Touch
In the Maryknoll Mission Archives one can find numerous newsletters written by missioners stationed all over the world. Some are regional newsletters that will touch on the activities of the region, updates on personnel, and what might be going on with the local people. Others are personal newsletters, written by the missioners themselves. The personal newsletters are a great source of information to learn what was happening to a particular missioner – what kind of challenges they faced, what projects they were a part of, or even just some anecdotes on what it’s like living thousands of miles from home.
In the Maryknoll Mission Association of the Faithful’s Newletters collection, I was able to find many newsletters written by Lay Missioners Felicia and Jason Gehrig over the course of their mission work in Bolivia from 2000-2007.
Their first newsletter, dated March 2000, talks about learning the new language of their mission, something experienced by all Maryknoll missioners as they begin their new mission lives:
“Cómo se dice…? This phrase, requesting how something is said in Spanish, has been our constant companion as we’ve begun our language studies. We are progressing each day, most importantly in our increased willingness to bumble our way through conversations with the local Cochabambinos. We have been blessed to attend this Maryknoll language school through mid-June, after which time we’ll experience our first winter in the Altiplano city of El Alto, our new home for the following three years.”
The Gehrigs were great newsletter writers and I thought it would interesting to check in on them in the month of March over the course of their mission. In a letter from March 2001, they write:
“Hello again from the rooftop of the world!! Our time in Bolivia, now over a year, is passing quickly for us. Without a doubt, the most difficult aspect of being in mission overseas is missing our family and friends. However, your many letters and emails have helped us tremendously. We appreciate being remembered while so far away from home.
With a year under our belt in Bolivia, some things are becoming easier for us, mainly in the area of communication. For example, Jason will probably not make the same mistake of ordering three ‘stomach of pig’ plates for lunch as he did last year while expecting to feast on sausages with friends…Jason even began to read his first novel in Spanish recently – the popular children’s book about Harry Potter’s adventures!”
And lastly from March 2003:
“We have decided to renew our agreement as Missioners with Maryknoll for three more years! We feel at peace with this decision and do not feel quite ready to say our goodbyes to the people whom we live and work and have grown to love. We feel that we are a part of our local community here in the sprawling immigrant city of El Alto, and feel a sense of family with our neighbors and parishioners. Being invited to dinners, birthday parties, weddings, and taking part of the local people’s lives, has helped us more fully understand our role as missioners – accompanying the local people on their daily walk of life. Of course such walking with the people does not just involve celebrations; plenty of heart wrenching tragedies and suffering has opened our eyes and our hearts – their resilience in the face of adversity a source of inspiration. They teach us through their lives what it truly means to pick up the cross, and follow in Jesus’ footsteps. We recognize God’s presence in the Aymara people’s lives.”
Though it’s not from March, I thought I would share passages from the Gehrig’s final newsletter from June 2007:
“With this mission letter, please receive both our greetings and final farewell from Bolivia. Yes, our time in Bolivia after 7 ½ years is coming to a close. We want to thank you from accompanying us in this mission journey…In so many ways, Bolivia has become our home. And yet as a friend here reminded us, ‘you are leaving with a bigger family than when you came. God and Bolivia have been good to you.’ Indeed, we give thanks to God for the joys and struggles we’ve experience over these years…While we leave Bolivia and her people for now to return to our home of birth, we know that we are not just closing one chapter in our lives and opening another, but rather being sent forth, again in a spirit of mission, to strive to use the gifts we’ve been given…
Thank you dear friends and family for being with us from afar on this mission journey. As we remind our Bolivian friends here, this is not ‘Adios,’ but rather ‘Jikisiñkama (in Aymara), Hasta Luego (in Spanish), Until Later…We look forward to making that ‘Later’ take place in the very near future with you – our friends and family, who’ve been so supportive of us over all these years while we’ve been so very far away. Please receive all our love, and all our gratitude, the Gehrigs.”