When we moved to Bolivia in 2010, I was a couple years out of seminary and struggling with a lot of questions about the best ways to live cross-culturally, work on development issues with different groups all while authentically practicing and integrating my faith into that work. I spent a significant amount of time during our stay in Bolivia thinking and writing about these issues on my former blog, What Would Jesus Eat? I did a series unpacking the role of foreigners in international development that was very helpful for me as I wrestled with whether what we were doing was helpful or necessary in light of the negative history related to colonialism and intervention by USA and others in the affairs of other countries. (TheRole of Extranjeros in Development)
The work that we did then made all of those questions even more complicated and interesting. We worked with Low German Mennonites and Guarani people on issues related to water and agriculture. I wrote a couple of posts processing these complexities that capture some of the dynamics of that particular context (What Do Indigenous People and Low German Mennonites Have in Common? and Two Kingdoms: Low German Mennonites in Charagua, Bolivia). So, we are excited to be returning to this fascinating place and working with Low German Mennonites again.
This time around we will be living in Santa Cruz and running Centro Menno which provides a library, bookstore, gathering space, and resources for Low German Mennonites. A lot of our work will be about building relationships with people and providing resources for them. The organization we are working with, Mennonite Central Committee, uses an accompaniment model for their work around the world. They partner with existing organizations, especially those created or run by nationals, in the country where they work in order to support and encourage the work of local people to solve their own problems.
There is also a high value placed on taking the time to listen, observe, learn, and build relationships with people rather than coming with pre-determined solutions or with the attitude of an expert. This can sometimes feel like you aren’t getting anything done, especially for do-ers like me and from a culture focused on achievements, efficiency, and accomplishments as the only ways to measure success. Focusing on relationships instead helps build the kind of long-term trust that can have a huge affect and provide opportunities that would not be possible otherwise.
Sometimes it takes travelling to another country and working cross-culturally to recognize how important these things are. However, they are equally important, even if often harder to see and implement, within our own cultural context. We look forward to updating you through our journey and work in this particular adventure we’re on! Thanks for tagging along!