Voices from the Vineyard: Standing in Bolivia


The following is an encapsulization of a firsthand account of a mission experience by Allison Dethlefs:

The darkness pressed in on me as I fumbled to shut off my alarm. I used to be a morning person, I thought groggily, checking my watch to make sure it was still before 5 a.m.

It wasn’t a far walk, but it seemed much longer strolling down empty streets. When I finally arrived at the pediatric and maternity ward of the public hospital, the line winding towards the front door was already about 50 people long.

The little girl I was waiting in line for was almost five, yet she was unable to move her limbs, sit up, talk, or eat solid foods. She was terribly malnourished, weighing only about 11 pounds, her bones clearly visible beneath tautly stretched skin.

We were visiting a pediatric neurosurgeon to see if there was anything to be done about her condition. But the family lived hours away. Had I not been able to go early to save a place in line for them, they would have had to spend the night in line as well.

At last it was 7 a.m. I shook myself out of my stupor to see a man emerge and unlock the front doors. Instead of opening them, he came outside and taped up a sign. Everyone crowded around to hear as he turned around to speak.

“Buenos días,” he said. “I’m sorry, but we won’t be offering attention today. There will be no doctors seeing patients for the morning or afternoon shifts. Come back again tomorrow.”

Shaking my head, I trudged away with the rest, knowing this meant I would have to be up again at 4:30 a.m. tomorrow, knowing that many of these parents and children would spend another sleepless night, and knowing that there was nothing we could do about it.

Some days, I am swept up in the hopeless complexities of it all. Instead of trying to right the wrongs, I have simply allowed myself to walk alongside these marginalized patients, entering into their fatigue, frustration, and confusion. For in bearing witness, I have seen that in the darkness, no one should have to stand alone.

Ms. Dethlefs is a Franciscan Mission Service volunteer serving Bolivia. This is from her blog for the Catholic Volunteer Network: http://catholicvolun teernetwork.blogspot.com/2018/03/the-weight-of-waiting.html.