Though Anthony Mensah helped lead a recent mission trip to Cochabomba, Bolivia, it was difficult to think of himself that way. The American University College student and member of St. Martin de Porres Parish reflected on his leadership during the eight days in Bolivia, much like the expression, “the blind leading the blind.”
“A few years ago, when my mother, (Antoinette Mensah), Fr. Juan (Camacho) and I discussed doing young adult mission trips, I would have never imagined we’d be doing our third trip in Bolivia and an additional fourth trip this year back in La Sagrada Familia in the Dominican Republic,” he said. “However, there was a spirit that I think carried over within me and made this all possible. In that sense, helping to take the lead in making these trips a reality was important, but overall, I felt like I deferred to those who were closer to the planning, those in Bolivia and even my fellow trip goers, because I was learning.”
Anthony and four other young adults recently traveled to Bolivia from May 22-31, with Fr. Juan Manuel Camacho, Rita Borowski and Antoinette Mensah as part of a larger effort to cultivate global missionary vocations among the young adults of the archdiocese.
Unlike the working mission trips, this focused on encountering the people and communities of faith, explained Antoinette, Director of the Office for World Mission/Society for the Propagation of the Faith.
“Doing was not the focus of the trip. Rather, relationship building and learning about the operation/missionary call and opportunities for service,” she explained. “We spent two days engaged with the children of Casa San Jose — a center designed to support the male street children, ages 3-14. We shared laughter, played games and introduced them to s’mores.”
According to Antoinette, the Milwaukee Archdiocesan Office for World Mission, in collaboration with the Community of St. Paul (CSP), received a grant to foster global missionary vocations in young adults (ages 18-39) throughout the archdiocese. Over the next three years, there will be various opportunities for global missionary service through seminars, global immersion and introductions to the option for service. Participants will have the opportunity to learn and understand the call to missionary service, discern if the call is for them, pursue the call and share their experiences.
“We visited communities in Vacas and Independencia, where we learned about efforts towards reforestation, llamas and sheep rearing and newly forming latrine projects,” she said. “There were also knitting collectives where women of the community come to learn the skill of knitting.”
As a member of the Community of St. Paul, Fr. Camacho oversaw the program with Antoinette and provided spiritual guidance, as well as ensuring the group experienced the missionary dimension of the Church through the work of the CSP in Bolivia.
“I think the trip was fruitful and good for the people involved,” he said. “We experienced another reality of the Church. The work that the CSP does with the street children in Cochabamba and with the indigenous communities in Vacas and Independencia helped the group understand the many shapes that preaching the Good News may take in the world.”
One of the experiences Fr. Camacho appreciated was spending time with the children in Casa San Jose, the CSP Street Children Center in Cochabamba.
“The opportunity to share with them and learn about their realities was just moving,” he said. “So young and yet so many hardships they had to face, it is just not fair. All I could think of was the passage from Matthew’s Gospel where Jesus talks about the little ones (Matthew 19:14). The constant reminder from the Gospel that we are a Church for the little ones, the less favored and the marginalized, for theirs is the Kingdom of God.”
For Rita Borowski, the experience of interacting with the children at Casa San Jose and meeting members of the CSP taught her that she could communicate effectively beyond the language barriers.
“I also learned that I like cow’s tongue, rabbit and llama, and tasted each for the first time as prepared there in Cochabamba,” she said. “I enjoyed learning and experiencing the many facets of the CSP ventures in Bolivia. I would love to go back there.”
Bristall Johnson, a student at Mount Mary College and member of All Saints Parish, learned the importance of using resources provided by the earth through farming and agriculture. As a group, they met with those in the area who received help and resources from the CSP through agriculture, breeding, livestock and knitting.
“My favorite parts were meeting the boys at the center and spending time with them, teaching them to play UNO and exchanging the teachings of English for Spanish,” she said. “Next was the travel throughout Independencia and seeing all the natural beauty of the land. Personally, being so used to traveling in urban areas, it was such a blessing to take a step back away from the crowded streets, busy traffic and chronic cell phone use and just see the beautiful mountains.”
Learning about listening and observing the natural beauty, culture was almost surreal, explained Anthony, who said he tried to live in the moment and not worry about the past or future during the trip.
“I think that made it special and helped me be able to help in the areas that I could,” he explained. “There’s not much that I can do that’s going to change the way things are for a person in eight days, especially when you’re constantly traveling, but I feel like being somewhere different than where you’re used to, you have to be open to the culture, while also allowing yourself to be open to those around you. I think people appreciated that aspect, the openness and willingness to fulfill roles and engage fully with the experience.”
The trip confirmed Fr. Camacho’s desire to build bridges between those in all social classes, working for a greater understanding with the Universal Church.
“As a priest, I have the responsibility to connect people to Christ, and to their brothers and sisters; so that, in Christ we are all one,” he said. “As St. Paul will say in the letter to the Galatians (3:27-28), ‘for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourself with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.’”