By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
KEOTA — In a few weeks, new college graduate Maggie VanRoekel will head to Bolivia to help provide educational opportunities to marginalized citizens. As a volunteer with Franciscan Mission Services, she will spend two years living in solidarity with students at Unidad Academica Campesina in Carmen Pampa, teaching English and participating in ministerial work.
Through her missionary work, she hopes to help students learn skills they can take back to their rural communities to help those communities flourish. “The biggest thing is that there is an (emphasis) on living simply in solidarity with people living on the margins,” said VanRoekel, 22.
A member of Holy Trinity Parish in Keota, she said she felt the mission bug early on in life. She saw family members, including her grandfather, Deacon David Reha, serve the church. VanRoekel took advantage of opportunities to do short-term mission work, which further solidified her desire to serve in a missionary role.
Faith, however, was the biggest inspiration. “Christ provided us with the ultimate example of what it means to live among those experiencing poverty, homelessness, sickness and with those who are marginalized for any reason.”
Feeling a call to serve internationally, she began looking into different programs as an undergrad at the University of Iowa, and spent time in prayer. She realized she wanted to serve in a faith-based program and decided that Franciscan Mission Services (FMS) would be a great fit.
“It’s a smaller program, meaning that I have more of a sense of connection with the people here and will have a lot of support in the U.S. when I am overseas,” she said.
She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in health science in May and began her training in Washington, D.C., at the end of August. Formation class topics include Franciscan tradition, cross-cultural living, spiritual development and community living. “So far, we have learned about different forms of prayer, Franciscan spirituality, liturgy, Catholic social teaching and much more.”
In mid-January, VanRoekel will leave for Bolivia, a South American country which has struggled with political and economic instability and a high incidence of disease and lower life expectancy, according to the Library of Congress. At Carmen Pampa, she will join another FMS missioner and live in community with a few volunteers from other programs. She doesn’t know what her specific ministries will entail, but she will be able to practice “a ministry of presence. I will be able to listen to the struggles and joys of the students and embrace them as they work toward their futures.”
VanRoekel said the Unidad Academica Campesina students are mostly first-generation college students from rural communities with limited economic resources. Students can study areas such as agriculture, education or nursing.
To pay for her training and expenses, VanRoekel is in the process of raising $16,000. She’s received about half of the donations she needs; the Diocese of Davenport’s Volunteer Program helped by offering a grant. Persons interested in donating or becoming prayer partners can visit franciscanmissionservice.org/
VanRoekel feels fortunate to have the opportunity to head to Bolivia. “The Catholic Church teaches the dignity and value of the human life; the opportunity to work for social justice on mission is a blessing.”