Wanderlust #1: Evangelization

This was originally written for the Wanderlust blog of the Dean Rusk in January 2012.

Evangelization — Hayden Higgins

Me evangelizó. (He evangelized me.)

I don’t even know if that’s a real verb. Evangelizar. To spread the good word.

Anyways, I don’t know how else to describe what happened. I was sitting down for dinner with Lucy, my host mom, and Isabella, a German volunteer who also stays with Lucy.  Lucy had asked me how my day had gone. My response solicited quite a bit of laughter from Lucy.

That morning I woke up and headed out of the house with the goal of visiting the barrio of Lomapampa. Lomapampa is in the far south of the city, where there isn’t any water, and hardly any government presence at all. I wrote about Lomapampa at length in my last post, so I won’t describe it here.

I took two buses to get to Lomapampa, including one that went straight through the congestion of La Cancha, the city’s main marketplace. When I finally got to Lomapampa, Don Miguel was waiting for me.

In the course of our interview, I learned a lot about how water issues are viewed in the southern zone of the city. Probably the theme of our discussions was just how little trust can be put in any government endeavor, from the perspective of the peri-urban Lomapampeños. If the government promises them a right, that doesn’t mean that right actually exists for these people. If the government promises them money, that doesn’t mean the money is on its way. If the government tries to sell them water, it’s probably mixed with air to make it more expensive.

In any case, most of what I heard from Don Miguel was expected. What came next wasn’t as expected. I knew that Don Miguel’s wife was especially observant when it came to religion, but what I found was pretty overboard. I endured—over an amazing lunch of sopa de mani (peanut soup) and silpancho (beef, rice, potatoes, onion, and tomato, with a fried egg on top)—quite a barrage of religiosity.

I heard a lot about returning to the original church. About how women can’t be pastors. About how it is wrong to baptize in the name of the Trinity, rather than Jesus Christ. About original sin being that Eve had sex with the serpent, not eating an apple. About how this modern prophet, Branham—often credited with revitalizing evangelism in the Christian Church—could raise the dead. Aspersions were cast, so to speak, towards Jews.

As an anthropologist, and as an individual, this put me in a unique position. In 2010 I traveled to India, and the things I saw there in terms of religiosity were certainly farther from home than what Don Miguel was telling me. There are members of my own family who I wouldn’t be surprised to hear some of these things from. But this is what made it an interesting challenge in cultural relativism (which is different from moral relativism).

I went along with Don Miguel and his wife the whole time. I helped them translate a couple of articles they had in English about this prophet Branham, for which they were very grateful. I could tell how important this faith was to them. And I knew it was not my place to argue about the position of women in the church. I think what made me most uncomfortable is the fact that these were things I would gladly argue with, if I were talking with an American.

Somehow, though—either because I was getting something from Don Miguel in terms of information for my thesis, or because Don Miguel is from another culture, and from a place of different education—I couldn’t say anything back.

One of the things Doña Cenovia—Don Miguel’s wife—said, however, stuck with me. She said that nothing that enters into you can hurt you, only what comes out. And so it is with me—my place here, right now, in Bolivia, is to listen, not to speak. The day may yet come for that. For now, though, I’m willing to listen to anything.

Hayden Higgins ’12

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