Found in Translation

Written by Gustavo Arreguin Mendoza

As the Multi-Specialty Mission Trip comes to an end and the preparations for travel begin, my mental gears begin turning. The transitory period of preparation for departure reminds me about the many things that await our missioners back home. It is during this time that we tend to feel the weariness and exhaustion. But there is also excitement for the simple parts of our every-day lives that we’ve missed. Things that we often take for granted, like water, food safety, and communicating in our native tongue without the need for a translator.

It is during this period of time that we can get “lost in translation.” The transition can distort our memories of this experience if we aren’t careful. We begin to forget the details, and some memories are hard to tell apart from one another. What we take away, other than little souvenirs, are the immaterial reminders of moments of shared life with others: encounters, events, stories, histories. These rescued pieces of information keep us connected. They remind us that the memories and the moments did not belong to us alone; that others from across the world have shared this experience with us.  They carry with them their own memories of these moments and in some cases they may name them with words like healing, opportunity, relief, and hope.

What matters most is that we don’t forget the feeling of those moments and the meaning they had at the time we experienced them. When we tell the stories of our mission trip we are no longer just storytellers but sources of information for our family and friends about an entire country, culture, people, and [health] system. As missioners our commitment is to live out the initial reason for which we came and report back on: how our expectations were met or unmet; how our perspectives were changed or reinforced; and how our preconceived notions were challenged and changed.

By sharing our moments of learning and awe, as well as those stories of struggles and hardship, we live up to the experience that might compel others to take part. This is how we lay the foundations in this business of bridge building. As we move on from the mission experience we are invited into a period of reflection that will hopefully inspire discernment and commitment to a future experience–the bridge building itself. Establishing a connection and making a commitment, from one side to another, is our foundation for sustainable change.

This coming week that journey continues on for me as I join our specialized general surgery team for their mission trip in Santa Cruz de la Sierra. Our team will play a central role in the second Course on Minimally Invasive General Surgery hosted on October 3-7 by the public San Juan de Dios Hospital in Santa Cruz and the prestigious Santa Cruz Medical Association (Colegio Médico).

The five-day course includes daily opportunities for Bolivian surgeons and medical students to observe laparoscopic colon, gall bladder and other surgeries in real time, performed by missioner Dr. Magued Khouzam and his local counterparts, including Dr. Boris Urna. The surgeries will be transmitted via closed circuit monitors to a private auditorium, where additional experts will talk through the procedures as they are happening. Post-surgery Q&A sessions will allow participants to further discuss the cases with the operating team. Post-surgery afternoon and evening activities will include simulation training at the Colegio Médico, and lectures by Dr. Khouzam and the SB mission team gastroenterologist, Dr. Francisco “Pancho” Nuñez.

Please keep us in your hearts as we reflect on our mission experiences and work to strengthen the foundation in our own hearts and the hearts of others.  

2016 Multi-Specialty Mission Trip Team - Punata, Bolivia


Gustavo Arreguín Mendoza is the Benezet Intern at Solidarity Bridge. Throughout September and October 2016 he will be living in Bolivia, joining each of our mission teams as an interpreter, and will work directly with our partners at Puente de Solidaridad. Born in Guanajuato, Mexico, Gustavo and his family moved to Evanston in 2005. He is a graduate of Loyola University Chicago and has been on two previous missions with Solidarity Bridge.