Learning to Wait
Written by Aida Segura, team chaplain
After a nine-hour flight delay, we reached our hotel at 11:00 am on Saturday morning. Waiting in the airport for nine extra hours strained our patience. We felt frustrated and even indignant, though our wait was eased by an air conditioned waiting room with ample seating, a complimentary dinner voucher, and power to recharge our phones.
While waiting, I received a text from a close friend: “May you reconnect with your Andean roots and have a wonderful encounter with Christ incarnate!” Paying attention to those words, I was brought back to my reason for being in the airport: a personal desire to reconnect with elements of my motherland and accompany others during a time of suffering. For me, proximity with those living at the margins is a path toward finding Christ and experiencing God.
After settling in, we headed to our host site, the San Juan de Dios Hospital, an ancient building with high ceilings and yellowed Italian Mayolica tiles worn down by the passage of time. As we passed through the halls I was unable to stop my gaze into patient rooms, and in a few cases I exchanged a passing greeting or just a smile with those inside. Entering the hospital felt like entering a sacred space. I felt the contrast between the realities of the place I had traveled from and the one I was now entering. At the same time, I noted the Andean features in many of the faces we passed and felt a powerful sense of being among family. As a woman born in neighboring Peru, I felt I was among my own people.
Finally we reached what appeared to be a classroom. But it was occupied by several patients and their families—our surgical patients for the week. Most of them had waited all day in the hospital. A few who had traveled from remote areas of eastern Bolivia had been waiting several days. As we approached, I perceived the deep desire they had to receive us. Staff from our partner organization, Puente de Solidaridad, greeted the families and explained that the doctors had now arrived and were meeting to discuss the cases. They asked for patience, and a little more time before they would be seen. All nodded, kindly responding “Está bien.” It’s OK.
While the Bolivian and US surgeons gathered to discuss each case, I was invited to meet one patient who was already admitted to the hospital. We walked into his room and found him sitting at the end of his cot. He was pale and visibly weakened by illness. Next to him sat a woman. Her eyes found mine and she smiled back, making me feel welcome. She extended her hand, saying Buenas tardes, good afternoon. The man on the bed added his Buenas tardes in a soft, slow voice. I introduced myself: “My name is Aida Segura and I am part of Solidarity Bridge, the group that will be accompanying you and your family this week. How are you feeling?” He responded: “My name is Oscar and I am grateful that I will have my surgery. I have been waiting here in the hospital for two months.”
“It must have been hard to wait for so long,” I responded. The woman explained: “He is my brother, and has been suffering from this illness for over a year. He used to be strong and not so skinny, but this illness makes it hard for him to eat. He can only have liquids… I didn’t know how to care for him at first. Finally, I learned more about his illness and began preparing liquid foods and bringing them to the hospital every day.” She pointed to a glass with something that looked like a smoothie. Proudly, she explained, “It has quinoa and beets. Now he can keep his food down and he is better. You should have seen him before.”
“God has answered my prayers,” Oscar added. “I have been waiting patiently, and I knew God was listening.” Then, with an expression of reverence, he looked up and closed his eyes.
We all stayed silent for a few moments.
“Señor Oscar,” I said, “thank you for sharing how grateful you are to God. If you allow me, I would like to share a prayer with you and your sister. Your faith and your patience are inspiring to me.” He answered: “Yes please, help me pray.” And so I shared the prayer of St.Teresa of Avila:
Throughout our first days, I was struck by these contrasting experiences of waiting. My encounter with our patients and the team at San Juan de Dios hospital has highlighted the difference between waiting in frustration, waiting in hope, and waiting with faith. As one patient remarked to me: “we must learn to wait.”
To close our first day, I attended Mass with my fellow missioner, Dr. Magued Khouzam. The simple celebration was enlivened by the participation of many children in the choir, at the altar, and as ushers. The Gospel called us to practice contemplation in action: to labor hard in a committed way, and to pray with an attitude of contemplation and waiting. I am drawn into the life of the suffering Christ by my encounter with each of our patients. They know how to wait in hope to restore their life and health, and to wait with faith in God’s loving presence and grace in their lives.
Aida Segura is the Director of the House of Peace shelter in Waukegan, Illinois. She joins Solidarity Bridge on her first mission trip to Bolivia, serving as mission team chaplain. She is Peruvian-American.