Karen Halberg Weaver

Year Joined MKLM: 1994
Country: Bolivia
City: Cochabamba
Focus: Pastoral Ministry, Education, Faith Formation
Project(s): Listening ministry at Centro Santa Vera Cruz High Schools
People Served: 1. 220 second-year high school students and approx. 1500 associated family members.

Project Goal: Nurture personal and spiritual formation of indigenous high school youth

Personal Data:

Originally from Port Angeles, WA, Karen was a high school Spanish and English teacher before becoming an MKLM missioner in 1994. Karen has had a variety of mission experiences. Initially she was assigned to the altiplano of Peru where she worked in the small, rural town of Pomata along the shores of Lake Titicaca, accompanying Aymaran lay leaders in pastoral ministry. In 1998, Karen married fellow MKLM missioner, Jim Weaver, while they were both serving in Peru. They continued their ministry through 2000, then returned to the U.S. to work in MKLM’s outreach efforts. They have three young children, Daniel (2000), Emma (2003), and Jacob (2007). In 2007 they were assigned to Juárez, Mexico, their first overseas experience as a family. Karen helped develop a “ministry of listening” in Juarez and was part of initiating an alternative health clinic based in her parish. In September 2010 Jim and Karen were assigned to Cochabamba, Bolivia.

Current Ministry:

Jim and Karen live with their children in the marginalized and peri-urban Southern Zone of Cochabamba, Bolivia. Karen has joined a Maryknoll Sister, two religion teachers and a Mercy Sister in a newly-established team offering pastoral accompaniment to the 1200 students at Centro Santa Vera Cruz High School, a Fe y Alegria school on the grounds of El Señor de la Santa Vera Cruz Parish. Karen works primarily with third-year students on campus, offering a ministry of listening that affirms and supports each individual while inviting the spiritual transformation that comes from a deepened understanding of underlying issues and patterns in one’s life situation.
The students Karen accompanies are indigenous, primarily from families who have left rural communities within the last 5-10 years to seek work in the city. The large majority of these families are excluded from access to basic services such as running water and public sanitation. 80% of the students’ families have a monthly income of less than 2000 bolivianos (approx. $275) and 30% earn less than 500 bs. (approx. $70/mth). Consequently, 30% of the students work to support their families in addition to attending to their studies.

Of great significance in the ongoing formation of these youth is the external migration of parents and other family members in search of better-paying jobs, a common response to the unyielding economic reality. 23% of these high school juniors and their siblings have experienced the absence of one or both parents, commonly for as long as 5 to 10 years. With so many parents absent, either due to migration or because they are working long hours to earn enough to support their families, a specific challenge for these high school juniors is the general disintegration and lack of communication within their families. 40% of these students indicate that they spend less than one hour a week in conversation with their parents, something which increases their risk of gang membership, drug or alcohol abuse or sexual exploitation.
This year Karen hopes to offer an additional alternative to support the youth in taking positive actions in their lives. She and a few of the youth are inviting students to meet in small listening circles to learn from and support one another. Karen plans to incorporate practice in specific interpersonal skills such as non-violent communication, conflict resolution and stress reduction.

Karen writes, “I love coming to know these students through listening to their life experiences, and I’m pleased that listening can be so mutually life giving. While some of the youth are not interested in sharing with me on a deep level, most are, and many express their gratitude for the opportunity to ‘unload’ and be heard and valued in that way. Tears flow as they share painful realities of their home situations, but in holding that pain together we create a tangible experience of compassion and hope.