I never knew living in solidarity with the poor meant being locked away from them for weeks! I think about what St. Paul must have felt when he was imprisoned: his ministries were halted by the authorities and he was unable to share the Good News as he planned. However St. Paul did not sit idle during his confinement.
I burst into tears. Perhaps one of the hardest things about being a missionary is seeing that, in spite of our efforts to live in solidarity with the poor, there exists a world of difference in the opportunities available to us and to them. Try as I might, I’ll never truly understand the plight of the poor.
We’re in a large port city off the Amazon River called Iquitos. One of the poorest areas that we’ve been visiting often is called Belén. I just learned that Belén is the Spanish word for Bethlehem. That realization was so profound to me because we have encountered Jesus in His poor and lowly stable every time we’ve gone to this Bethlehem.
It’s been almost two weeks since we moved to our new mission post. From the jungles to the “Heart of the Amazon” (as it’s known by its inhabitants). It was a 10-hour drive through Peru and its mighty mountains, where our new home awaited. We arrived safely with only the belongings we were able to fit in our truck.
Early on into our time in Peru, I heard about this youth receiving her Sacrament of Confirmation, and that youth her Baptism, and yet another who would be receiving all three of the initiation Sacraments. But I never heard about any classes to teach what the Sacraments were. A man who was supposedly the Catechist told me formation was happening every Sunday. Sundays came and went, and I never observed any classes. Four months had passed: it was time to get to the bottom of this Faith Formation mystery.
But talking to Segundo was not merely an outward act of Christian bravery or heroism that only foreign missionaries can do. This is common courtesy. This is acknowledging and encountering other human beings because they matter and because God loves them. This is how we love others, by paying attention. And this is a call for everyone.
On the third day we held the medical clinic in our own town of Pucacaca. One lady came in with her elderly cousin, an 88-year-old frail woman who struggled to walk. The sweet elderly woman must have had her hair colored for the occasion, as she still had the remnants of dye on the skin around her hairline. She had a pleasant demeanor and may have been blissfully unaware of what was going on around her.
These few weeks have taught me more about living in sync with nature. We cook with foods that are available locally instead of going to a grocery store with hundreds of options. We decide when to wash our laundry based on the rain forecast, since they are hung to dry—after they are hand washed. Many conveniences that I’ve taken for granted are not part of our life here. There is both beauty and challenge in the simplicity of it. But we choose this route so that we can walk in solidarity with the poor whom we serve.
When we first met Señor David, he was refusing food and drank a sip of water once a day. He was wearing only his underwear and was so skinny that I could count nearly every bone. He was groaning in pain and anxiously asking if Jesus would come get him. According to the family, he lived a sinful life, and now at his dying hour, was wondering if God could possibly forgive and receive him.
I must confess: at times I can feel so inadequate to serve God’s people here. I feel like Moses when, “From out of the burning bush, God called him to speak for him before Pharaoh. And Moses answered, ‘Pardon your servant, Lord I have never been eloquent. I am slow of speech and tongue. Please send someone else.’”
Lex is one of the boys that befriended us over seven months ago, the first week we were here. He loves to play with Gabriel and he looks up to Julianna as a big sister. We seldom see Lex with shoes on. He is always walking around barefoot, except when he goes to school. Here in Shimbillo, the students are under a strict dress code. They are to wear a school uniform which includes a tie and dress shoes.