Eyes of faith

For over 18 months now Rafael and I have been living in Perú as Comboni Lay Missionaries. Some people consider this a strange or brave thing to have chosen to do. To us, we are ordinary people doing small things, attempting to live out our faith and baptismal call in solidarity with a marginalized community in the slum of El Porvenir, on the outskirts of the city of Trujillo, Perú. In the short time I have been here, I have met many individuals who I look to as models of ordinary people living their faith in small but extraordinary ways, whose actions alone show me what it means to have complete trust and reliance upon God.

No one here better exemplifies trust, generosity, and surrender to God’s will than Juanita, a 77 year-old woman originally from the department of Cajamarca, Perú, who migrated to the outskirts of Trujillo many years ago. Juanita works long hours on her feet everyday, lugging a five-gallon pail of boiled corn, “choclo,” down the street, making her usual rounds and asking people to buy from her. She lives alone except for the few chickens, ducks, and pig that she raises at her house. One of her most prized possessions is a crucifix pendant that she found on the street one day as she was working.

From the little that Juanita has, she gives everything. She is a living example of “giving out of one’s poverty” (Mark 12:44). Her time, she volunteers to the church, serving as the greeter and usher at every mass held in the small neighborhood chapel each week. The food that she sells, her very livelihood, she often shares with my husband and me, refusing to accept any payment. “No, I’m treating you, you’re not going to pay,” she tells me. I in turn share with her. One day I bring her a slice of chocolate cake. “Oh boy!,” she says as she happily accepts the cake from me, “When I left my house this morning I never thought I’d be eating chocolate cake today.”

One day, as I was visiting with Juanita on the street corner where she was selling, I asked her if it is difficult to carry her bucket of corn for hours each day. She told me that it was indeed difficult, but it must be done, as she needs to eat. Juana’s day begins at about 4am when she begins to prepare the food that she will sell in the morning at the market. The she goes home, and boils the choclo that she will sell in the afternoon and evening.

Juanita has told me that God gives her all of her strength, that he gives her everything she needs, and more. She looked me in the eyes and told me, “Nada me falta.” I lack nothing. “Nada.” Nothing. I was struck by the conviction of her statement. I look at her, my eyes taking in the sight of the woman before me, a stooped, hunched figure, a weathered face, dressed in the only shirt and skirt that I’ve ever seen her wear, with a pair of tennis shoes so tattered and worn that the brown skin of her feet peek through the cloth. “Wow, she lacks nothing?,” I think to myself incredulously. Clearly, her relationship with God is deep, much deeper than the human eye can see. The humble example of her life shows me that faith means relying on God and being open to receive the gifts he has for us, understanding their worth not by our human standards but by truly seeing, seeing with eyes of faith.

Mission is about humbly giving of ourselves and equally important, being open to receive. I receive God’s grace and friendship in many ways, through learning to rely on Him as I live here in this foreign and strange coastal- desert-city-slum. This isn’t the type of place I would have ever chosen to live. It chose me and I am very happy for it. I wouldn’t picture myself anywhere else right now. Little by little I too am learning to see with deeper faith, to see God’s image and promise reflected everywhere, in my neighbors and friends here in El Porvenir.

(This originally appeared in the newsletter of the Center for Mission in the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis. It is reprinted here with permission.)