Take Courage be the Light

Venuzalan Family; Mom, 4 kids, husband was looking for work.

A new group of missionaries arrived this week. It’s a very large group from the big old state of Texas, funny to me I’ve never been to Texas. But again, I really haven’t traveled much up to this point in my life, but everyone I met from there both last summer and this summer have been so unbelievably kind. This group is part medical mission and part family to family, which means there will be medical clinics in the villages and a variety of other missionary activities. In their kindness and hospitality they have invited me to join their group. I’m not sure if it’s their Texan hospitality or they understand the vital importance of hospitality in Christian community. Whatever it is I’m so grateful for their kindness, generosity, and hospitality.

I witnessed to a few missionaries who arrived early prior to the full group. They were inspired by my story and told the spiritual leader of the group about my witness. The leader then insisted I join them for group prayer, again I am grateful for this kindness.

They gather for prayer in the evening as a large group and then break into three smaller groups using a small journal type book with questions, quotes etc. It’s interesting to learn about them and hear all about their journeys to Piura, because God’s at work long before one says yes and buys a plane ticket. So you listen and look for the thread of grace woven throughout each life and story. We all have a story that fits perfectly into a greater story. I think we sometimes forget that nugget in our walk with God.

We discussed several questions and I listen. I really didn’t want to take up anyone else’s time from sharing. Then the last question of the night was “what new experience did you have today in five words or less?” The question comes around to me and I said “God broke my heart today.” Five simple, yet shocking words for all and I didn’t have to search long and hard for those words. When God shocks you there’s always invitation, the parables prove that over and over again.

The leader of the groups stops and asks me to share my experience in more detail. Prior to this I shared that I don’t have a plan or agenda most days. I wake up and say “Lord, where do you want me to go today.” This particular morning it was back to the clinic to pray with patients.

Before I head down to the clinic I stop to get a bottle of water. In doing this action I see the table that is loaded with sunscreen and mosquitoes spray left behind from previous missionaries for new missionaries to use. What catches my eyes are two travel sizes packets of Kleenex, which is a luxury in poverty. I bring in my own Kleenex when I’m in the clinic because when the love of God flows into ones heart it’s hard for one not to weep. So when the tears roll I quietly and gently hand out a tissue or two, otherwise it’s their sleeve.

One act of obedience is better than one hundred sermons.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

This morning I take these two little packets with me as the Holy Spirit says you’ll need them this day having no idea what I’m about to encounter. A woman walks down the hall and into my little room which is labeled “Topico” which stands for emergency. How I ended up in this room is interesting because most days I feel like a spiritual doctor of sorts or medic on the battle field. The first thing I do is to give them life again if they’re not spiritually breathing which is often. The second thing is to stop the bleed of sadness, sorrow, and the heaviest bleeds of all despair and despondency – loss of hope. It’s like hitting a major artery because spiritually they are bleeding out and close to death.

In most cases one of the nurses guides the patients in, but this patient found her way on her own. I notice instantly her skin is so much lighter than the majority of the Peruvians here. I ask her name and share my Spanish is limited. I tell her I’ll pray and she is not to pray, but just receive the Holy Spirit. I tell them this because God can do so much more when one is open to receptivity and not preoccupied.

About 30-60 seconds the flood gates open and the water works are on for this woman in full force. I continue to pray for a while and when she opens her eyes I hand her a tissue. After several minutes of letting her cry, I ask her though google translate “Can you tell me the great burden you carry?”

Let me be straight up, most have strong faith here, but so many here carry burdens of pain, fear, sadness, sorrow and even despondency and despair living a life in poverty. Yet, I knew her burden was something different. I could sense it, but I didn’t have a word of knowledge for her. Additionally, I knew I was encountering something new that I hadn’t seen up to this point in time.

People often ask me if it’s difficult not being fluent in Spanish and the short answer is no. Sometimes during healing prayer less is more because that way you get out of the way and leave it up to the Holy Spirit to move. So not knowing the language has allowed me the space to test and trust other gifts God has given me. It’s an interesting training ground to learn that’s for sure. It’s said that St. Francis Xavier a great missionary to India, Sri Lanka, some Portuguese islands was able to see a large number of conversions, but when in Japan struggled with the language, but still baptize 2,000 souls. So I’m thinking I’m in good company, as I ask for his intercession when I’m struggling which is often. Besides, your presence, the light in your eyes and the spirit you carry tells people you are worthy of their trust. I hear the most amazing stories and they don’t know a thing about me, and yet they poor out their secrets and bare their souls in a matter of a few seconds.

However, I think the most important thing I do is listen and really see the one right in front of me like they are the only one in that moment. The gift of presence is often so over looked. In listening, I’m not looking to respond, but to listen and see them. I let them share whatever they want to share. I stay quiet and listen to what God is saying to me and rely on those gifts more than my lack of language.

What the woman tells me next literally breaks my heart. She’s begins to tell me she’s not Peruvian, but Venezuelan. Her and her husband fled to Peru due the current economic crisis which has caused lack of food, water, electricity etc. What’s tragic is not the fleeing, although yes that’s horrible, but she left behind not one, not two, not three, not four, but five children with a grandmother so her and her husband could find work to provide food for these children. Over and over again she tells me her children have no food in between sobs, making the gesture to eat with her hand.

She proceeded to turn on her cell phone and show me many photos of her children. I see their faces, smiles, and joy. That was it, I was completely undone. The only thing that comes out of my mouth and off my lips is “Lo siento” which means “I’m sorry”. And Oh my word, am I sorry for the woman. I cannot even imagine or process the sacrifice she’s made not to thrive, but to survive. We may think what kind of parent is she that she left her children behind, but Mother Teresa says “If you judge people you have no time to love them.” Sit and meditate on that for a while.

So we sit for several minutes. I let her cry, I watch her tears, and say “Lo siento” every so often. She knows, just as I knew many years ago that “this moment, this heartbreak” is bigger than any human can fix. I know this from my own experience. Sometimes God brings us to a place that only His grace can fix, mend, heal, and redeem. I know by the grace of God, she will find her way through, but I can’t fix it all nor am I the Savior. What she needed was someone to see her tears, acknowledge her pain and climb down in the hole and sit with her awhile and be Jesus. She needed to witness my faith, my strength, and conviction in telling her God is with her. He never forsakes us. She was holding it all in and needed space to let go of more than what any human heart should have to carry alone. That there is why I ended up in the clinic and not some other place. When we become obedient to God in the smallest promptings, the kingdom of God comes alive blowing our existing paradigms right out of the water.

I hand her a piece of paper and tell her to write down her name and her five children that I will pray and ask all my American friends back home to pray for them. I tell her we will pray the Lord gives them strength to endure so much suffering and that they are all reunited together soon. I see her off with the travel Kleenex I picked up that morning because I know she’s going to have more tears.

When she’s leaves I close the door. Maybe a nurse, doctor or lawyer feels this way after losing a life or a case. I don’t know, but after I closed the door and sat down, I cried for the next five minutes. I was completely undone. She was the last patient I could see that day. Luckily, for me it was almost time for lunch so the clinic was about to close.

So I’m packing up and about to leave and she comes back. She asks me if I can help her get clothes for her and her husband. So I tell her to wait five minutes and go in search of some clothes. I’m able to gather two t-shirts for the husband and two tops for her. We say our goodbyes and I give her a big hug. It wasn’t a pat on the back, I mean I really hugged this woman. Looking back I think, she could of asked me for so much more than clothes, but in that moment that was the immediate need.

Now, I have no idea where she’s staying, sleeping, or if her and her husband found any work. I didn’t ask why one of them didn’t stay behind to stay with the children. I’m certain they have their reasons and it’s not for me to judge or determine whether the choices they made were right or wrong. No one, I mean no parent does what they did with out thought, sacrifice, or guilt because that’s one heck of a cross to carry in my opinion.

Due to the economic collapse in Venezuela under President Nicolas Maduro there have been over 1.2 million migrants that have fled to Columbia. Peru is not far behind now taking in more than 800,000. This collapse has now lead the largest migratory crisis in recent Latin American history.

It shakes the core of your soul seeing these migrants on the streets here in Piura with luggage, babies in tow sleeping on the ground. They are everywhere in and around town. On every corner, on bridges, in front of stores and churches and in the park. Every morning I see them on my run or when I walk to adoration. The daily site of this begins slowly cracking my heart. This women’s story in the clinic was like a grenade to my heart because it blew it up in ways I didn’t know were possible. To see these families is an absolute travesty not just to my eyes, but the human race.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ Mt 24:34-36

So after many days of seeing them all on the street I stop looking and start saying hello. I stop and pray with them with or just sit next to them. Other days I’ve stopped at the store to buy fruit to give away especially to the families with little ones. Some days it’s the last of the soles I have in my pocket or the small snack I’m carrying with me or what’s left in my water bottle. One day it was the gift bag I received from the birthday party I attended the night before. Although, I knew I didn’t need the gift bag I graciously accepted it because it would of been rude not to. I’ll admit that night I did eat the chocolate candy bar, as I have a weakness for sweets. However, the rest of the bag went to a family sprawled out in the park. When I handed it the young man. I said, “I’m sorry it’s not more with tears in my eyes”. In English he responds with thank you. Thank you as if my generosity was significant when in reality it was nothing for the eight of them lying there in the grass in front of me. In the states we’d probably call this “street evangelization” and maybe that’s still true here in Peru or maybe it’s simply living out the gospel of Jesus Christ.

One day I invite a college student to join me in the clinic only to realize I messed up! The clinic is closed as they are serving out in a village. So instead of bothering the staff for a driver or a moto taxi, I say come on I’ll show you around and in showing her around we stopped, talked and prayed with every homeless migrant on the street that afternoon handing out 3 lbs of oranges.

Compliments of my secret college photographer & accompaniment.

Then one morning at 6:30 am I was out running and saw couple crawl into an abandoned building. These homeless people are not what Americans cry out at home. “Oh they like living on the streets, so many are mentally ill or addicted and choose to not get help”. Really, unless your called to be St. Francis of Assasi the vast majority whether in America or Peru do not choose to sit and beg on the street for food and a few soles. There is nothing to feel good about in begging for food, money, and other people’s scraps like a dog. God didn’t created His children for that. Oh no, I think they just fell on the hardest luck of their lives and trying to survive the one life they’ve been given.

The problems are worldwide, but the individual responses are eternally significant.” World Relief

We will not solve world poverty even Mother Teresa knew that. What made her so amazing is that she wasn’t trying to save the world or all of India, but the one right in front of her. To be Jesus to that one right in her gaze. To smile and hold the one the world could not see with her hands. That’s powerful.God doesn’t call us to be St. Francis, or Mother Teresa, he calls us to be Jesus in a way that is unique to being who He’s created  us to be and that too is powerful to those we serve. To each of us it’s uniquely different as God’s given us all different gifts and a different purpose, but all are needed in the body of Christ to build the kingdom.

Here’s the thing. I see things on the news back home, on social media etc even comments from other Catholics that blame these issues on things like socialism and say building walls is the answers etc. Well, I don’t have answers to all that, as there will always be poverty and corruption toward power and greed because we live in a fallen world. But I do know one thing that until we start to value all life from the womb to the tomb we will continue to see such heartbreak on massive scales. Generations will be lost, cultures, customs, and languages will die out, sins of our fore fathers will be passed on, and yes there will be genocides.

We can’t pick and choose which life has value and see abortion as murder and the death penalty as a justifiable act in the states. See immigration as as only a political issue and not something that should concern the Church. No! All life has and holds value, all life is created in the image and likeness of God. The migrants crossing the border from Mexico are not coming to rape and pillage Americans as certain media outlets propagate, although yes crime does happen with migrants both here in Peru and the US. The large majority of these people are just trying to survive, live, and save their families from gangs, tyrants, and corruption that makes survival nearly impossible.

When we start deciding, choosing, being selective, and making laws that make it acceptable to take life at our will, or only provide for certain lives and not others we put ourselves on the seat of judge and God. I don’t know about you, but that’s one seat I don’t want because we then become no different than what you see in the book series – turn movie – Hunger Games.

Have we become so hungry with pride, power and greed that we want to decide who lives and who dies in fighting one another on political platforms. That’s living in a place of fear and there’s no freedom in that place. Lord Have Mercy!

Today, ask the Lord to remove the plank from your eye, to heal your blindness so that you can see His children as He sees them through the eyes of love – in His imagine AND likeness. It will both break and grow your heart all at once. Then ask God where He wants you to serve in His Son’s name.

Excellent resources on why the Church stands for what she does concerning the dignity of life, social justice issues and what it means to live in solidarity pick up the “Catechism of the Catholic Church”, the “Compendium of the Catholic Church” or the Bible.

For a short & quick read on immigration see the USCCB: http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/immigration/catholic-teaching-on-immigration-and-the-movement-of-peoples.cfm

Pray for the Venezuelan family: Mom-Maria Gabriela, Jhonnha, Jhonfran, Esthefany, Gabriel, Edgar to be reunited and the two families in the photo that the Lord grants them shelter, work, and meets all their needs.

Pray for Martin & Cristinia that God blesses them with new life.

Pray for Sandeep, Rani, and Aleksei as they all discern where God is calling them.

And pray for Fr. Henry and his parish and parishioners in Dallas, Texas that they stay strong and steadfast in their focus of shifting from maintenance to mission at their parish. May each and every person at St. Ann’s encounter Jesus and say yes, I will follow you Lord. Because the fruits of Evangelization are obvious when you do even in foreign land like Peru! 🇵🇪

An abandoned building near the parish.

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