By Miriam Allen
My husband, Ross, and I recently visited our daughter, Emily, on mission with Heart’s Home in Villa Jardin, just outside of Buenos Aires, Argentina. I was quickly amazed. It wasn’t quite the place of depravity I had expected to encounter in a “slum”. It was, of course, somewhat dirty, smelly and littered, but seemed to be quite full of life as we walked along. Children ran up to her to hold her hands and walk with us. The shopkeepers called out to her in the manner of old friends as we walked along the narrow street. She stopped to greet each of them with traditional pecks on the cheek and they chatted away in a lively manner in Spanish. I noted how Emily’s eyes sparkled as she greeted each of her neighbors and all of the neighborhood children. It took quite a while to reach her home, despite the short distance we had to walk.
Upon our arrival at the Heart’s Home “home” I was again amazed. Inside this home in the “slums” was the most amazing group of people I have ever encountered. This group consisted of two young men and three young women from different nationalities, who had each given up a considerable portion of their life to live amongst the poor, to give them hope and love by their presence and care. They were a living prayer to God in their everyday actions. I watched the children of the neighborhood coming and going in the house and I could tell they felt it was a good, safe place, free from the problems of their own homes. I watched as the adults of the neighborhood interacted with the people of Heart’s Home, coming to the home to chat, some bringing little treats of food for these young people living amongst them. They, too, knew it was a good place, a positive place with people willing to help them, to listen and understand.
One encounter that I remember most from our visit happened in the main city of Buenos Aires. We were getting ready to catch a cab, when Emily exclaimed “That’s my friend in front of the church!” and across the street she (and we) went. Her friend turned out to be a man in a wheelchair. He had no legs and you could see that his teeth had rotted out of his gums when he smiled. His sweatpants were soaked and he definitely had the odor of someone who could not care for himself. To be quite honest, I felt repulsed by him and stood back, a few feet away. Emily, however, obviously didn’t see what I was seeing. She went up to him, gave him the traditional pecks on the cheek, and with eyes sparkling, chatted away with him for quite a while. He really enjoyed having someone to laugh and joke with. She didn’t seem to think that he was repulsive, as most people would. She only saw him as a person. It was an amazing thing to see, and quite an inspiration. It appeared to me, in retrospect, to be Christianity in its purest form: treating the least among us with compassion and love. It surely must be the greatest form of prayer. As we left Argentina, I told my daughter how proud I was of her and what she was doing, and I sincerely meant it.