Michelle C. committed for a Heart’s Home Mission in Peru from 2008 till 2009. Here are some extracts of her Sponsors’ Letter.
The founder of Heart´s Home, Rev. Thierry de Roucy writes in one of his texts about people who suffer but also smile at life: “In garbage dumps, they locate the orange that is still good, the valuable object that could bring them a profit.” Amidst the suffering and poverty of Barrios Altos neighborhood, there are many oranges to be found. There are always kids playing in the street, groups of people gathered to talk, people greeting us as we walk to church. When the sun does come out, I appreciate it so much more; it is more beautiful than I can ever remember. In each of my letters it is these oranges that I want to show you.
One orange in particular that I have found is the person who is probably my best friend in Barrios Altos, outside of my community: Chano. Chano is 20 years old and has some form of a mental developmental delay. He can speak, but it is difficult to understand him (even for native speakers, especially for me). He has some independence, but he will always be like a child. Despite this, he calls me mija, my daughter. At first, I thought, how could this ever be so, since you are the one who needs to be taken care of? If anything, I should be calling him mijo. I quickly realized that Chano has much to teach me. He knows practically everyone in Barrios Altos and greets them all with a huge smile and a wave. He has a great love for God: whenever he enters our house, he always wants to go in our chapel to see Jesus. He has a great love for life and wants to experience things, as he always wants to accompany us wherever we go. He is very loving; whenever we walk somewhere or are sitting together, we must hold hands or be arm in arm. Chano has far more to give me than I could ever give him. I am reminded of this every time I hear, “Mija!” shouted, and it is a necessary reminder because it is true of everyone I encounter in Barrios Altos. I have so much to learn from them.
This focus on receiving rather than giving reminds me of something I read in a book I am currently re-reading: Gracias!, a journal written by Henri Nouwen about his 6-month experience in Lima and Bolivia. I read one passage each night it in order to have Nouwen accompany me on my journey. Much of what I am experiencing, he experienced. He speaks about how he once again felt like a child while living in a foreign country: losing control over his life, unable to express himself, realizing that everyone else understands life much better than him. I feel this way much of the time; at meals, I am the little kid at the adult table where everyone is talking and I’m sitting quietly, trying to understand. It is difficult sometimes, but it is also a very humbling experience. I have no choice but to rely on God and my community. I have very little independence. It is a good experience for me to have because I like to be independent and know everything all the time, and here, I cannot, and I am learning that that is okay. I am experiencing weakness, and Nouwen says, “The great paradox of ministry, therefore, is that we minister above all with our weakness, a weakness that invites us to receive from those to whom we go…The true skill of ministry is to help fearful and often oppressed men and women become aware of their own gifts, by receiving them in gratitude.”