Michelle C. left in October 2008 for a 17-month mission in Barrios Altos, Peru. She came back to the United States in March 2010. Here below is an excerpt from her last sponsor letter. She shares with us the joys and challenges of her mission...
Friendship is to give and to receive
I’ve found that it’s just important to be gratefully receptive of these gestures of friendship as it is for us to demonstrate our own gestures of friendship. It’s one of the ways that we make our friendships on equal-footing. Even though we go thinking we’re there for the people, we find that the people are there just as much for us, and we would be putting ourselves above our friends if we didn’t allow them to show their appreciation for our friendship. The “poor” have some immense riches in their love, and it is an affirmation of their dignity to be someone to whom they can give.
As I was finishing my mission, I wanted to show my love for our friends as much as I could, but I found myself receiving more than I could ever give. About two weeks before my departure from the barrio, I began to visit as many people as possible to let them know I was leaving, invite them to my farewell party, and spend one last moment with them. I found this process very difficult, never knowing if each visit would be the last time I would ever see the people and trying to make the most of each moment. It is typical for our friends to invite us to share meals with them in their houses during this time, making us on the go at almost every moment, but I truly enjoyed spending so much time with our friends. [...]
I learned very much during my experience in Barrios Altos, and it was something that has changed my life. I found that it is more important to be and to be with rather than to do. I think that maybe it isn’t that we should look to do for those who are in need, but rather to do with and to accompany and support; to help others to see their own dignity, to empower. I have also learned the importance of forming relationships. In any kind of service, I believe that is where everything must start; we must first focus on entering into relationship with others. In doing that, we are better able to recognize others as our sisters and brothers, and it is in that spirit that we should serve in the world.