Ministry of Presence
Getting to know the people in this community of Rancho Anapra Corpus Christi Parish, Juarez City, México, was my number one priority when I arrived here after learning Spanish. I visited families and got involved in parish activities such as catechism class and prayer groups. I immersed myself in learning the language, getting familiar with the culture and enjoying their food all of which helped me become part of this community. My Spanish really improved by speaking and interacting with them. The language is a bridge to learn their culture, history and stories, so I put a lot of effort in speaking it. There are always challenges and difficulties, but my faith in God has keep me going.
Being new to a place and to the people, especially when they are not familiar with a lay missionary, has been a challenge. Nevertheless, I discovered that there is always somebody who is willing to accept, invite and help a missionary, a stranger in their house. Sometimes people would stare at me and wonder what am I doing here and even why I would want to be here. Some would approach me and ask, “Are you crazy, why would you want to come and work here? We live in fear, suffer violence and struggle to escape to somewhere else for a better life, yet you choose to be here?”
Through my years of being with them, trust and camaraderie have developed which made me feel like a part of their family and community. They have shared their struggles and hopes with me. We are able to help, support and comfort each other, and the most important thing I do is continue to give them hope as we journey together.
Juarez City is one of the most violent places in Mexico today. I’ve heard so many scary and unpleasant stories. As a lay missionary, I’ve experienced that the ministry of presence is an important part of being here. To listen to their stories which they really appreciate very much, to care, to cry and to give them hope. The Prayer of St. Francis has been my constant encouragement and comfort in my missionary journey, “Lord make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred let me sow love, where there is injury, pardon, where there is doubt, faith, where there is despair, hope where there is darkness, light and where there is sadness, joy.”
As time went by, we were able to train women to be missionaries in our communities by serving those families who need help. Now there are six women whom I journeyed with throughout my time here who have been visiting the families in our community as part of their evangelization ministry. These women are also very active in helping organize parish activities.
Mexico is the place where the Virgin Mary appeared to an indigenous man on the Hill of Tepeyac in 1531. Mexicans have a deep devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe. Every year during the months of May, October, November and during the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12, we take the image of Our Lady to different houses. The women’s group enjoyed this particular activity, because being mothers themselves, they can relate to Mother Mary. These women continue to serve and live out their faith by following the prayer of St. Francis.
At this time a big issue here at the U.S./Mexico border are the migrants from South America. The Columbans on the Mexico side have been involved in this ministry since November 2018. We opened a Migrant Center in Juarez to offer shelter to these migrants with the help of our local volunteer, Cristina Coronado. Every time I listen to their stories, I am overcome with sadness as they recount the struggles they have to go through. At the same time, I am also amazed at their faith in God, trusting that God will keep them safe in their journey to a new place.
I feel God’s grace through the women and their families, the community in Rancho Anapra and the migrants. With love, hope and trust may we continue to witness together the Joy of the Gospel.
Originally from Fiji, Columban lay missionary Sainiana Tamatawale lives and works in Mexico.