Ihave somehow become a sponsor for young soccer players. I pass these boys every day on my evening walk in Tanzania. They kick the living daylights out of the balls they play with. I noticed the balls were homemade, improvised from rags wrapped up in a worn-out sock and rounded into a sphere.
I kept looking for a better type of ball for the young athletes and I finally purchased seven store-bought air-filled balls. I knew these would never last because of the area’s many thorn bushes — and the rough use the balls get from these enthusiastic soccer players.
The first ball lasted only about one hour; the rest of the balls fell to that same fate. However, where there’s a will, there’s a way. I now fill the balls with sponge and have a shoe repair man sew them up.
After working as a lay missioner for most of the last decade in El Salvador, I knew my mother needed me to accompany her in California as she suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. It was a difficult decision. There was so much more work to do with our family literacy outreach program, which was just as much about learning to read lives as it was about reading books. That’s what I miss the most — reading life through the daily presence of the people. There’s something beautiful and mysterious in accompanying folks who own little in the way of material goods, but who possess treasures in many other ways.
Back in the States, a jar of marbles ties me to some of the best times in El Salvador, where the children would so often stop me, give me a few marbles — called chibolas there — and invite me to shoot a game. I consistently lost my marbles in the competition, but the kids returned my losses. “You’re just learning; keep practicing,” they’d say, holding out a handful of chibolas and insisting I take them.
Now my collection of marbles sits in a small jar on my desk. Looking at them brings warmth and solace, yet the memories also leave a hole. It’s hard to let go.
How to cure oneself from allergy? Get into a copra boat! That was my experience in the Marshall Islands, where I served in mission as a Maryknoll sister. I used to sneeze whenever I was surrounded by pollens and dusts, and I had to take an allergy pill the first thing every morning. My allergies were unexpectedly cured after a copra boat trip from Tinak Atoll to Majuro Atoll.
Copra is dried coconut meat which emits an unwelcome odor — especially when hundreds of sacks of it are loaded onto a boat. Being a poor sailor, the 17-hour copra boat trip was agonizing for me. I eventually realized, however, what a great blessing those excruciatingly difficult hours were: my allergy symptoms disappeared for three years after that boat trip!
It was early on a Sunday morning, before daylight, and I was on my way to the 6:15 Mass at the mission church, about a 15-minute walk from the House of Prayer where I live and work as a lay missioner in Mwanza, Tanzania. I had hesitated because of the dark, but then decided to brave it.
Halfway up the hill, I was approached by a stranger. No one else was in sight. “Are you going to church?” the man asked. A little shakily, I answered that I was. There was silence as we stood in the dark for a few moments, then in a breaking voice he said, “Pray for me,” and moved on.
I carried that stranger to church with me. I placed him on the altar with the bread and wine. I consumed him with Communion. All day long, my thoughts returned to that brief encounter and the impact it had made on me. Two vulnerable souls meeting in the dark — one in fear, and the other in desperate need of divine intervention. The stranger had given me a mission. “Pray for me,” he said. That was all. It had felt like a divine mission that morning. We had encountered God in our mutual vulnerability.
Featured image: Sean Sprague/El Salvador