Trusting God’s Plan

Saying “Yes” to God guides Bolivian woman’s journey as a missionary disciple.

People often ask Silvana Martinez how she can have such a positive outlook on life. She responds that she is a missioner at heart. “Each of us has a little missionary flame since our baptism,” Martinez says, who is originally from the southern Bolivian city of Tarija. 

The flame in Martinez was set ablaze when she joined the Maryknoll Mission Center in Cochabamba, Bolivia, after working at a bank for 10 years. Her coworkers were surprised that she would leave her position as bank branch manager to start a new job for a third of the pay. But Martinez, now 41, had no doubt that she wanted to serve God.

“We, humanly, want to do things with a bit of security,” she adds, “but I knew that God’s plans were better than mine.” 

Among her many responsibilities at the Maryknoll center, Martinez coordinated post-graduate programs, worked with foreign volunteers and facilitated workshops and trainings in various skills and topics. She learned from missioners like Maryknoll Father Eugene Toland, an expert in methodologies that help people by “empowering them in their relationships.”  

For five years, Martinez also saw the missioners in action: working in orphanages, with children living with HIV, and with the homeless. 

Silvana Martinez smiles next to an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe at Sacred Heart Center, which helps to better the quality of migrants’ lives in Richmond, Virginia.

Silvana Martinez smiles next to an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe at Sacred Heart Center, which helps to better the quality of migrants’ lives in Richmond, Virginia.

Among many memories, she recalls when, at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Maryknoll Lay Missioner Juan Gomez started making food to feed the growing number of homeless. The project began with 20 people, but soon, lines of hungry people came to get a meal. It later became a soup kitchen for the community. “That is what Maryknoll taught us,” she says. “If you want to do something, just start walking and the Lord will show you the rest.”

That year, feeling she had accomplished her purpose at the center and discerning the call to serve beyond her country’s borders, Martinez made a life-changing decision. She came to the United States with one suitcase and a heart full of trust in God. “I said to the Lord, ‘I put myself in your hands. Direct me where you’d like me to be,’” she recalls.

Martinez arrived in Virginia and began looking for work with the Church.

“I saw how God provides,” Martinez says. She shares that when she first arrived, not having a car, it was hard to get around Richmond. One night, while wondering how to get to a grocery store when she did not have anything to eat, she heard a knock on the door. It was someone from her parish bringing a plate of food. “I said to myself, ‘That is God,’” she recounts through tears. “Even though I have no family here … I am not alone because God has put wonderful people in my path.”

Martinez, a permanent resident, settled into a job as an administrative assistant at Sacred Heart, a Jesuit parish in Richmond. There, she uses her Spanish to serve parishioners from Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.

After World Mission Sunday Mass at St. Ferdinand Church, pastor Father Jason Torba and Cardinal Blase Cupich greet the congregation, including all those who do mission in Chicago. (Julie Jaidinger, Chicago Catholic/U.S.)

During a trip to Kenya last summer, Martinez visited a traditional Maasai Mara community. She found learning about the people’s culture to be a highlight of the trip. (Courtesy of Silvana Martinez)

Best of all, working at Sacred Heart gives Martinez the opportunity to give to others. In addition to her administrative duties, she volunteers with the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, which supports people living close to the poverty line. She also volunteers with Richmonders Involved to Strengthen our Communities, a social justice ministry organization comprised of 22 congregations, including Sacred Heart. The organization raises awareness about affordable housing, labor issues, migration and care of creation.

Although she is immersed in local activities, Martinez has not lost her connection to Maryknoll.

“Silvana has had a great love for Maryknoll since her days working with us in Cochabamba,” says Kevin McCarthy, leader of the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers’ teacher-catechist team. “Since she relocated to the U.S., she has continued collaborating with us.” He explains that Martinez has helped Maryknoll facilitate virtual courses on missionary discipleship formation.

After World Mission Sunday Mass at St. Ferdinand Church, pastor Father Jason Torba and Cardinal Blase Cupich greet the congregation, including all those who do mission in Chicago. (Julie Jaidinger, Chicago Catholic/U.S.)

Martinez talks with children during a visit to the after-school program run by a Maryknoll lay missioner in Tacopaya, a remote Indigenous town in the Andean mountains of Bolivia. (Courtesy of Silvana Martinez)

 In order to keep her own “flame” burning brightly, Martinez continues her own formation as a missionary disciple. She joined the Maryknoll Young Adult Empowerment Communities, a two-year accompaniment program, and now leads a young adult group at the parish, sharing the wealth of resources she acquired through the program.

Last summer, Martinez broadened her mission horizons when she traveled to Kenya with other friends accompanying newly ordained Maryknoll Father John Siyumbu. They attended Father Siyumbu’s homecoming and also gathered with Maryknoll seminarians in Nairobi.

Martinez said the trip’s highlight was visiting different communities. “There is so much cultural richness,” she says. “Being able to share with the people — the children! Eating with them, dancing with them, enjoying their culture.”

Returning to Virginia, Martinez encourages U.S. people — especially young people — to live in the present and to trust in God.

“When you feel a calling, be brave, follow it,” she says. “Go beyond the uncertainty. Take courage in the certainty that God does not abandon us on the journey.”

Featured image: Martinez is pictured at the offices of the Catholic Volunteer Network located in Washington, D.C. Volunteering is an important part of her life, she says. (Courtesy of Silvana Martinez)


maryknoll-icon-grey

Magazine Past Issues

About the author

Maria-Pia Negro Chin

Maria-Pia was born and raised in Lima, Peru. She earned a master’s degree in multimedia journalism from the University of Maryland and a bachelor’s degree in communications/writing from Loyola University Maryland. As bilingual associate editor, she writes, edits and translates articles for Misioneros and Maryknoll Magazine for the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers. Her work has received awards from the Catholic Press Association of the United States and Canada. She lives in New York with her husband and son.