We had been warned by multiple people to leave our cellphones at home. Our taxi driver told us to take off any jewelry—watches, earrings, necklaces—anything remotely valuable. Our windows stayed rolled up most of the drive, but the stench of urine still made its way into the car.
Entering the slums of Lima, a place where even Peruvians told us not to go, we were searching for a source of pure and radiant light—the Missionaries of Charity. These women give up everything to serve the sick and abandoned in the dirtiest, most outcast places in the world.
Yet, when I walked through their door of their mission house, the thing I noticed most was not the cleanliness compared to the street or the parakeets chirping in the small aviary. No, what I noticed first was the perfectly calm, humble, and joyful presence of the sisters. There were just a couple things that made the visit so special:
The first was that I was able to speak to an American priest! Although I can get around more comfortably with the language after language school, I still find myself stumbling over words and only getting about 90% of a conversation—something incredibly frustrating when I just want to feel understood. I’m learning that language is a poverty all in its own.
The next one is simple, almost childish in how much I loved it. After Mass, I was wandering around looking for a bathroom and found myself in the kitchen with two sisters and a couple people working over the stove. “Pardon me,” I was interrupting a conversation between the sisters and felt rather small and embarrassed, but my bladder was pushing me on. “Where is your bathroom? I’m sorry.” My request was immediately answered with one sister running off to grab the key and the other offering me a juice box and crackers.
Finally, there’s Andrew (name changed for privacy). Andrew is a young boy with severe physical and mental disabilities but can say a few words and move himself around in his wheelchair. As we walked into the children’s wing of the mission house, Andrew came rolling up with the biggest smile on his face. He reached up towards our faces to give us a kiss on the cheek and then insisted on holding our hands as we visited other kids. When I say his smile lit up the room, I mean it. He was probably the most joyful kid I’ve ever seen, and it radiated from him.
The visit with the Missionaries of Charity showed me the simplest gestures can make the biggest impact on someone. So next time someone is struggling to get a word out, give them a minute. Next time someone is waiting for something, maybe offer them a snack. And finally, when you are joyful, share it, because it’s so darn contagious.