NO PUEDES SALIR hoy.
This was not the greeting I was expecting as I strolled through the door after a great workout. I searched my host brother’s face. What did he mean that I couldn’t leave today?
My host mom stepped into the conversation: My host dad’s cousin had passed away. She and my host aunt were heading to this cousin’s mom’s house for the rest of the day. The reason I needed to stay was that we were also hosting another cousin, the energetic 8-year-old Dayana*. There was no way my host brother and Dayana could be left together unsupervised.
Sure, I said, getting myself into babysitter mode.
It was the longest day of my life. It went something like this:
kids get tired
kids get tired
UNO (to ease tensions)
kids start cat-fighting, leaving Dayana in tears and my host brother in exasperation
freeze tag (Sophia gets so competitive she falls off couch)
sardines (because Sophia is now limping)
kids get bored
go to the park
ADULTS COME HOME *praise hands*
And yet I was sad to hug Dayana goodbye the next day.
Spending time with Dayana reminded me of why I came to Colombia: the ministry of presence. In a brief moment of clarity during that chaotic day, it occurred to me that I was exactly where I needed to be.
If I hadn’t been living with this family, they would’ve had to work out a different arrangement: my host mom would’ve had to stay with the kids instead of accompanying her grieving sister-in-law, or they would’ve had to drag the kids along. My availability provided support to my host family.
A few weeks ago my host dad’s older sister María* suffered a heart attack. Everyone’s schedules were disrupted with hospital visits and heavy hearts. Thankfully, her bypass surgery went well, and she is recovering.
Watching my host family care for María has convinced me of the ministry of presence. They can’t do anything to make her better, but they’re doing all they can to make her feel better. They’ve spent hours by her side, visiting her after a long day at work, staying overnight at the hospital. They attend to her needs, give her massages, pray for her… They spend time with her.
And she feels the love.
And once again I’m seeing God use my availability to help my host family.
This week my host aunt is spending a lot of time with María, who is her sister. My host aunt is in charge of sweeping & mopping (morning chores) and washing pots & pans (evening chore). Because she spends basically the whole day with María, it’s hard for her to do her daily chores.
That’s where I come in.
In this case, I’m doing rather than simply being. But the chores take on new significance. I sweep because I care about María and my host aunt. I wash the dishes so that my host aunt can be with her sister. Contrary to my nature, I don’t try to beat the clock when I do these chores. I let myself be present to each movement. I’m being even as I’m doing.
The ministry of presence is not limited to a particular space. It is not merely a model for working with children or for listening to the stories of displaced people. It is certainly not an excuse to get out of chores. It is a way of life.
* names changed to protect individuals’ privacy