Sisi Susan Loayza
“O Lord, you have taught me from my youth, and I proclaim your wondrous deeds.”
Last year (March-August 2004), I went as a Salesian Lay Missioner to Assam, India to work with children of the street. In Snehalaya (“House of Love”), a remarkable initiative of the Salesian province of Guwahati, directed by Fr. Lukose, I learned many things. I went there thinking maybe I could teach the children something, but instead I became the student.
After being in India for a few months, I learned in a deep way the real meaning of poverty! “Poverty is not created by GOD. It is made by you and me”, Mother Teresa said. I learned that poverty is not limited to not having money. The children needed more than things. There is a deeper need for relationships, for love. And I have begun to see material things in a new way, because a person can have a lot of things and still not be happy. I saw these kids without any possessions, but when they were loved, they were very happy. I came to learn that God is our greatest treasure.
I prepared myself for this journey first by not having high expectations. This was the advice of Fr. Johnny Nedungatt, my spiritual director who was from India. It was so helpful to arrive with that in mind. This simple advice made it easier for me to adjust to the culture of north east India. I started to dress and dance according to the local custom, and of course eat the local foods. These things wouldn’t have been easy to do, if I hadn’t received Holy Communion every day. The strength I received from the Eucharist was like a force for good beyond my imagining. How could I forget to thank GOD every day? I felt an indescribable joy that made me say, “For the first time in my life I feel really happy.” I learned the power of true happiness in God!
Many of you may wonder, wasn’t I happy before my mission experience? I have been blessed my whole life; I grew up with many gifts. I was the only child for ten years. I was always the good girl in the family, the daughter many parents dream of. And I always shared with everyone whatever I had. But still my heart did not feel satisfied and fulfilled with all of these blessings. So when I was 27 years of age, I started searching with the Salesians in a very serious way. What was the work of a missionary and how could I qualify to be one? Finally, one day I made my decision to become a Salesian Lay Missioner.
When I first arrived in Guwahati, somebody asked me, “You came here by yourself?!” I thought, “That was a silly question.” Then, as the days passed and more and more people asked the same question, I realized that GOD had guided me in this pathway with HIS love. Going down this pathway was not always easy, especially in the beginning. My family was not very happy; I would have to quit my job and move to another country; I had to let go of many things for this mission. It became clear that I was being given a beautiful chance to share the gifts I once had received from our loving Father. How could I say no. I had to go for it.
Being in the north east of India, in the state of Assam and in the city of Guwahati, was quite adventurous, but not entirely difficult for me at all because of my origins—I am Peruvian. From my looks, I could have been born in Guwahati, but as soon as I spoke, they knew that I was not Assamese. I learned patience.
I worked for the Snehalaya program. Snehalaya means “house of love.” It is an effort to give young people on the streets a safe, caring environment to heal and grow. It is a place young people learn they are loved, in some cases for the first time in their lives. Snehalaya has 4 homes and serves a total of 137 children, from three years old to nineteen years old. Sometimes I felt like I was the children’s older sister, other times I felt I was their mom. Then at times I felt like a stranger, a private teacher, a nurse, a tutor, their pillow or their favorite chair. Really I have to thank GOD in so many ways for allowing me to be part of HIS work and teaching me how to be a model for the children in so many different roles.
The first month I was there, I didn’t feel I was working properly, until I read a thought by Mother Teresa: “To GOD, there is nothing small. The moment we have given it to GOD, it becomes something great.” This really lifted me up and it was enough for me to keep going. The second month, I started feeling a little frustration because of the language barrier. I kept telling myself that GOD speaks to us in the silence of our hearts, and I learned to communicate with the children through universal language of friendship. The third month, I really started to miss meat and all kinds of Spanish food! I learned to make sacrifices. The fourth month, I realized I needed to be more obedient, understanding, and forgiving on daily basis, so…I did! Finally, the fifth month came and I started to prepare myself emotionally for my departure from the children. I had to hang in until the very end, even as I learned to say goodbye.
Now I’m back in the United States and, from all I’ve learned, I see things in a new perspective. It seems like GOD can use us all to plant seeds in his Kingdom. “It is not the number of days or years that makes life beautiful-that makes life truly worthwhile. But what we do with our life that matters.” (Anonymous) Some things that were very important in my mission were determination, spiritual preparation, and a challenging yet rewarding love. Now I’m sharing my experience so others can learn the wondrous deeds God does for us.
I know God is planting a seed in your heart, just like HE did with me. I hope in your adventure you learn love, friendship, inner strength and lasting happiness.