I have a prayer card that was made seven years before I was born in 1984. The card belonged to my grandmother, Marilyn, who I never had the opportunity to meet. I hold onto this card and read from a book that belonged to her each day as a way to get to know her. I know it sounds odd, trying to know someone you have never met. However, for me these materials have been a light in my mission experience.
Before I go to the prisons, I slowly read through the prayer card cherishing each line as a source of strength. I am going into a place that is a new experience for me. A place where I have to overcome my fear of public speaking, while being surrounded by large groups of men waiting to participate in prayer. (Yes, I am more afraid of public speaking than entering a maximum-security over-crowded Brazilian prison.)
I cherish this card when….
- I get home, after having to explain to children about equality and apologize to those who were called monkeys because of their skin color.
- Seeing moms of newborn babies who live under bridges at the age of 14 or 15.
- Helping an elderly woman with a broken arm cross the street. She unexpectedly bursts into tears because someone has finally stopped to help her carry her groceries.
- Learning that a psychologically disturbed prisoner has committed suicide in solitary confinement even though the prison was warned several times of his condition. He was there for talking back to a guard. We said a rosary with those in solitary confinement, for him, and for his family.
- Being encircled by overly energetic Bolivian children chasing each other as their parents study Portuguese in class.
- Learning samba in between pouring cups of juice.
- Helping a group of men, living in the situation of the streets, clean up and do varying projects within the community where their shelter is located as a way to give back what they can with all that they have to offer.
- Hearing the happiness of man who has just received notice that he is being freed from the prison system and is finally able to return to his family.
- Walking through the rainforest with a torch made out of a beer can and a bamboo pole that suddenly goes out half way down the dirt road. In the darkness, praying that I don’t step on a snake while listening to a fellow missioner tell stories of jaguars….
The prayer card reads:
I said to the man who stood at the gate of the Year, “Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.” And he replied, “Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way!”
In all of these instances, God has been present. In the darkest places, God is present we just have to remember to look for him. In the happiest of places, it is impossible to miss his face. My mission experience has never been without light, but I have been challenged so much at times that the only thing I can do is put my hand into the hand of God and pray. I bet that when my grandmother possessed this card she had no idea whose hands it would eventually fall into. Even though, I never knew her while she was alive, she is helping and present with me now with two little things she left behind.