Smell Like the Sheep – What I Learned

For years the missionaries in General Cepeda have been building a relationship with Francisca and her family. When John-Paul was a single missionary in General Cepeda several years ago, he remembers her coming to the house asking for work, so he and his mission partner hired her to clean the small chapel in the mission house.  Then she and the kids started coming over for meals with them, and on Sundays the whole family would come for breakfast and go to Mass together.  Many of the missionaries have prayed and begged God to move mountains and work miracles in their seemingly hopeless situation.

t-girlsThere has been a long line of missionaries helping to get Francisca to the point where she was able to accept our offer to stay with us and hopefully make a life changing difference in their lives. And in a lot of ways, even with this home makeover and time with their family in our house, it is just the beginning of what needs to happen for them.  But through this project God has continued to remind me of His faithfulness.  It is a faithfulness that is not only for me, but for Francisca and Chemo as well.  It is a faithfulness that continues to woo her heart and is relentless in pursuing Chemo’s.  The other day in my prayer I read Ephesians 3:20-21, “Now to him who is able to accomplish far more than all we ask or imagine, by the power at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever”. I know this is His work, and it has to continue to be His work. And I do believe that He is able to accomplish far more than we can ask or imagine. He already has, and I believe He is just getting started.

I wanted to share some of the things that I experienced and realized and some of the ways that God really challenged me through Francisca while she and the kids were staying with us. The whole week that we spent with them in our house I couldn’t help but keep thinking of that old saying, “Don’t judge someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.” Before they came to stay with us I never saw the depth of their poverty because it scared me…I knew it would demand a response more than just loading up a bag of food for her every couple days or offering her a cup of coffee when she came to the door. I didn’t want to be moved because I didn’t want the weight of the responsibility once I knew. So I politely put a band-aid on the gaping wound and went on my merry little way feeling good about myself that I had done my

When I think about walking a mile in Francisca’s shoes, I know I am not strong enough to really do it. And just to drive the point home to me, the Lord let me really see the state of her only pair of shoes. We asked Francisca why she wasn’t wearing the new socks we had bought for her and she said, “well, they get so dirty from my shoes I don’t want to ruin them.” What? We were a little confused and thought maybe they just needed to be washed, so we asked her to take them off so we could wash them for her. Then we saw why they got her socks so dirty…they had two huge holes in the sole that were filled in and caked with mud. In the whole process of us taking her shopping and asking her what she needed and trying to see her own personal needs, she had never once mentioned or complained about her only pair of shoes that were clearly hard to walk in and no good anymore. We found her another pair from a donation bag to wear until we could find her something that she liked, and she humbly and gratefully accepted.

There were so many things that I never thought about before having them under our roof. I was frustrated several times during the week when she would let the baby’s diaper get so full that he wet through his clothes. When I would suggest that he might need to be changed before he got to that point she would always say, oh, he’s not that wet. We even bought some disposable diapers for them to use during the week that they were staying with us just because we were so busy doing so many things. She still would wait until he leaked out. I finally realized that she only had a couple cloth diaper covers for the baby so she must leave one on him all day so that she could have one clean one for while the other was washed and dried. She was trying to stretch the disposables too, because they were such a luxury and she didn’t want to waste them. I’ve done cloth and disposable diapers for my girls but I’ve always had plenty and never had to think twice about whether to change my child if their diaper hasn’t been completely saturated yet. I have the luxury to just change them as soon as I notice they are wet.

saritaThere were several times during the week that I was impatient with her daughters who were not listening very well and didn’t want to stay in one room to play with toys. We even gave them each a new little doll to play with, and they looked at them, took them out of the bag for a minute and then put them back in the bag and put them away in their room. It seemed like they liked them, so why weren’t they playing with them? I realized that these kids had never learned how to play. They have no attention span because they have never been taught to. They had not gone to school before now and never really had a place to have organized playtime in their own house. They would play outside their house with garbage that they collected, but they didn’t know how to sit still and play with one thing, or color a picture or even watch a video. When we put on a cartoon for them (probably the first movie they had ever seen) they sat for a couple minutes and then started wandering around the room disinterested. They had never had to sit still for anything. Things I just take for granted.

At meal times we asked the kids to sit at the table until their plate was clean and not to leave until they asked permission. It took several days for them to remember the rule, and we would ask them to come back and sit down again until they were finished and had asked permission. At first I was frustrated with their lack of obedience, and then I realized that they have never had a table and chairs to sit and eat at in their own house. They either ate standing up or on the bed.

One day we ate lunch with a couple of the kids while Francisca when to pick up the other one from school. When we finished lunch we left enough food out on the table for Francisca and Yajaira to eat when they got home. After a while we noticed that there was only one hot dog left on the plate and hardly any grapes were left in the bowl on the table. Brenda had eaten plenty at lunch we thought, so why would she still be taking more food? We went into their room to change the baby’s diaper and found a stash of food behind the curtain on the windowsill. There were 3 or 4 hot dogs, a couple handfuls of grapes and some chips from another meal that we had eaten. They were getting plenty of food at mealtime, so why would they need to hoard it? At first I was a little upset that she would take the food that we had left for her mom and sister, but then I realized these poor kids were used to a life when they had no idea when their next meal was coming. Who knows if she was saving it for her mom and sister in case we didn’t want to give them anything, or if she was worried they might not get dinner later that night. I’ve never had to worry about whether or not I will get my next meal.

brendaI used to think it should be no big deal for her to make her kids go to school, dress them and walk them there and pick them up at the right times. Aside from the fact that some days her girls fight her because they don’t want to go, and they hit and kick her if she tries to make them, I had no idea that she doesn’t know how to tell time. She barely knows her numbers 1-10 and can tell from a digital clock what hour it is, but to her, 8:05 is just the same as 8:55…so how does she know when to leave the house get her kids to school for 8:30 and 9am and be there to pick them up at 2:15 and 2:30?

I used to think she was just being lazy for not bathing her kids and trying to get rid of the lice. “She just has to be consistent and do it…why is that so hard?” I thought. I never thought about the process that she would have to go through collecting firewood to heat water up in a pot on the fire and then bucket bathe each of her children in an outdoor shower as they scream and fight her because it’s cold. Not to speak of the fact that the lice shampoo that she has to use needs to stay in their hair for 10 minutes…which she is unable to keep track of, even with a watch. And I never once thought of the difficulty of having to keep her 1 year old contained while she was in the process of bathing the others…and with nothing but a dirt floor to put him down on.

I used to think it was laziness for her to come ask for premade food even though we had just brought them a bag of dry food staples a day or two before because she hadn’t had a chance to go collect firewood to start a fire. I have never had to collect firewood to cook my food in my life, and I don’t have 4 kids to chase around while I’m at it.

Shame on me. Shame on me for never taking the time to really see Francisca’s real needs…to really see her and the reality of her life. And the reality is, as I sit here typing all these things that I learned during our time with them, I know I only got a glimpse of what her day to day life is like. And I also know that General Cepeda has lots of other Franciscas that live extremely difficult lives in poverty and loneliness and filth. Their family is just one of many. And that is another reason why I never felt like I could really open my eyes to see her real need. What we have done for Francisca and Chemo was just the beginning for them and there are so many others that could use the same kind of love and generosity and attention. That thought is overwhelming. We can’t help everyone. We can’t have every poor person move into our house for a week and have us do an extreme home makeover for them, so the temptation is not to help at all. But I keep thinking of Mother Teresa’s quote, “We know only too well that what we are doing is nothing more than a drop in the ocean. But if the drop were not there, the ocean would be missing something.” I pray that God will give me the grace to continue to see the real needs of the person that He puts before me without fear of what the cost might be, because this experience truly has been one of the greatest gifts of my missionary life.

familyGod placed Francisca and Chemo on our hearts this Lent to help make a real difference in their lives. We felt like He wanted us to provide for them the way we would want to provide for our own families. Thank you to all of you who donate to us and to FMC. It is your generosity that has made this gift for Francisca’s family a reality. Please continue to pray for them as they strive to make so many changes in their lives. And please pray for us, that we can have Christ’s eyes to see His children as He sees them, and the grace to say yes to serving however He asks us to.


~ by martinsonmission on March 15, 2015.

One Response to “Smell Like the Sheep – What I Learned”

  1. Thank you for your honesty and vulnerability and for sharing how God is moving. Thank you for your YES. Your family is inspiring.

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