Hope and Healing in Flores de Villa

My Mom taught me things through actions, not words. I watched as she was empathetic with everyone she met, and cared deeply for people in need. My Mom has a passion for people that I am proud to be witness to. She connects with many, but especially women. I’ve noticed that when she sees a need somewhere, she takes it upon herself to help.

In Peru, my family worked in an impoverished community called Flores de Villa. Set into the dusty hills of Lima, yellowed flickering lights are randomly scattered around small, square houses that are pressed up against each other. Many of these houses are placed on land formerly used as landfill. I was 10 when we first came here and did not speak any Spanish, but I soon learned that it didn’t matter. As a 10 year old, I didn’t need to speak the same language to play with the kids and join in their games. The women in the community talked to me and hugged me.I had no idea what they were saying, but we would just laugh and smile, and hug some more.

We joined them for their Saturday morning Bible study. We sat in a small room on small benches and squeezed in with the women, sitting in a circle. They started by having a handful of ladies stand up and tell their story. One by one they would speak,start talking and the translator would interject every few sentences. We all cried together as they shared their experiences of abuse, heartbreak, and pain. Despite all this, their faith and hope remained strong. My Mom left her heart in Flores de Villa that day.

As a child who grew up in a suburban bubble in Minnesota, coming to Flores de Villa was shocking. I was unaware of the poverty that existed, and to see it first-hand changed me forever. Each time we returned we learned more about these women and how strong they were. In this community there was so much struggle but an even bigger capacity for hope and joy. Their Saturday morning Bible study was a way for them to encourage one another, and find ways to improve conditions for themselves and their families. We returned many times over the next several years, and built relationships with those in this community.

Our family moved to Peru to work in Flores de Villa. My parents taught English to youth and trained women in a children’s ministry. On Saturdays my sister and I would join my mom and dad in Flores de Villa. We woke up early to take the hour long bus ride out, and were dropped off just outside the community. Stray dogs barked at us as we walked the dusty streets to the house where we joined in on their weekly Bible study. My sister and I sat outside and watched the children with some of the other olders girls. We played games and taught them songs in English and Spanish. After the session ended, the women would call us back in and my sister and I, along with a handful of the older girls, would sing songs to them. This was our routine every single Saturday. This community became our family.

A few weeks ago, my Mom, Sister and I went back to Peru. It was the first time the three of us had all been back together since my parents divorced. We went to Flores de Villa and visited these women who had become like moms to us. We saw the kids we used to play with, who were now grown up, and the older girls we used to sing with had babies of their own. So much time had passed, but it was like nothing had changed. It was a Saturday and my Mom, Sister and I sat in on the women’s Bible study like we used to do. This time my mom stood up and told her story. We all cried together and some women stood up to say that the same thing had happened to them. They said it didn’t matter that we lived on opposite sides of the world. We were family. These women encouraged my mom just as she had encouraged them and we all dissolved into tears once more. Our early days in Peru had come full circle.

Being a woman is to be brave and to love deeply.I learned about strength and perseverance from these women and my mother. I learned that sharing is healing, even when it requires being very vulnerable. Seeing my mom stand up and share her story wasn’t just inspiring to me — I saw how it healed her. It made me understand that women need to share their stories with one another. It is the only way to get through them. Instead of these experiences going untold, seeing so many courageous women over the years stand up to talk about their journeys, taught me that we need to have more conversations if we are to bring about change.

My Mom is one of the strongest women I know. I aspire to have a heart like hers, so I too can share when it’s hard, and not give up when life seems to knock you down.