By Michelle Norman
Often, we hear stories of the impact missions make around the world. They are important stories of God’s work.
But often, we fail to mention the impact that missions have on the missioner. Occasionally, we hear stories of transformation for a participant of a short-term team, but the transformation occurs for long-term personnel as well. The act of serving as CBF field personnel has impacted me and formed me tremendously through the years as I have listened to stories, walked alongside those among whom we minister, and participated in missions in an asset-based approach which recognizes the abilities and value of all people. This allows we long-term field personnel the opportunity for transformation and growth.
Recently, while working at the Rebost Solidari de Cerdanyola, a food bank run by the social ministry of a local Baptist church, I listened as one of my co-laborers shared her story with me. Claudia is around my age. She is from a South American country that is in conflict and is what is known as an “irregular migrant” to Spain. She has no legal standing in Spain and has to work “under the table” in order to survive. While she has grown children and family in her home country, in Spain she has no family.
As we packed food boxes for the recipients, she quizzed me on some English pronunciations. “I am trying to teach myself English,” she said in Spanish. “I love to learn. When I am at home, I always read to learn more. Did you know I didn’t go to school?” she said. My response was to clarify that she didn’t attend college. She responded that she has never attended school—even primary school.
She explained that when she was young, she could not go to school because she had to work all night. During the day at home, she would sit outside and write letters in the dirt to teach herself to read and write. At age 12 she was kicked out of her house, living alone for a while before moving in with her grandmother. She had family members who were murdered and she eventually fled her country.
“I don’t complain,” she said. “I give thanks to God because, through my difficulties, I recognize that God is always with me, giving me strength. I only need to depend on God.”
Here words are true. I have never heard Claudia complain about her situation. Despite her struggles financially, legally (given her immigration status) and personally with the distance that separates her from her family, she remains steadfast in her faith in God and in service to others through the food bank.
Friends like Claudia continue to transform me, teaching me through their strength and their reliance on God. They continue to remind me that although I cannot “fix” every situation even with the privilege and resources I carry, I can attest to the work of God in the world and to the steadfastness of God’s presence in our lives. They continue to humble me and remind me of the value of all of us—the expat, the immigrant, the citizen, the undocumented.
May we all face our difficult circumstances with the strength, faith and heart of service of Claudia.
Michelle Norman serves as CBF field personnel alongside her husband, Matt, in Barcelona Spain. Learn more about the Normans ministry at www.cbf.net/norman.