Continuing our daily Advent reflection series, returned missioner and former board member, Doug Garofalo, writes about a woman named Sonia who led him to a deeper faith by example.

Upon my return to Uberlandia from Brasilia after completing a language and culture course for foreign missionaries, I still felt inept speaking Brazilian-Portuguese. Fortunately for me, my host friar, Brother Rodrigo, knew Sonia, a teacher from a Franciscan Parish a few neighborhoods away.

Sonia was a middle-aged widow with adult children and grandchildren; though unemployed, she tutored others for free. I met with her in the small office of her late husband where she had me read aloud from the Bible followed with discussion on the passages. She probably thought, “Why not? He is a missionary, after all!”

Sonia (right) and Doug (left) celebrate a friend’s birthday

Now, don’t get me wrong, the Bible is a great read, but I thought, “How is this going to help me talk more freely to the kids and adults at the daycare center where I work?”

 So, I looked around her office and noticed all sorts of school books and children’s story books. I mentioned that I wanted to read something more topical, and she smiled her bright smile in agreement.

Since Sonia wanted no money for these sessions, she had me “pay it forward” by occasionally helping out at the Franciscan Parish where she worshipped. She then invited me to join her and another lady, Terizinha, both Eucharistic Ministers, in their weekly ministry of visiting the sick and shut-ins of the Parish.

This was so rewarding for me, as I learned that the five or ten minutes we would spend with these people each week gave them and their families continued hope in God and helped them get through their struggles. We were even invited to the 96th birthday party of one lady!

One day, over a year after my mission term ended, I returned for a visit and I joined Sonia to see the adult daughter of one lady who had been on our list of visits but had since passed.

This woman’s daughter was very moved that Sonia encouraged me to pay my respects. Like her mother, she had truly looked forward to our weekly visits, as she felt we were God in her midst. I still feel that way about Sonia.

Coming up tomorrow: “The Gift of a Mentor” by James Luisi!


Doug Garofalo is a returned missioner (Brazil 2006-2007, Washington, D.C. 2008-2009) and current board member. Since returning from mission, he has served as an accountant  for a firm that specializes in providing accounting and advisory services to small to medium sized non-profits in Northern New Jersey and New York City. 

Help shine the light! Make a donation to Franciscan Mission Service this Advent.