In today’s post, current missioner Hady Mendez reflects on how the relationships she developed and enjoyed before mission prepared her for her ministry of presence as a Franciscan lay missioner.

When I was living in New York, I used to often go to a salon in Jersey City. Mary owned the salon. Lucy did my hair. Carmen worked at the register. Evelyn and Paula were the other stylists there. I became very friendly with another client, Luzmery (we still talk to this day!).

I can tell you their stories because that’s what we did at the salon while we were waiting to get our hair washed, or have our hair set, or even as we were getting our blow outs. We would chat, get to know each other, give each other advice, laugh, catch each other up on what was happening with “that guy”, and complain about work, family, spouses, etc. It’s a very social thing!

Hady with her father, November 2013

Around the same time I was going to that salon in Jersey City, my dad was living at a medical facility for men on Long Island. He had advanced Alzheimer’s at the time and needed a lot of care. Sometimes, after getting my hair done at the salon on a Saturday morning, I would drive out to Long Island and take him to lunch. He didn’t always recognize who I was, but my dad always said something about my hair. He liked it the most when Lucy set my hair in rollers. I think it reminded him of my mom.

My visits with Dad usually involved me bringing him a coffee and donut and then having him talk the rest of the time. The conversation was mostly dated about 40-50 years (his long-term memory was much better than his short-term memory). We’d talk about when he worked on an army base in Puerto Rico, his shoe store in Brooklyn, and about our family. My dad turned 80 years old this year. He doesn’t talk anymore, but he’s still a man I admire and respect. And boy, do I miss his stories!!

So what does all of this have to do with life on mission, you ask?? I would have wondered myself, except that having been in Cochabamba for two months, these experiences have really come in handy!

Now, on most Friday afternoons, I try to visit San Sebastian, the ladies prison where the “peluqueria” (aka salon) is in full swing. Minh, a Maryknoll Lay Missioner, and a very talented stylist, teaches the women prisoners how to style and cut hair. They usually bring their own “model” to practice on, but I am proud to have served as a model on more than one occasion (and plan to do so as often as I can!).

Hady with her father, November 2011

It’s a great environment there. There are only women there – pretty much like my salon in Jersey City. We chat, catch up on life, hear one another’s stories, laugh, etc. Yup, it gets pretty loud. I am fascinated by the fact that over 4,000 miles away, a salon is still a salon and a place where women come together for friendship, fun, and beauty.

And what about my experience with Dad? Well, that helped me feel right at home when I visited a men’s medical facility run by the Sisters of Charity. The concept is different since the men at the facility in Cochabamba mostly have HIV/AIDS. But the experience is the same. Men living together in community – eagerly awaiting visits from family and friends. Wanting to share their life and their stories.

During our visit to the facility here, we met a man by the name of Jaime who reminded me so much of my Dad. He was an honest, kind, faith-filled (and funny) man who just needed someone to sit and talk with. I spent about an hour and a half enjoying his company that afternoon.

So who would have thunk it? That my very uneventful life before mission was already preparing me for life here? This is a classic example of how things in your life don’t “just happen”. They are all part of God’s masterplan. He’s a sneaky one, that God.

Wishing you peace and all good from Cochabamba!