Editor’s Note: Overseas lay missioner in formation, Julia Pinto, reflects on God’s invitation to encounter Him and the people around her.
For most of my life, I have identified myself as a doer. Having been raised by parents who primarily show love through acts of service, I often find myself thinking of what needs to be done in order to take care of others or myself. From the young age of 9, I was making to-do lists for my schoolwork, chores, hobbies, and whatever help my mom needed for the house, family, or church. Organizing events, people, and physical materials is my thing; I hosted blood drives when I was 15, ran a high school classroom for five years after college, and helped plan retreats at my parish in Dallas, Texas. I even unknowingly turned my hobbies into productive tasks: reading for education and self-improvement, dancing and rock climbing to gain muscle, hanging out with people to learn how to be a better friend, etc. I typically find it hard to relax and let go of my sense of control. You might say a Type A personality.
I ventured to DC in 2019 as part of the DC Service Corps and threw myself immediately into the care of our 100-year old house, Casa San Salvador. For the past two years, initially as a community member and then as house manager last year, I poured my time and energy into the care of the Casa and the people who live here, helping with the maintenance and upkeep of the rooms and appliances, facilitating many of our community discussions, routines, events, and conflict-resolution. All of that sounds great, but in frantically trying to constantly take charge and serve, I missed out on some golden opportunities to connect with God and my housemates on a deeper level. I think they may have wanted my company and friendship more than a perfectly tidy kitchen.
This is my third go at community in the Casa. Many people have recently asked me about the differences in my experience from year to year and how I feel about these shifts in my role. As my fellow overseas missioners and I learn about accompanying others through a “ministry of presence,” I am challenging myself to take a step back in settings where I would normally have taken the lead in community. Enter somewhat of a Type B personality. (As a disclaimer, this is not to say that one personality type is better than the other – I think there is room and need for both types in this world. I simply feel called at this time to start surrendering my desire for certainty and for things to be done my way.) When I am not distracted by the burdens of efficient productivity and fretting about my to-dos, I find that I am enough in just simply being. I do not have to do anything for God to love me. There is a bit of anxiety when I take moments to rest as I wonder if others think I am lazy or inconsiderate, but there is also humility in making room for other community members to lead or serve.
What happens when I forget about my agenda and punctuality from time to time? I notice God in the beauty of nature and people around me. I end up meeting strangers like Maritza, a visitor to DC from Colombia who wanted to share her culture and experiences with me for the 20 minutes that we briefly crossed paths in the city, or Skinny Tat2, a man who brought me joy with his skillful magic tricks on the street. I have time for self-care, which renders me fully charged and emotionally, spiritually, physically, and mentally healthy. Perhaps most importantly, I can be fully present with my 12 housemates and listen attentively, seeing each interaction and dialogue as a gift from God, and putting these lovely people ahead of my tasks. After all, my to-do list will always be there but the people will not.
Reflection Questions: Who are you encountering? What is God’s invitation to you in those moments of encounter?