Empanadas y Api Ministry
Editor’s note: Sharing food is a significant aspect of Bolivian culture, and it is a moving part of many of missioner Victor Artaiz’s ministries. He shares how, along with a few friends, he found another way to share food with people experiencing hunger in his neighborhood.
It was an evening after Mass at San Francisco in the city of Cochabamba, Bolivia, when I asked friends if they would consider joining me to serve people who are hungry or experiencing homelessness in the parks of our neighborhood. I experience the joy of preparing and bringing food to the homeless with a Franciscan Brother Marco during the week and to men living at the El Abra prison with another friend and lay missioner Fredy on Thursdays. These experiences do allow time to call each other by name, share in a quick prayer, provide a hands-on blessing, hold hands in gratitude for friendship, and the sharing of a mutual smile. The human connection is powerful and many times emotional, especially when the exchanges are through metal bars at the prison.
My two friends, Antonella and Mery, who are siblings, were immediately agreeable. They suggested that serving a warm combination of freshly handmade cheese empanadas and Api, a hot drink made of purple maize, sugar, and lemon would be perfect as the chill of the Cochabamba night begins to settle in.
We happened to have our Saturday evenings open and chose that day to begin our new ministry. The women took control to make a list of the ingredients we would need as well as a few cooking utensils. We met that next Saturday and purchased all of the items at “La Cancha,” a giant, famous local outdoor market on the outskirts of the city. Antonella and Mery were a great help as I was clueless as to what we would need and just how to prepare this delicious pairing of food and drink.
We are now on our 8th consecutive Saturday, meeting at 2:00 pm to collect the ingredients, prepare the dough, roll it out, fill it with cheese, form and fry empanadas, and measure out, mix together, and cook the Api simultaneously. We finish preparing the food for 40 people by 7:30 pm and then make our way to share our Franciscan joy with those in need. The time spent together listening to Bolivian, Mexican, and American music during our prep hours always brings smiles and laughter as we exchange cultural, spiritual, and family stories with one another. The joy and gratitude that we receive from the people we serve is a heartwarming blessing that inspires us to persevere and continue this God-given ministry. A number of the people we serve are elderly women who only speak a local language called Quechua. These “abuelitas” are usually caring for young grandchildren who have little to eat. It is a joy to share in the excitement they have in enjoying a warm meal. We see many of the same people each Saturday and spend just a little more time together with each passing visit.
In Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus declares that when we feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty (and more) that we are actually providing these blessings back to him.
Our own Saint Francis declares that “it is in giving that we receive.”
Maybe you have an idea to act on to serve people who are hungry in your city or town! I encourage you to take the time to share your love with those in need.
Question for reflection: How are you called to provide for people who are hungry in your community?