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When Plans Change

Blog Headers 2023-24 (13)

Editor’s Note: As she returns to her ministry site after spending Christmas with her family, lay missioner Julia Pinto reflects on three strangers whom she encounters along the way.

After being away for two years, I gratefully soaked in every moment I could with loved ones over the Christmas holidays. My heart was full as I played with my family for hours, laughed and caught up with old friends, rested in the familiarity of my parents’ home, sang carols for the neighbors, delighted in the unique preciousness of my nieces and nephews, and spent time bonding with each of my family members. Then, all too soon, I found myself at the DFW airport, en route to Douglas to continue my time on mission. A part of me honestly did not want to leave the joy and comfort of home. 

I felt deep pain as I departed yet again, briefly questioning why I chose to do a third year of mission when I could instead be deepening my roots and not losing precious time with my close ones. Yet, God was present to me through three strangers whose presence comforted, inspired, and challenged me on my journey. 

Stranger #1: My flight was scheduled to leave at 12:30pm, but a malfunction scratched that as the airline searched for a different plane for us to use. I wasn’t upset about the delay even though it would make me miss my 3:30pm shuttle home to Douglas. As I relaxed at my gate, the young woman sitting across from me, though pretty shy and quiet, took the initiative to reach out to me. She had overheard me speaking Spanish and asked what I did, so I shared with her about the volunteer work that I do on the border. It turned out that she’s from the Northeast and a teacher in Tucson. We connected over teaching experiences and our love of DC in the two hours waiting at the airport. After we landed in Tucson at 4pm, she kindly approached me and asked if I wanted a ride to the shuttle station! I was amazed and touched by her ability to trust me easily and readily go out of her way to make my life less stressful. 

Stranger #2: Waiting for the 6:30pm shuttle, I had ample time to chat in Spanglish with the Latina receptionist working there. For some reason, she decided to open up to me and share from her experiences as a receptionist and mother. Working in a rough part of Tucson, she has to frequently ward off people using drugs and loitering around the office – which she seemed to do with courage and compassion. She offers her home as a safe space for her daughter and other teens to hang out and sets clear boundaries for them regarding drugs and alcohol, and they love her for it. I got the feeling that I was supposed to learn from her how to be simultaneously firm, honest, and loving in dealing with difficult situations at work and at home.

Stranger #3: As I boarded the last shuttle of the day – usually packed full with not enough seats available – I realized that I was the only passenger! At first I felt nervous being alone with a male driver, but then it came up that we had a mutual friend, and something about his fatherly demeanor and keeping a respectful distance put me at ease. I ended up chatting in Spanish with my “chofer particular” (private chauffeur), as he called himself, almost the entire 3-hour ride home! We talked about our purpose in life and what it means to live out our faith practically. At 8pm, we were already running behind schedule, and it was pitch black and 20 degrees outside, when he pulled over to help two women, stranded in the middle of nowhere, change their flat tire. He was willing to put aside his comfort, knowing that he would arrive home late and exhausted, to show them sacrificial love in the moment. His actions made me realize how I get so caught up in my plans and responsibilities that I often fail to notice or address the unexpected needs around me. 

This all happened on January 6th, the Epiphany, when we celebrated the visit of the three wise men to the baby Jesus. As my plans for the day fell through, God used three wise strangers to teach me different lessons and show me that He was guiding my path back to Douglas-Agua Prieta. I was not in control, and everything turned out way better than I had expected. This series of encounters was the answer I needed, to remind me that God tenderly walks with me. It will never be easy leaving the ones we love, but it’s easier knowing that I’m being obedient to the Spirit’s calling and that He will lead and carry me through all of the pains and joys of mission life. 

Reflection Question: How do you see God working through the disruptions and interruptions in your life?

Julia graduated from The University of Texas at Dallas in May 2015 with a BS in Mathematics and a Math Teacher Certification at the ripe age of 20. She taught Geometry, Algebra 2, Precalculus and Statistics for four years in a public high school in Richardson, Texas, as well as another year in a private school in Takoma Park, Maryland. Julia’s desire to serve and minister like St. Francis drew her to Washington D.C. to work as a Publications and Communications Associate with the US Catholic Mission Association through the DC Service Corps program, where she researched and helped support various mission organizations around the world. This call to mission now pushes Julia to venture beyond D.C. to serve as a missioner on the US-Mexico border. In her free time, Julia enjoys reading, working out, dancing, meeting strangers, and solving all kinds of puzzles.