In the first week of my study of counseling, someone articulated a principle that I often thought of while we lived in Cochabamba: “Don’t do for another something they can do for themselves.” Perhaps one related story holds within it many of the new elements I returned with from a year of mission. One of the first tasks Kathy and I had when we visited one orphanage was helping the children fold the clean laundry. Having the boys and girls gradually learn to do for themselves is an important value in this home for children with physical disabilities.
During our first day there, I noticed how much Ruperta was trying to help us. She was nine years old, very alive, and confined to a wheel chair. She had an ability to smile with her whole face. If you know kids, you would be surprised at the level of investment in this activity that these kids have. I watched Ruperta attempt to turn a shirt inside out, which was mighty difficult because she was not able to control the movements of her hands with any precision. Together, we found a way to do this task and fold laundry together. Ruperta would hold her arm out toward me, and I would push the inside out arm over her arm, so that she could grasp the end. When I pulled the garment off, we had turned one part inside out, and could repeat this as often as needed.
Ruperta never seemed to get tired of working together in this way. When it came to folding, she grasped a corner of a towel, and waited until I could bring another corner to meet her. With three or four repetitions, the towel was folded. Every week I found out more that Ruperta could accomplish, including closing zippers while I held the garments. She may not have said much, but I wish you could have seen the look in her eyes as we marched through a pile of laundry.
What does it mean to “show up” -- to witness, to celebrate the empowering steps you see another take? Therapists do this every day, but they may not highlight this activity as their work. As I returned from Bolivia, I thought that this is probably the heart of our work, and along the way we sometimes make helpful suggestions.
Molly Rogers, who founded the Maryknoll sisters (who devote their lives in service overseas) in 1921, put it this way. “You are not bringing God. You are going to meet God.” In our caring for people, we have a way to meet the Lord, to find God in all things.
© Samaritan Center of Puget Sound