Friday, April 6, 2012

My friend's house

Last year my friend’s house slid down the hill.  Her name is Petrona and we’ve known each other for 40 years. Our toddlers fought together, later learned to be friends and tell each other secrets. We’ve laughed together, told our own secrets, prayed for each other, and kept up our friendship even when it had to be long distance.  I was able to spend some time with her again last month during our visit to La Paz.

Yes, her house slid down the hill and was completely destroyed, along with several hundred other homes in the hilly barrio of Kalapa on the outskirts of La Paz. Unseasonable rains moved the sandy soil and an entire zone was wiped out. Fortunately there were several weeks’ warning and people were able to move their belongings.

Petrona currently lives in a refugee camp, a temporary village of small wooden structures put together by World Vision. The Bolivian government has promised a small parcel of land to each family that lost their home. The “village” is clean and orderly, with a communal well, bathrooms and a meeting place. The neighbors have organized a small city council.  Petrona has built a tin lean-to kitchen behind her room and settled in for the duration.

Separated from her husband (also our good friend), Petrona lives alone but keeps in touch with her daughters by cell phone. She has managed to get a clerking job in a sporting goods store in the rich section of the city and spends several hours a day in city buses going to and from her work. She likes being busy.  It keeps her mind off her problems.

We embraced, laughed, even shed some joyful tears at our meeting. The hour went by all too quickly. We prayed together before I left, knowing much time would pass before our next meeting.

I’m home again, and it’s Holy Week.  I’m thinking a lot about Petrona, about the differences in our situations. And about all the shared experiences that continue to bring us together. But I can’t get it out of my mind that my friend lives in a refugee camp and I in a condominium.  What a strange world.

Lord, have mercy on us all.
 Terraces where there used to be houses
The camp, bottom right

Her alley....


  1. Thank you. Timely, moving, wise, loving and convicting. I'm wrestling with similar questions this morning. A single woman, about 60 years of age, became my friend about 40 years ago when I taught Vacation Bible School in her village in rural Alberta. We've remained in touch. She is once again without a job and has exhausted her allotment of government assistance. She may have to leave the basement apartment she recently rented--but where will she go? Should I send her the needed rent money? She became my sister during that VBS encounter. What would I do if she were my blood relative? On the other hand, isn't she my "blood" relative? Pray for me. How can I help her in the long run? Or am I to take care of today and remain attentive during the tomorrows? My job has been scaled back but my husband makes a decent income. Please pray and feel free to share light on my situation as the Spirit leads you. Thank you.

    1. Well, if you got the money for it, why even ask yourself if you should send it to her?? What greater pleasure in this world than to buy a decent life for someone instead of some useless piece of junk you don't need, and which would be like handing the money over to some capitalist who might use it for drugs or to exploit an underage prostitute? Send it to her. I never got any pleasure out of any income except in that way. Shopping in Manhattan had become a bad bore by the time I was 13...

  2. This situation is, indeed, similar, and it is heart breaking. I agree that she is your "blood" relative. As to what you are being asked to do, you and M. need to listen together to the living Word. (Does that seem like no answer. If so, that's correct. But I don't know what Jesus is asking of you. Just that it's something.) It might be that a short term gift would buy her some time. We have a Friends Church in the city, and you may know of a Mennonite group. I know that churches don't always respond, but this might be something to explore.

    May God have mercy on us and teach us to be the church.

  3. Vanessa Di DomenicoApril 16, 2012 at 9:14 AM

    Nancy, Jesus said to the guy who wanted to follow Him "SELL ALL YOUR POSSESSIONS" and the primitive Christians ALL did this and put the money at the Apostles' feet to be spread out among the needy. Once you have a full stomach and your family does too, why even ask yourself if you should send money to someone? Money doesn't even exist anyways, its an invention to make resources easier to hand out. What would Jesus want? of course He wants help for the poor, and to see who doesn't even wonder what should be done!

  4. Vanessa, thank you for responding. One part of the story I didn't write about is that my friend recently sold her family's land, in a place she can't live in or maintain, and that she has a fair amount of cash hidden away. She is choosing to stay in the camp in order to receive the land the government promised. But on an emotional, relational and spiritual level, her poverty is profound. My sending her money wouldn't help that. But I appreciate your sensitivity and your que3stions.

    I also find that money is not always the answer to poverty, although that sounds ironic. Many mission organizations have discovered that too much giving without some kind of built-in reciprocity causes dependency and robs others of their dignity. It seems really complex.

    I love talking with you.