Sister Juana giggles as she tells me once again: Estefania, tú eres la puente (“you are the bridge”). By now I know what she means; the first time she said it many years ago, I was confused. She views me as a bridge between her community and mine. Sister Juana is from El Salvador, I was born in the USA. She is a Catholic nun, I am Jewish. Sister Juana’s native language is Spanish, mine is English. Her small village, San Sebastián, has many people in desperate need, whereas the college town where I reside is more affluent.
Many years ago, Sister Juana and I embarked on a fundraising adventure together. I conceived the project as a means of raising funds for her community and church. Juana would travel to western Massachusetts to spread the word of her ardent service for the benefit of the neediest residents of her village. She would also speak to the necessity of finishing reconstruction of the community’s Catholic parish, which had been severely damaged by an earthquake and its aftershocks.
For ten days in April, 2004, she and I traveled throughout western Massachusetts and spoke to many groups: schools, colleges, businesses, religious groups, and the listening public on local radio and television. To each of these audiences, Sister Juana spoke her truth passionately and with humility. To conclude this tour, we hosted a fundraising dinner. The evening included testimonials by Sister Juana and members of our local Salvadoran community. Two Amherst restaurants provided a delicious buffet dinner of El Salvadoran cuisine at no cost. Coincidentally, several of the restaurant employees hailed from Sister Juana’s pueblo in El Salvador.
By the end of those ten days, we had far exceeded our hopes and expectations–we raised $10,000! Every penny would be spent for the benefit of her village; even her airfare had been donated. Here’s how that happened: on the plane to El Salvador a few months earlier, I sat next to a young real estate developer. As we conversed, I explained the needs of Sister Juana’s community and described the upcoming fundraising tour. Before the plane began its descent, he eagerly volunteered to pay the expenses for her upcoming round-trip flight.
As we were about to say good-bye at the airport, Sister Juana turned to me and with her trademark giggle announced that at first, the Lord had grabbed me by the hand, but now that He had seen my devotion and generosity, He would keep a firm grip on my arm instead.* In other words, since I had responded to a call of duty across frontiers of land, language, and culture, I should not expect to be let loose anytime soon.
*Estefanía, al principio el Señor te cogió por la mano, pero ahora que Él ve tu devoción y generosidad, guardará un agarre firme en el brazo en cambio.