By Reeba Imola Webster Bennett
October 28, 2022 | MONTEVIDEO, URUGUAY
When I reached Montevideo, Uruguay, to begin missionary service as a Global Mission Fellow, I thought I would be working with youth and children. But the first place church leaders assigned me was Espacio VAR, which operates a shelter for people who have no permanent homes.
My first day was overwhelming. Many of the people in this shelter are trapped in situations of substance abuse. One was having a seizure in the corner, while another was pounding his head with his hands. In another part of the room, someone was yelling, and another constantly asked for sugar. It was a troubling and difficult day for me.
But the following week, it was a little easier; I knew what to expect. I discovered the kitchen needed help, which was also the quietest place in the shelter.
As the weeks passed, I realized I wasn’t interacting with people, so, when the shelter seemed calmer and the kitchen work was done, I sat down at a table with shelter guests. There I got to know one of the shelter guests by name. She helped draw me out of my shell with her story of how she came to be homeless. I wanted to know more about other people there too and started communicating with a few more. They shared stories that were really captivating – and some that were really sad or horrific.
I noticed one woman who was blind. Imagine living in a shelter with her condition. But she is determined; she doesn’t sit and complain. She has friends in the shelter that help her get from one place to another, and I’ve learned what the true meaning of resilience is through her. She volunteers to clean the bathrooms, which no one else wants to do. She remembers how the bathrooms are laid out from when she had her sight. She does an excellent job – much better than the many who can see. Fortunately, her blindness is treatable. She has cataracts in both eyes and awaits surgery.
She is a positive and happy person, always smiling and polite. Every day she seeks to get closer to God. She and others I’ve talked with have shown me not to judge a book by its cover. I have learned from them to be patient, even though I shy away from those with addictions because their mood swings and outbursts are unpredictable. I go and serve in the shelter because many are in need for other reasons, for whom this space provides peace for a few hours, away from the streets.