“Faces of Mission” is a bi-weekly blog series produced by the United States Catholic Mission Association highlighting our membership and all their work in and for mission. This week we feature Rhiannon Richards, a senior at the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC, and student intern at the United States Catholic Mission Association.
During this past summer, I had the opportunity to go on a short-term mission trip with my parish to Lima, Peru. This was the first mission trip I had ever been on, and it was quite reassuring for me. I have wanted to do two years of mission work after I graduate college for a while now, but this trip helped solidify that I am truly being called to mission.
I had been preparing for my mission trip for almost a year, and the original plan was for us to work at our twin-parish in Tanzania. When there were attacks in Kenya in April, our youth minister decided it would be better if we went to Peru instead. As she had been there before, she easily threw together the new plan. I had been really looking forward to Africa, so I was disappointed when the trip was changed. I decided to still participate, however, because I wanted to still do something.
The first few days we were in Peru, we did the typical tourist things, such as Machu Picchu and seeing Downtown Lima. Then we finally began our work project. We worked with Christian Life Movement, an ecclesial movement that began in Peru and includes both lay and religious members. With the Christian Life Movement members, we worked in Pamplona Alta, a shanty-town area just outside of Lima. The entire area is built on a mountain, and the people who live there have to walk up and down the steep, rocky hills everyday. Christian Life Movement, with the help of outside volunteer groups such as my parish group, builds concrete staircases along sections of the mountain so that the people may be able to travel more easily. In the course of five days, our group mixed and laid 106 concrete stairs up one of the hills.
When we first arrived in Lima, I did not like the atmosphere, and I thought I would be disappointed with the trip. The first time we drove into Pamplona Alta, however, my entire mindset changed. I fell in love with Pamplona Alta. During one of the first few days, I walked up to the top of the hill we were working on and just looked out over the valley. The sun was out, which is unusual for that time of the year, and so everything was lit up. It was beautiful. I was reminded that these were people’s homes, and they took pride in them just as much as we do with ours. One thing that I had not thought about, but somewhat shocked me, was that every house had a lock on it. The people live in small homes made of wood, brick, and scraps. It would be extremely easy to break in, but they still value their homes and want to keep them safe, just like we do.
Being able to work in Pamplona Alta was one of the first times in my life
where I felt like I was actually making a positive impact. We were just mixing and building concrete stairs, but it was something that the people actually needed. When we had a large celebration the final day, and the people of the area cooked a meal for us, we were able to see the joy that we had brought to the people of Pamplona Alta. I realized that they were not only joyful because we had built stairs for them, but also because we had come. We had shown them that they mattered and that we cared. They are not forgotten.