It was the night before my grad school interview. I was two months away from my last class of college and imagined that I would get my masters and be an elementary school teacher. But that night I couldn’t sleep. A small voice in my head said, “but Erica, what about that missionary group you wanted to join?”
I hadn’t thought about that in years – after my freshman year of college, I had gone to a young adult conference and picked up a pamphlet and told my parents later that I was going to join that group. I hung it in my bedroom at their house and promptly forgot about it. I called my mom the next day to see if she could find it. “It has kids running in the street on the front,” I said.
I bombed my interview the next day. I couldn’t stop thinking about this desire that had bubbled in me the night before to leave everything behind and go learn to love, really deeply love.
Almost a year later from that moment, I was on a plane from New York to Salvador da Bahia, Brazil as a Heart’s Home volunteer. I lived in a community of 35 people about a mile away from a favela (the Brazilian word for slum). We took in abandoned children, disabled people and mothers who needed some help to get back on their feet.
The charism of Heart’s Home is compassion and is modeled after Mary at the foot of the cross. While there are many organizations that help build hospitals and schools, there are few who simply sit with the lonely and suffering. In the end, poverty is not only about material goods, but also includes those who are alone and have no one.
I could identify with that.
The mission of Heart’s Home is to be “walking with those whose hearts are wearied by loneliness, we want to offer the comfort and hope of God’s love through personal life-transforming relationships that reveal the beauty and dignity of each person.” Since 1990, more than 1,500 full-time volunteers of 38 nationalities have been reaching out to people from every walk of life in some of the world’s most troubled areas. Today, they have 42 houses in 26 countries on 4 continents.
The community that I lived in was a bit different than the other homes in that I lived with the people we were serving. I shared a house with a Irma Josette, Lebanese sister, Padre Arno, a French priest, Daniel, an 8 year old Brazilian boy and Anita, a Croatian woman with schizophrenia. Most of the other houses across the world are on a street in a slum, or in the public housing projects of Brooklyn. The missionaries open their home to children to play and also go on visits to the families that they have befriended in the neighborhood or the older ladies who cannot leave their house and rarely have visitors.
The house in Brooklyn, which is also the formation house in the US, they are a sign of hope for the hundreds of people who they visit in their homes, in homeless shelters or in nursing homes. In New York’s art scene, the missionaries provide emerging and established artists with the spiritual and human support they need in order to fulfill their artistic vocations.
Each day we spent about four hours in prayer – Morning Prayer, Mass, the rosary, an hour of adoration and Evening Prayer. I visited my friends in the favela, sat with them over a black cup of coffee with a mound of sugar (always). I taught in our little schoolhouse, washed clothes by hand, cooked meals for the community (my least favorite part), developed retreats for the teenage girls in the nearby neighborhood, made friends with the doctors and nurses and dentists in the bigger city, planned family days and loved until my heart hurt.
This summer will mark the five years since I returned from Brazil. While I design here at Blessed Is She, I also run my own design studio called Be A Heart. This stems from my time in Brazil where they told us that our whole job was to “be a heart, nothing but a heart.”
Not a day goes by that I don’t think about my life there. While I thought that I would go and help people, they really helped me. There is true friendship there and God truly transformed my heart. There are so many ways to support the work of Heart’s Home. Here is a list of 10 ways.
Maybe you yourself feel called to be a volunteer or maybe you have a house full of kids, but want to support a missionary financially or spiritually. Each month I wrote a letter to my sponsors about my life there, I prayed for them daily and they prayed for me. It was so fruitful and beautiful.
All my love and sisterhood,