Jerri Handy, Long-term Volunteer
How would you describe the mission of our partner in Tijuana, Mexico?
Albergue Las Memorias is an HIV/AIDS Hospice Center currently serving 95+ residents. This particular center is unique in its mission to house, clothe, feed, and transport to medical appointments as needed for each resident. All of this is offered without cost to residents, all of whom are HIV positive. It is more than this, residents find hope and meaning in life as they live in an atmosphere of care and respect.
How do you fit into their mission?
My whole life has been preparing me for serving at Las Memorias. I have a Marriage and Family Therapy degree from Christian Theological Seminary and an MDiv from Pacific School of Religion. These two degrees, together with my life experiences, have prepared me to work with individuals and families who are facing life decisions. Addictions work, family systems in a community setting and working with spiritual guidance all come together in this community.
What led you to engage in this calling?
In my early childhood I had an aunt and uncle who served as missionaries with the Church of the Nazarene. I considered Aunt Eleanor to have been a positive influence in my life, helping me develop a strong life of faith and prayer.
I traveled to Haiti with Felix Ortiz, former Area Executive for Latin America and Caribbean, in 2005. From that time on I have been in conversation with Felix about when and where I might serve. He advised me to get my MDiv and I did. In 2010 Felix asked me to consider serving in an HIV/AIDS hospice center in Mexico. At that time I was not ready to leave my current job, but I began praying about where to serve, Haiti or Mexico.
When a handful of people from the Congregational Church of San Mateo-UCC made a trip to study and experience issues of immigration at the border, this visit included a trip to Las Memorias. As the travelers shared about the experience of seeing the love and hope among the residents, it was clear they were deeply moved. CCSM has been involved with supporting the work of Las Memorias ever since that time.
When I realized the place that people from CCSM fell in love with was the same as that which Felix had been talking to me, I began to speak with my family about the possibility of serving with Global Ministries and our mission partner Las Memorias.
The timing was right. Las Memorias was ready to receive their first Global Ministries personnel and my family was also ready for this next step in our ministry in the world.
When I visited Las Memorias, I saw the beautiful way the community of residents worked together. As I talked with some of the residents, it was clear that issues of death and dying were important and they wanted a place and way to talk about their concerns. I heard that some of them had been deported from the United States, creating family separation issues. I heard about the addiction issues that many of the residents were struggling with. This addiction for many is how they contracted HIV. When I visited Las Memorias, I saw the beautiful way the community of residents worked together. As I talked with some of the residents, it was clear that issues of death and dying were important and they wanted a place and way to talk about their concerns. I heard that some of them had been deported from the United States, creating family separation issues. I heard about the addiction issues that many of the residents were struggling with. This addiction for many is how they contracted HIV.
My training in therapy and my work in pastoral care have strengthened my skills in these specific areas. As I got to know Las Memorias and their mission to provide a place where each person deserves to live with dignity…Vivir con Dignidad… I kept thinking what a joy it would be to serve in this place.
Is there a passage of scripture that carries special meaning in your daily work?
Ps 46:10 …be still and know that I am God…
Matthew 28: 16-20 – Jesus is sending the disciples out in the world to share the good news. The model of mission work has changed but the promise “I am with you always” remains.
Luke 23: 13-25 this is the story of Jesus walking with two men on the road to Emmaus. In the breaking of the bread they realized the presence of God.
What are some of the challenges facing the people of Las Memorias our partner, or yourself?
For Las Memorias, the continued need for food and money for utilities are usually among the first things stated as needs. But if one were to look a bit deeper, in order to live with dignity on must have the ability to know the love of God (however they understand God). For this to take place, some spiritual and emotional needs must be addressed. Believing one is loveable takes time and support.
The need for medication is great, not only for HIV medication, but regular things like cold medication and other common ailments. With immune systems compromised due to HIV, other common ailments are stronger and last longer.
For me… Language. Spanish is not my native language. It will be important to communicate with individuals and families in Spanish as we work through some of the pain in their lives. I am looking forward to language and culture immersion for the months of June and July.
What is a lesson you have learned from our partner that you feel should be shared with churches in the U.S.?
The ministry of presence is so powerful. Being able to build a relationship with a resident of Las Memorias could help them see their value as beloved by God. This takes time, but it does make a difference.
A visit to Las Memorias can really change your heart. Seeing people who did not know one another before arriving at Las Memorias come together to form community is so powerful. Being treated with respect and hearing José Antonio tell you over and over that God loves you begins to change you.
Gratitude. Residents come sick and broken in spirit. At Las Memorias they are fed, given a bed, and have access to medical care. As each one experiences this respect and care hearts are opened, just a bit, and gratitude begins to grow. There is much to be grateful for at Las Memorias.