International Ministries

Walking with different shoes

June 15, 2009 Journal
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How to walk in the shoes of others when there are no shoes or slippers to wear? Changing shoes is a metaphor that points to our willingness to share with those who suffer or at least imagine how other people live. But above all it is an expression of the desire to share the life that others have, uplift them and be there.

We have seen many kinds of shoes and sandals and many barefoot feet. We have also seen many kinds of paths shaped by many steps. This is a reflection from the roads and paths, because in the end, with or without shoes, we all walked and we know (as many of you do) that we open our path while walking.

In Pueblo Nuevo Sitalá at Simojovel, Chiapas, I met an indigenous Mayan woman of about 33 years, Antonia. She has 5 daughters. Antonia is a woman shy and quiet, measured in her speaking and walking so typical of the Mayan culture. She is a member of the collective of women in a solidarity economy project. The group is a ministry that we have developed to help improve the quality of life of these partners with the production and sale of their embroideries. Antonia do not use shoes or sandals. Barefoot she walks her own path, making her own way.

Arriving at the village after 8 hours of travel and a good “paibil mut” (chicken broth) with tortillas, I heard that Antonia was very sick. So I went to visit and I saw a woman with no strength, lying on a piece of plywood. Her eyes were sad and her face swollen as well as her body. She had wept for days, for Antonia had just lost her sixth child - the boy she had long for.
As in other cultures, here there is the expectation that women birth many boys because men are considered with more value than girls. They inherit the land; they work in the fields and care for their elderly parents. Males represent his family before the community. Therefore, males are treasured. Antonia is diabetic but risked her life to give her husband the boy he expected. During pregnancy, the midwife of the village took care of everything, and it was fine. But at birth, the boy changed his position and Antonia had three days and three nights with birth pangs.

In indigenous communities, infant mortality is 60% above the national percentage. Mothers also suffer with a high maternal mortality in Chiapas reaching 103%. (1) Malnutrition, poverty and the structures that systematically marginalize these people built trails of death and despair. In Pueblo Nuevo there is no doctor or clinic. The baby was stillborn and Antonia’s heart shattered. According to some, she lost her path. Antonia went into a deep depression bedridden her for three months. Almost without ingesting food, without taking care of her home, her daughters, her husband, she lost her way.

Exodus 13.21 tells us that the Lord was present before those who had left Egypt, as a pillar of cloud by day and as a pillar of fire by nights, to guide them on the desert. The text use the Hebrew participle holek of the verb halak (go walking, go, exit, way of life) to add the idea of continuous action. That the Lord walked “in front of” with the sense of “continuously” hides a language of accompaniment, of protection, which safeguards the welfare of those who walk. The story nurtures from the nucleus of an ancient tradition that recalls the liberation from Egyptian slavery and walking through the desert. But this story is recreated in many moments of crisis in Israel's history: during the monarchy – a time of poverty and injustice and during the exile – a time of violence, lost, and destroyed community. The prophets sided God with those who where opressed and suffered, God accompanied them.


How to walk with this sense of community support and protection while traveling paths that goes through deserts, gaps, or cliffs; and even worse when the paths are just disappearing before us?

Antonia is part of a faith community that holds dearly their ethnic solidarity. The women's group cared for Antonia, because their sense of community is strong and because they had learned that we are a family, the family of God that just like this God, shares its walk. These Mayan women know the pain of the thorns and stones of the road, hitting and cutting open their feet. They know the pain of human loss. They also know the meaning of peace, the sense of caring and belonging when someone tends their wounds.

The women helped the family of Antonia with chores. They cared for the children feeding them and cared for Antonia. They wipe dry her tears. Together we were able to create a stronger community by understanding the depth of this walking with God, with God’s people and with us. Commited to make new paths through Antonia's desert we got organize and delivered what we had to illuminate the path of Antonia. These women taught me to walk in different flip-flops, the flip-flops of Jesus.

By walking “in front of” and “continuously," these women paved the way for Antonia’s hope. The last time I saw her; she participated in a workshop and even laughed at our jokes. When I asked her: Bin awilel? (How are you?) She replied "I'm fine ... God lifted up my way." My heart was happy because the community that walks the path of God amidst the desert – know how to open ways in the wilderness and rivers in the desert for others!

In these days where our ways seem to become blurred or appear to us difficult altogether, we need to walk together... The Spirit who creates ways in the wilderness and rivers in the desert is in solidarity with those who wears no sandals, or have only one or two pairs of shoes. This Spirit gives us the opportunity to use other slippers or shoes, or maybe go barefoot. Let us not lose sight of this unique opportunity that makes us community, partners, sisters and brothers. Today the Spirit strengthens us and makes us survivors of the road.
"We're called to walk in other’s shoes," Philippians 2:5-8


[1]Leticia Jiménez Muñoz, “Muerte materna, pocos avances para disminuir su alta incidencia” (2 sept 2008)