A Letter From Bolivia
Happy and Hopeful Despite Poverty
SERVING as a missionary in a developing country, I never get used to seeing poverty and hopelessness. I want to see immediate relief from suffering for everyone. But I know that only God’s Kingdom will solve these problems. Yet, time and again I have seen that people who follow God’s Word find happiness despite dire circumstances. Sabina is one of them.
Years ago, Sabina, holding her two baby daughters in her arms, watched her husband board an old bus to search for a better-paying job in another country. As she awaited his return, months turned into years, but he never came home. Ever since he left, Sabina has fought a daily battle to provide for herself and her daughters, Milena and Ghelian.
I first met Sabina one afternoon while she was patiently attending to demanding customers at her sister’s store. I could see in Sabina’s weary eyes that she had been working hard all day. I offered to study the Bible with her and her daughters. “I would love to,” she said, “but I am just too busy. However, I would like my girls to study with you.” I agreed. As the girls’ study progressed, I got to know Sabina, and I came to understand her plight.
Sabina’s day begins at 4:00 a.m. While her daughters sleep in their one-room dwelling, Sabina lights the flame under a large, well-used aluminum pot. She cooks the meat filling for the empanadas that she sells to earn her family’s livelihood. The night before, Sabina prepared the dough for these savory meat pies.
Carefully, Sabina loads a borrowed pushcart with all the equipment needed for the day—a sunshade, a one-burner stove, a propane-gas bottle, a table, stools, pots, and oil, along with the meat and dough and several gallons of homemade fruit drink.
At 6:00 a.m., Sabina and her two daughters are ready to go. They shut and padlock the door behind them. Their faces are expressionless; no one talks or laughs. All their energy is focused on the task at hand. Many mornings, from the window of our missionary home, I have watched scenes like this unfold. Yes, Sabina is just one of an army of women who leave their homes before dawn to sell food and drink on the streets of Bolivia.
By 6:30 a.m., as the sun peeks over the mountain, Sabina and her girls arrive at their corner. Without a word, they unload the cart and set up their mobile kitchen. The first empanada hits the boiling oil and sizzles. A delicious aroma begins to permeate the cool morning air, quickly drawing hungry patrons.
“How many?” Sabina asks the first customer. Without looking up, a sleepy-eyed man raises two fingers, and she serves him two golden-brown, piping hot empanadas. She then collects the meager payment. This transaction will be repeated hundreds of times throughout the day. When they sell the last empanada, they pack up and head home. Although Sabina’s legs ache from the morning’s work, she goes on to her second job at her sister’s store.
When I arrived at the store for her daughters’ first Bible study, two small benches were already set up in a corner. From the beginning, Milena and Ghelian, then 9 and 7 years old, looked forward excitedly to each lesson and prepared well. Gradually, these shy girls opened up and allowed me to get close to them. Seeing this warmed Sabina’s heart. Soon she decided that despite her grueling schedule, she too would study the Bible with me.
As Sabina’s knowledge increased, so did her love for Jehovah God. She began to experience something foreign to her—happiness! The once tired and sad-faced street merchant now looked different. Her posture was erect, her head was up, and her eyes were bright. “Sabina is smiling all the time,” noted her sister. “She never used to.” Others likewise saw a big change in Sabina and her daughters. The spiritual void she had felt for so long was being filled.
Sabina enjoyed her study, but her demanding routine held her back from attending Christian meetings. Finally, she accepted my invitation to visit the Kingdom Hall. After that, she never stopped coming. In the congregation, Sabina found true friends. She also experienced that Jehovah really does provide for those who love him and who make sacrifices to serve him.—Luke 12:22-24; 1 Timothy 6:8.
Sabina loved what she was learning, and she desired to share it with others. But she said, “I tremble whenever I think about preaching publicly.” She thought, ‘How will I, a timid, poorly educated woman, ever be able to teach someone else?’ Still, the kindness shown to her and the wonderful improvement she had experienced in her own life motivated her to take this important step. She also realized that her daughters looked to her as an example. So she started telling others the good news. Her daughters enthusiastically joined her.
Today, Sabina is no longer just another poor woman toiling day after joyless day. Her economic status has not changed much. What has changed is her outlook on life. Now, as a baptized Christian, she shares with others the good news of God’s Kingdom—the only permanent solution to the world’s poverty and despair.—Matthew 6:10.
It is 5:00 a.m., and Sabina is ready once again to leave her one-room dwelling. But this morning she is not selling empanadas. She is meeting a group of fellow Christians to do street witnessing. Volunteering some of her time each week to help others has brought further happiness to her life. She locks the door and, with a broad smile on her face, turns onto the street. Instead of pushing a cart, she carries a large purse. Tucked inside are her Bible and the Bible literature that she will use to spread hope to others. Smiling confidently, Sabina says, “I never dreamed I would be able to speak to others about the Bible.” She adds, “I love it!”