Maria Pedro will have sold all her belongings by the end of the week. By the end of October she’ll be in Mexico, again.
But leaving this time won’t be as hard as the first time when she spent six and a half years in Nicaragua, she said.
“What I do when I’m down there is I travel to villages — I always ask to go to villages where they don’t already have missionaries working, or other people in the communities working — that have a lot of need,” she said.
Pedro, 59, of Nikiski, works with En La Gloria Ministries, and she is leaving this time to spend up to two years in Wahaca, Mexico.
Her mission: “To bring in love.”
“And I know that there are a lot of people that want to help people, and they don’t know how; they don’t know where; they don’t know when,” she said. “And so we can be a bridge. … I don’t have, for example, used eye glasses.”
But in the States, she said, these things are much more accessible. They can be bought at a dollar store.
“They can donate the eyeglasses and I’m personally down there to find the people that haven’t been able to read all these years to help them to get eye glasses,” she said.
And those eye glasses can be other things — books, cloathing, shoes.
They also strive to share salvation.
Pedro is an enthusiastic woman who speaks with her hands, and when she smiles her eyes nearly disappear.
“I just want to see other people happy, too,” she said.
It started for her, she said, when she moved to Nikiski. When she came up here, she had 10 kids and nothing else — she was leaving a hard past, she said.
In California where Pedro grew up, she said her family was troubled. There was alcohol and there were drugs. They were “dysfunctional,” she said.
Her biological family were farm workers, and before she moved away she saw how they were mistreated.
“We’d go pick berries and they’d pay us right, but they wouldn’t pay my brother in law right because he’s an immigrant,” she said.
She hated that. She said it was the reason she sought a career investigating farm worker abuse as an adult.
Then, when she was still a kid, her foster parents adopted her and they moved to Florida.
Around Christmas time in Florida they would hold special parties with kids from other neighborhoods.
“The segregation was bad in those days; well I could fit in anywhere because I wasn’t white and I wasn’t black” — she is Hispanic — “and I could pass for either culture,” she said.
“So he would take me to this neighborhood that was black, and then we’d drive in there — even though we weren’t supposed to go to their neighborhood; it was taboo — he would go in there and I would go to every house and invite all these kids to Christmas parties.”
They’d get the parents’ permission and all the kids would pile in the back of her Dad’s pickup and they’d go to her house.
“So there were experiences like that that fed into my life, too,” she said.
Eventually, she moved to San Francisco. Then Oregon. Then back to California.
For years she said she bounced between Oregon and California before she finally left the Lower 48.
“Then eventually I came up here when my (youngest) was four, and he’s getting married Saturday,” she said. “So I’ve been here a while.”
Her past followed her on the path to Nikiski — she still struggled with alcohol and drugs.
For years she said she tried to drop those habits. But her move to Nikiski affected a change in her.
“When I became a Christian,” she said, “the people that I was around were so loving — it wasn’t just an ordinary church where you just show up on Sunday — these people were in my life everyday in some way helping me and my kids, because when we came up here we were a mess.”
The church, she said, gave her love and community — a place to heal.
“Even cigarettes — which are a hard thing to give up — I quit it all,” she said.
With her history she said she has an insight into other’s troubled lives. When people told her they were abused or they have bad addictions, she could relate.
“I can say, ‘Yeah, I know how that is. Here’s to what I pray.’ Or, ‘Here’s what helped me,’ or, ‘Here’s a good book,’” she said. “Spend time with them and let them cry on your shoulder.”
But her compassion had limits.
“One day at our church,” she said, “the pastor’s wife said they were going out on a mission trip out of the country to Nicaragua, and they said I was going with them. They announced that. I said, ‘No I’m not; I’ve never left this country. I’m not going anywhere. I don’t even know what they talk down there.’”
But she went with them — and then she went back in 1998 with seven of her kids. That was the year of Hurricane Mitch, the year that killed 9,000 people in Nicaragua and Honduras and other parts of Central America, according to the National Hurricane Center.
“So we went and helped the people that been involved in the mudslide, and we started working in that country for a long time,” she said.
In the last three years she said she has visited the Mission’s new site a dozen times.
“I usually stay a month or two, maybe even three months,” she said.
She said this sporadic schedule prevents her from holding, or even obtaining, a job. Nobody wants to hire such a transient person and she doesn’t have a reliable income, she said, but her family and her friends support her.
She came home once to a new car, and often others give her money.
The hardest thing though isn’t parting with her possessions — it’s leaving her family and losing some of her friends, she said.
“They just move on,” she said about her friends. “Because you’re gone most of the time or part of the time, so they do something else or hook up with other people.”
There’s no good time to leave, she said. Others in her mission tell her that they are still flawed, that they have to wait.
But she tells them we’re all flawed, that we can only work within our means.
“Go as you are,” she tells them.
Dan Schwartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org