We have been listening to stories.
This is the essence of what we have been doing this week here in the mountains of El Salvador. We visit each farming community called a “Tablon” (a kind of extended village), and we meet with the elected leaders of these communities called a “Directiva” who share the stories of their successes and challenges of the past year. We then proceed to visit people in their homes where we talk about their families, their lives, their problems, their hopes, and their dreams.
This year we hear of a dire drought that has led to low crop yields and the very real possibility of severe hunger in their villages. (Interesting enough they seem more aware of global warming than we are in the States). We hear a story of sons going hungry so medicines can be bought for their mothers. We hear stories of single mothers who care for their children, cook the meals, and also, by the way, farm the land. We have been listening to stories.
One may wonder about the efficacy of simply listening to stories as a mission of the church. Why go all this way if you are not going to do something — build a house, hand out food, etc. It is a good question but the truth is that there is much power in listening to the stories of the poor.
In the first place, the poor do not have people who listen to their story. More often than not, the government bureaucrat, the school official, the NGO administrator does not listen to them.
To be poor is to be ignored.
Second, there is a truth that listening to someone’s story embodies them with a sense of self and value. Their story is important enough to be heard and carried in our hearts. Third, by listening to their stories we hear what they truly need rather than what we think they need. We pay attention to their hopes and desires rather than our own.
The Power of Stories
But finally, the power of listening to the stories of the poor is that they change us. They make us see the world differently; they challenge our assumptions about the way our societies work; and they transform our own consciousness in solidarity with the poor. We listen to the stories because the stories change us into a more compassionate, just, and kind community. We listen because we know we will hear Christ speak to us amidst those stories.