A few weeks ago I received a letter in the mail from my dear friend, Cara. Cara and her husband Mache live and work in Bolivia as missionaries with Word Made Flesh. Cara in particular works with a ministry called Suti Sana. Through this incredible ministry, Cara works to build relationships with women who are seeking to escape a life of prostitution. The Suti Sana ministry provides housing and resources to rehabilitate these women, give them hope, and show them the goodness, grace, and power of God’s love in their lives.
All of Cara’s letters are beautiful and ring with truth and love. When I read the story of Eliana, I knew this letter must be shared. I asked Cara for permission and graciously she agreed. If you would like more information on Cara or the ministry of Suti Sana please visit www.sutisana.com.
He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” Mark 5:34
I’ve told you the story of Eliana before.
I met my friend Eliana decades after she had been trafficked from Argentina. When we first met on my internship, she would lecture me on how to mop the stairs in the Casa de Esperanza. I was a little scared of her harsh instructions at first. The scars on her neck and arms spoke of a life I could never really understand, but they quickly became simply part of the familiar contours of a friend. And as she began to trust that I wasn’t going anywhere, she started to joke and laugh and dance with me.
Eliana means “God has answered me.” She chose that name a few months after I moved to Bolivia, and I struggled to remember not to call her Marta. One of the first songs I learned in Spanish was her favorite worship song, “La Niña de Sus Ojos.” When she was dunked into the baptismal waters in a small tub at her church, I cried with joy.
While transitioning housing once, Eliana lived with me for a few months. We would trade off cooking for each other, and I would hear her get up to pray at 5 every morning. We would wash our laundry together by hand on the porch, and she patiently taught me how to wax my wooden floors, a chore I loath to this day.
Eliana’s journey of healing manifested itself in beautifully random ways. She once roped all of the staff into painting her rented room a vibrant lilac purple. Her addiction to potted plants has slowly transformed the Casa de Esperanza into an oasis in the urban desert of El Alto.
Being the first woman who left prostitution to join our community, our sweet friend has undergone an astonishing transformation. But for the past few years, Eliana has been restless in our ministry. She had a multitude of ideas for her place in ministry which we tried to honor, but without fully realizing it we were patronizing her. She wanted her to spread her wings and do things on her own, but we kept trying to protect her.
Eliana has been our poster girl. She’s the one we point to with pride, and proclaim joyfully, “Look what God did in her life.” She’s our shining success story. She’s the reason we stay. She gives us energy to keep going.
But she’s more than that. So. Much. More. She’s not just an anecdote. She’s not just a prayer letter. She’s no longer the story of her past. She is no longer a victim. Eliana is a woman who wants to live her life guided by God, but not over-protected or herded along by other people, even well-meaning friends who think they know what’s best for her.
So a few months ago, Eliana quit her job with Word Made Flesh Bolivia. We were all shocked and devastated, and for a few weeks we swung wildly from trying to give Eliana her space (“She’ll come back to us in her own time), to trying to convince her that she was making the wrong decision (“What will she do without us?”).
But she didn’t come back.
She would call us to update us on her life, accept invitations to dinner, and stop by after work. But she didn’t come running home with her tail between her legs. I think we thought she would.
One Sunday before we left for the States, Eliana came over to our apartment for dinner. She was dressed to impress, and she proudly told us about the jobs she had gotten on her own, the apartment she had found on her own, and the life she was living, without our help. I began to realize that in my deep love for this woman I should have encouraged her to venture out of the protective bubble of community to continue her healing. I should have helped her fly!
But instead, I thought I could best love her by keeping her close. On her path to healing I had sometimes run ahead and tried to haul away the fallen trees, scare the wild animals away, and hand her a flashlight for the dark parts. It was hard for me to see that maybe she needed to face those demons alone, and that maybe she was ready.
My original dream for Suti Sana was to create a workplace where the women could stay and heal and grow forever. I pictured them being with us until they retired, and then caring for them even after that. I saw absolutely no reason why they shouldn’t be in community with us until the end of their lives, or ours.
Eliana is helping me see things differently. Once again, she is paving the way. Through her I see that, sometimes, the last step of healing might mean allowing the Shepherd to lead her on alone, even if that means walking away from us. And while Eliana will always be practically a part of my family, hers is no longer my story to tell. She is telling her story in her own voice.