‘Did I do everything I could to love people today?’ - Maryknoll Lay Missioners
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Lent 2024 newsletter


Sarah Bueter, El Salvador

At the Mercado Central

At the Mercado Central in San Salvador

Did I do everything I could to love people today? At day’s end, I often use this prompt to guide my evening reflection. Usually, I can name some tangible action. I did this. I gave this. I offered this.

Several weeks into mission, I’m reminded how easy it is to equate being loving with being useful. It is easy to love people when I have something tangible with which to love them — a specific item, a gift, a skillset. Loving people so often looks like lending a hand.

Visiting a youth group in San Pedro Perulapán

But several weeks into mission, there is little that I give. At this point, loving people doesn’t look like lending a hand — it looks like receiving a hand.

Being guided by the hand, literally.

A few weeks ago, I meandered through San Salvador’s Mercado Central (central market), sniffing around for jicama (Mexican turnip), tortillas, tomatoes, avocados, cucumber, squash and for chocolate (what else is new?). The last item proved hard to find, as the only chocolate commonly produced is a little brown disk for making hot chocolate so sweet it hurts your teeth.

As another vendor shook her head “no” to my hopeful inquiry for the dark and bitter bean, (cacao beans were once so prized in Mesoamerica that they functioned as a currency), a woman laden with packages stopped and approached.

“You’re looking for dark chocolate, right? I noticed you’re not finding it.”

I nodded glumly.

“What you need to do is buy the raw cacao beans, roast them, shell them, then add the amount of sugar you’d like,” she explained. “I’ll show you where to go.”

Suddenly she was off and I was following. She bobbed and weaved through the Saturday morning crowd, weighed down with packages much heavier than my own and moving in the complete opposite direction from where she had been heading. When we arrived at the bean vendor’s remote corner, she insisted on helping with the transaction, assessing the beans, even pressing my coins into the vendor’s hands and cradling the change for me.

When we parted, she smiled, laughed, welcomed me to El Salvador, then whisked around into the fray of the market.

It was extravagant hospitality to a stranger in a new land.

There are new words to learn in language school. There are new bus routes to allow me to explore the Divina Providencia Hospital (where St. Óscar Romero lived and was assassinated), San Salvador’s botanical gardens and the University of Central America (the site of the martyrdom of the six Jesuit priests and two women). And there are new realities — everything from how presidential elections work to how to flush a toilet when the water is shut off. Now that my language-school studies have concluded, the upcoming months will be dedicated to discerning a ministry placement process — so pray for some patience and good listening.

This is my orientation thus far: being led by the hand by Salvadorans who (both literally and figuratively) carry more than I do — and being in awe of how they carry it.

Did I do everything I could to love people today?

I certainly am not yet doing “useful” things here. But even empty-handedness becomes an opportunity to love people.

When I left for El Salvador, a fellow missioner (Rick Dixon) encouraged me to go with nothing. Go with nothing because then you will be able to truly be with people. He echoed Luke 9:3: “Don’t load yourselves up with equipment. Keep it simple; you are the equipment.”

When you have nothing to give except your heart, your listening ears, and your gratitude, suddenly you are cracked open to receiving others’ love and responding to it. Go with nothing, and what unfolds is everything you can do to love people today.

Please support my mission in El Salvador with a donation through the link below.

I also invite you to walk with me as a “COMPANION IN MISSION.” Companions in Mission are friends and generous donors who give financial gifts on a regular (usually monthly) basis. For more information, visit Become a Companion in MissionThank you so much for your generosity! 


Sarah Bueter
Sarah Bueter joined Maryknoll Lay Missioners in 2023 and is serving in El Salvador.