Traveling to Swaziland, Southern Africa, was part of my work for Cabrini Mission Corps. My friend Jim accompanied me on one of these trips, and we stayed at St. Philip’s Mission in rural Swaziland.
Two Cabrini Sisters lived at the Mission—Anna Maria and Speranza. They had each served in Swaziland for more than twenty-five years. Sr. Speranza, in her late eighties, took care of the house and tended to the people who came to the door for help. Sr. Anna Maria, about ten years younger, worked in the Mission clinic. Once a week, Sr. Anna Maria traveled to neighboring homesteads, delivering food and basic medical supplies to those who could not get to the clinic.
Jim accompanied Sr. Anna Maria on one of her weekly visits to the homesteads. They loaded food and supplies into the back of her beat-up pickup truck and headed into the bush.
In this part of southeastern Swaziland, typical homesteads consist of several stick-and-mud huts erected in clearings off the main road. There is no running water or electricity in most of the homesteads, and women and children draw water from the river. People have few possessions and live quite simply.
A gravel road connects the Mission with the paved highway that leads to the city. Tall scrub grass lines the road. Access to the homesteads is gained through breaks in the scrub grass and then over beaten-down paths or ruts. Sr. Anna Maria knew these back roads well, and she and Jim bounced along for miles, eventually visiting ten different homesteads that day.
At each stop, they dropped off food and supplies, and Sr. Anna Maria tended to any minor medical issues. This adventure with Sr. Anna Maria was a highlight of the trip for Jim.
At one homestead, a widow wanted to thank Jim for visiting her from so far away. As he and Sr. Anna Maria were leaving, this woman went back into her hut and brought out a basket she had woven, which she presented to Jim.
“She had next to nothing,” he told me when they arrived back at the mission, “and yet she gave me this beautiful basket.” It was astoundingly generous.
That basket became one of his prized possessions and was a reminder to him of the widow’s generosity.
Jim died one year ago. I now have that basket, and a new understanding of loss and grief. I can see that the widow who gave Jim the basket and the widow who gave two coins (Mark 12:41-44) had already lost what they valued most.