Zoila is a woman with a mission. If you met her, you might not think so. She is quiet and unassuming, though she has a great sense of humor and smiles easily and often. Zoila works full time at the difficult job of shelling marañones (cashews) and roasting them for the U.S. market, earning around 85 cents/hour. She lives with her mother in a tiny house with a dirt floor a few hundred feet from the open-air processing plant where she works. Zoila and her mother have a huge coconut tree and some chickens in their small yard. What they don’t have is access to clean water.
Well, that is not quite accurate. In her area of rural Mexico bottled purified water is available, but not affordable to the poor. Zoila and everyone she knows are poor.
I wonder when Zoila first realized she was called to be a clean water system operator. Was it when her little Presbyterian church first heard that a sister church in a nearby town had installed a system for purifying water? Was it when the call went out for people who could learn to maintain and operate the system in addition to their paid jobs? Was it when it was determined there were not enough men to do this work, even though women don’t typically have leadership roles there? Was it when she saw too many people, especially the elderly and the children, continually getting sick from drinking contaminated water? Was this an easy or a difficult decision for her to make?
When we met Zoila last year, she had already answered this call, and she and the three male operators took several days off work (without pay) to learn how the system was put together, to help in its construction, and to be trained to operate it. For a better quality of life. For the health of the village. For a longer life for the adults. So the children can grown up strong. So the children can grow up, period. Because the town is depending on her. Because God called her.
On the day of the dedication of the system, Zoila stood proudly and confidently with the other operators as they heard prayers and received applause from their friends, families and other townspeople. Their new partners who had come from America to help them build the system were about to leave, but these four would remain in their pueblo, with the health of the people quite literally in their hands each day.
I think of Zoila often, of how hard she works in her job for a small income, how she is unpretentious in her tasks, how she cares for her mother, how she takes her work with the water system so seriously and prayerfully. She especially came to mind this past week as I read Jesus’ words: “Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.” These words were his response to disciples James and John who said they wanted to sit next to him in his kingdom. They wanted to be close to him.
If there is a definition of how to be close to Jesus, if there is a definition of a “servant leader,” then Zoila is my definition.
© Melissa Bane Sevier, 2009