Little ways to holiness: How unity has grown in our family

Economy, God and Family Life

Little ways to holiness: How unity has grown in our family

By Paul Bambrick-Santoyo
Published in Living City, July 2010

We live in New Jersey with our three children: Ana, Maria and Nicholas. From the time we got married it was important for my wife and me to give God first place, no matter the cost. That was often put to the test in the beginning of our marriage. Gabriela (Gabri) was in medical school in Mexico, and so I took the only job that I could find there, teaching English. At the time, I had sworn that I would never be a teacher, but I felt it was important to follow Gabri to Mexico so that she could complete her medical degree. So I chose to become an English teacher, which in Mexico was the equivalent of a salary below the poverty line. As a matter of fact, we were blessed with God’s providence and never lacked for food or clothing or basic needs, even when Ana and Maria were born. Six years later, we felt the time was right to leave Mexico and move to Newark, New Jersey, so that I could start a job training others to teach and manage schools for some of the most challenging children. The fellowship offered very little money, but we prayed about it and felt that God was leading us in this direction. With only $1,000 in the bank, we took the plunge and moved from Mexico City to Newark.

Looking back, we had no idea what we were doing, yet at every turn, God showed us his providence. My school gave me $10,000 as a severance package even though I was leaving voluntarily. We had a zero credit score, because we had no credit card, and yet we found a realtor who did not worry about our credit score. The one apartment we found happened to be across the street from a church, and at the very first Mass two families took us under their wing and brought us winter clothes for our children.

At the same time, my boss sent me a clear message: if I wanted to grow in my job, to become a leader, I would have to work very late hours staying until eight or nine o’clock at night. Gabri and I prayed about this. Despite our need for a higher salary, we made a commitment to keep six to nine in the evening sacred for time together as a family. God continued to show us the way. Seven years later, I not only finished the fellowship, but my boss actually offered me his job when he moved on, and we grew from one school to six schools. And during this time, with only a few exceptions, I have been able to keep six to nine o’clock sacred for time with my children and with Gabri. It has meant many a late-night working on my laptop, but it has been completely worth it.

My wife Gabri is always cold, and once she needed some real woolen sweaters, which she found out were very expensive. She did not feel justified to spend money on them, and at the same time, she decided to give some of her sweaters to someone who needed them more; and she did. The following week, a friend who knits (who knew nothing of all this) gave her three woolen sweaters that she was not using anymore! Gabri has never had sweaters as warm as these!

Our oldest daughter, Ana, growing up in this environment, has also felt called to share with others. For her birthday, a few years ago, she asked not to receive any gifts and instead asked that people make a donation to Escuela Santa Maria, a school started in rural, low-income Mexico by the Focolare in the spirit of the Economy of Communion. Her friends’ parents were so touched by Ana’s gesture that they donated over $400. On Ana’s next trip to Mexico to visit Gabri’s family, she went to the school and was able to help them buy basic sports equipment for all the children in the school. At almost every birthday party, Ana and Maria make things to sell in order to raise money for various causes. As Ana would say, “This is our own little way to holiness.”

It is not always easy to trust that God will provide and to think of our money and possessions as God’s. But we have constant reminders of this truth. Each time that Ana, Maria and Gabri have had the opportunity to go to Rome for youth gatherings and conferences on the spirituality of unity, we have not had the money readily available. But each time, some money has arrived shortly after we said yes, often in the form of an invitation for me to lead a workshop for other school leaders in another city. We have always had to say yes first and then have been blessed by God’s fruits.

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