I am, and always have been, a “doer,” and my late husband was the same. If people needed help, we found a way to help them. If something was broken, we found a way to fix it. I guess God decided we should meet a large team of fixers and helpers known as the Mennonites.
I came to Canada in my early 20s with my two daughters, my husband and a heart full of gratitude. I wanted to volunteer with seniors in honour of an elderly woman we’d met in Miami. She gave us shelter, food and kindness, all of which were hard to find as an immigrant family in the U.S. I began volunteering at the St. Clair O’Connor Community, a Mennonite project in Toronto, in the early 1990s. I would eventually obtain a paid job as a hostess in the dining room.
Things seemed okay until we received a removal order from the Government of Canada. Everyone at work would soon learn of my situation because I couldn’t hide my sadness.
The seniors and staff took initiative and began collecting petitions. They would bring them to the official in charge of my case at the immigration office at the border in Niagara Falls. They travelled with me the day I was scheduled to leave the country. I’ll never forget the caravan of vehicles loaded with seniors and their wheelchairs, walkers and canes. Some of the staff also came, and they even brought their children with them to show support. Their goal was to keep my family and myself in this country.
I’ll never forget the 100-year-old English man who said to the official: “What do you think you are doing sending her away? Who is going to look after me? She is like my sister, my daughter, granddaughter, my mother. We need her and you can’t send her away.”
During this time we also met Betty and Adolfo, pastors of Toronto Mennonite New Life Centre. They helped us with our case, and eventually we obtained our permanent resident status.
My late husband and I became part of the Toronto Mennonite New Life congregation. In 1996, we were baptized and we decided that perhaps it was time we were married as well. The members of this church became our family in the years that followed.
In 2011, we learned of my husband’s cancer for the first time. He underwent a liver transplant in 2012. My youngest daughter donated a portion of her liver. Members of the faith community accompanied me to the hospital as I tried to remain at peace during the eight-hour surgery. Others held me in their thoughts and prayers.
My husband endured a shaky recovery after this surgery. His cancer returned a year later, and I had to leave work for several months to take care of him at home. Faith came to our door again and again in the form of groceries, little envelopes filled with cash, prayers and kind words as my heart broke. Relatives and members of our church brought more food than I could accommodate in my kitchen. People filled my home with love in one of the darkest periods of my life.
These demonstrations of faith carried us into the night my husband took his last breath. He would sometimes quote scriptures to my daughters. I remember him telling my eldest: “The harvest is great, but the workers are few.”
My heart is filled with gratitude to God for leading me to this team of doers. There is much to be done. Our journey continues.
Maciel Hernandez is the mother of three children. She has lived in Toronto for the past 24 years and has been a member of Toronto Mennonite New Life Church for more than two decades. She works at the St. Clair O’Connor Community, a Mennonite project, as a nurse. See a video of her telling her story at www.mcec.ca/sharing-our-faith-led-talks#Hernandez