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Lorena Prieto (right) helps with translation at The Center for Healing and Hope with Jodi Birkey, patient advocate. Jennifer Rupp

Lorena Prieto (right) helps with translation at The Center for Healing and Hope with Jodi Birkey, patient advocate. Jennifer Rupp

Experiencing strengths and weakness

Cathryn Clinton and Jennifer Rupp
July 25, 2008

GOSHEN, Ind. – Lorena Prieto of Goshen, Ind., was eagerly awaiting a call concerning a secretarial job, but instead she received one asking her to consider serving as a Summer Service Worker (SSW). After hearing about the community outreach worker/health clinic translator position, Lorena said, "I didn’t think twice. I just told him, yes, I am interested."

The SSW program of Mennonite Central Committee provides opportunities for young people of color to develop service and leadership skills through assignments in their congregations or through community organizations. Prieto was looking for an opportunity to develop her character, discover her gifts and strengthen her weaknesses, and this opportunity sounded like what she wanted.

Through the SSW program, Prieto divides her time between The Center for Healing and Hope and North Goshen Mennonite Church. The Center for Healing and Hope works to meet the medical needs of uninsured patients, and Prieto serves as a health clinic translator. She guides patients through the bewildering maze of initial medical questions, helps with insurance forms and directs them to doctors or specialists.

In warm smiles, people show gratitude for Prieto's work, but this is a mutual exchange because Prieto experiences joy and satisfaction in serving people through interpretation and translation.

"Lorena models the kind of compassion that we want our volunteers to express to patients," said Dale Wentorf, executive director at The Center for Healing and Hope. "She develops a rapport with the patients so they feel comfortable. She just really disarms them and has a personality that allows them to trust her."

Prieto's community outreach at North Goshen Mennonite Church has been teaching a Spanish class to non-Spanish speakers. Prieto and Pastor José Elizalde invited to the class people from both within and outside the church in order to break boundaries between cultures and languages.

Teaching has been a challenge. Before this, Prieto's shyness kept her from public speaking. She has learned to get materials, decide on topics for the class, answer questions and respond to the frustrations of the students. Each new class gives her the opportunity to look for creative strategies like making up games to use in teaching.

The experience of being in front of 15 people has shown Prieto that God can use weakness and strength. The support of her community and experiencing God's love for the people she works with has increased her confidence in using God's gifts.

Five years ago, Prieto, who lived in Bogotá, Colombia, went to church as usual. A delegation from the United States was visiting, and the pastor asked if someone could speak English for the visitors. Prieto didn’t know English, but from deep inside, she found herself responding with a prayer, "God, I wish to speak English. I am here, send me out."

A year after this prayer, she came to the United States and began learning English. She sees her current job as an amazing answer to what she had prayed before.

"I love languages – it’s something that’s in my heart," she said. "It’s a way to help people. I know how hard it is to learn a language – I’ve been in that situation."

Prieto will be starting her junior year at Indiana University South Bend in the fall, where she is following her passion and studying languages. In addition to Spanish and English, Prieto is also studying French.

Prieto's life experiences are aiding her in her service. "I’m in the middle of two cultures," she said. "I can see both of them, and try to be the medium to help people from both sides understand each other."

Prieto says that this Summer Service experience has shown her what she wants to do in the future. She would like to translate, interpret and learn about other cultures.