“God has given me little that I might learn to trust Him more.” Those are the words of Marta Torres. Marta is not a pious, Latina saint from yesteryear. She is an impoverished, middle-aged mother of two from El Salvador. Yet, if holiness is measured by maintaining faith within great difficulty, Marta is indeed a saint.
I first met Marta while standing on a street in the city of San Salvador next to her house. To be fair, the street was more of a sidewalk and her home more like the corrugated tin clubhouse I built with my friends when we were children. I learned that she had built her house when she was a child as well – almost 40 years earlier – and that she still lived in it.
It was the late 1970s. Marta was a child living on the streets, having been abandoned by her parents in the midst of El Salvador’s brutal civil war. She found an empty corner in a poor neighborhood and began collecting cast-off pieces of lumber and tin to build herself a hovel.
Rusted metal, termite-infested timbers, cockroaches as big as your hand, no appliances, no sanitation, no floor – in the Central American rainy season the dirt floor of her home would flow knee-deep with water, sewage and mud. Given her desperate station in life, though, it was, at least, a roof over her head, and eventually, a roof over her two daughters’ heads as well.
Marta was discovered by an American missionary who felt something had to be done to help. Marta reluctantly agreed. The portrayal of the poor as parasitic opportunists looking for an easy handout is patently false. Marta didn’t have much, but she had survived all these years by standing on her own two feet. It was the prospect of her daughters living in an improvised shack for decades, as she had, that opened her heart to receive help.