What do the hands of God look like? At Good Samaritan Mission, a rural farming community south of Tampa, such hands are small and very busy. They belong to a woman named Lilian Matos — a woman with the kind of faith that lights up faces and changes lives.
“I believe that we are called to be the hands of God here on earth, to do his work wherever we can,” explains Lilian. “Giving to others is a blessing. When you work hard for something you care about, that work is a gift.”
Lilian is a regular attendee at Good Samaritan Mission, taking part in Sunday worship and weekday classes. She mentors younger women, encourages fellow students and knows everybody by name. Her extroverted nature and gregarious personality have earned her a nickname — the “unofficial mayor of Ruskin.” Most mornings, she can be found sitting in the front row of class and demonstrating her love of learning. But Lilian is not simply acquiring knowledge. She is taking part in her own innovation: a unique educational transference that siphons personal learning experiences into tangible study tools for others.
Lilian has a heart for children, specifically the mountain children of her native country of Honduras. They live in tiny remote villages with no names near Omoa Cortez and Rio Abajo. Their homes are crude wooden shacks or treehouse-like dwellings very close to the border of Guatemala and miles away from civilization. Few have ever left the mountains. Most do not have shoes. They attend school in one-room buildings with no electricity or indoor plumbing. A single instructor may have fifty students spanning five different grade levels. As a former teacher in Honduras, Lilian helped to open more than 30 rural schools during her tenure and has seen the impact of poverty and isolation on learning. Now a resident of Ruskin, she still thinks of those students in Honduras and has dedicated herself to enhancing education for those who have next to nothing.
Every day Lillian collects school supplies, educational toys and non-perishable food items. Each May, she sends dozens of cartons by ship to Honduras and then travels there to receive the shipments and get the supplies up the mountain, which takes over an hour by car — if the car doesn’t break down. Her currency for purchasing? Tokens earned by taking classes at the Good Samaritan Mission. “Along with Bible study, we offer a variety of adult education classes in different subjects,” explains the Reverend William Cruz, pastor of Good Samaritan. “Classes in money management, English language, health and other life skills that will help our congregation, as well as practical classes in skills such as crocheting or cooking.” Each completed class earns a token that can be used to buy items in the Mission store, a sort of general store which stocks food items and various household and school supplies. “I think Lilian earned about 160 tokens last year,” smiled Cruz. “Most people spend their tokens on necessities and items for themselves. Lilian buys for the children of Honduras.”
When new classes are offered, Lilian signs up and shows up. She is the first to arrive and makes sure to introduce herself to new students. Whether she is learning about history or handicrafts, she throws herself into each educational opportunity with enthusiasm. A bit of knowledge acquired for herself and some notebook paper, pencils and peanut butter set aside for her beloved mountain children. A few months ago, Lilian enrolled in a class on starting a business. She enjoyed it and took excellent notes. And just recently, she launched her own cottage industry selling coconut oil at a local farmer’s market. “I buy the coconuts and I have acquired a coconut press,” she explained. “The essential oils in coconut are very beneficial to the body for beauty and for health. With the profits, I buy learning toys.”
Her happiest day of the year is when she makes that journey up the mountain and sees the faces of the children. They run to her, cheering and chanting “la profesora!” and their smiles are huge. Together, Lilian, the students and teachers open the cartons and fill the classroom shelves. Cans of cranberry juice, puzzles and books, crayons and jars of grape jelly are sorted and admired. Everything is a marvel to children who have so little. But Lilian makes sure that material goods are not all she delivers. She talks to the children, tells stories and spends time with each one. She learns all of their names and asks about their families. She makes sure they understand that even when she is not with them, she is always thinking about them. And she shares the most wonderful news of all — that every child has a loving Father who watches over each of them. “I believe that God is love,” she states simply. “I believe that God loves us and is happy when we show love to each other. And I believe that with love, anything is possible.”