This last Sunday’s Gospel couldn’t have been more perfect to relate to the work I am doing here and the children I encounter every day. It was Mark 9:30-37:
Jesus and his disciples left from there and began a journey through Galilee, but he did not wish anyone to know about it. He was teaching his disciples and telling them, "The Son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him, and three days after his death the Son of Man will rise." But they did not understand the saying, and they were afraid to question him. They came to Capernaum and, once inside the house, he began to ask them, "What were you arguing about on the way?" But they remained silent. They had been discussing among themselves on the way who was the greatest. Then he sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them, "If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all." Taking a child, he placed it in the their midst, and putting his arms around it, he said to them, "Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me."
Since I have arrived here I have had to remember every day the slogan of the Salesian Lay Missioner: Seeing Christ in the Face of a Child. He is there so very present and yearning for love. When it comes to the children here the idea of receiving them and them being received lovingly and with open arms is somewhat foreign. The majority of them are here not because their families can’t afford to provide for them or because they have no families but rather as a result of severe abuse, neglect, abandonment, unsafe/unhealthy living situation, and other family issues. They have not been accepted or loved the way they deserve and the effects of the deprivation show through every day. It is sometimes hard for them to accept the love that we have for them. In the past when I read this passage I envisioned a joyful, innocent little child who just wants to play and learn and explore. But, the children here although very joyful and playful have had some of their innocence and trust ripped away from them by those they are supposed to be able to depend on the most. This Bible passage is a challenge for me and everyone else to not just accept that innocent, trusting, joyful child but each and every child where they are at and with everything that they have been through. In order to see Christ’s face in them and accept Him in them I have to remember that they are not perfect and are often very broken. I have to hold them when they break down crying because the homework is difficult. I have to make chores and clothes washing a little more fun so they can experience the joy of childhood. I have to sit with them and wait for them to talk when they shut down because they are in trouble. I have to tell them I love them after they have tried to beat me up verbally and occasionally physically. More than anything though I am blessed to get to do all of these things every day. I get to remember what they have been through but see through that into their soft hearts full of love ready to be given and received. I get to put myself last because a child tells me they just want to spend time with me, asks for help with homework, wants to play, or has a bloody nose. I get to receive them in a way that others never did and remind them that they are worth loving, they have value, and that they are capable of being beautiful children of God.
More than any other week so far I have seen Christ’s face in these children through their actions, smiles, screams, and especially through their words. The first three weeks I didn’t have a good enough grasp on Spanish to actually have a conversation with any of the children. But, this week things have been a little bit different and I’ve been trying to ask the little ones questions about the book they are reading, their favorite classes at school, their homework, and even what they learned at mass on Sunday. It has been fun getting to know each of them on a more personal level and seeing their likes, dislikes, strengths, and weaknesses. On Sunday afternoon I was helping a young girl copy pictures on her paper using the window and one of the pictures was Christ on the cross. It reminded me of mass and so I started asking her and another girl about mass (since I was gone watching three of the girls dance in a parade that morning and had to go later that evening). When I asked one thing that they had learned at mass the other little girl said (in Spanish of course) “We need to listen to the word of God.” It was so simple yet profound and beautiful to hear from the mouth of a little 7-year-old. To know that the children are not always just going through the motions and playing with each other at mass but actually remember some things is so wonderful. This was especially great for this little girl who although very bright usually doesn’t know where her clothes or other possessions are and when you ask her often gives you no response at first but a blank stare.
A couple days later I was helping that same girl with her homework again but the other girl wasn’t around. She was tracing a picture of clouds, sun, porch, and children and I was asking her what they all meant in Spanish. When we got to the sky I asked her what the name was and if she liked them. She said yes and then when I asked her why she looked up and me and said, “Because that is where God is.” Wow was all that I could think and it brought a huge smile to my face. It probably helps that the word for sky and heaven is the same but I can tell that she recognizes where God is and that He is a loving person. These children need the hope that God and especially the resurrected Christ offer them. Lastly, yesterday after helping one of the girls wash her clothes we were in one of the rooms at the hogar and on the wall was a picture of Jesus. I asked her what she thought of Him or if she loved Him and her response was, “Yes God is my father and Jesus is my brother.” For this little girl who is very loving, affectionate, and yet often loud and forceful I was so very pleased and excited to hear her response. She in some way or another has learned that her true loving father is our Lord and savior. I pray and hope that these children’s hearts continue to grow and they not only know but truly believe in the love of God and can depend on Him, hope in Him, and rest in His arms.
Please continue to pray for the girls here, for healing, for their ability to trust, for their ability to be loved and accept the help that they want, and for their ability to be children despite everything they have endured. Please also pray for me and all of my fellow Salesian Lay Missioners both at this Hogar and elsewhere in the world as we work to be God’s hands and feet and receive every child in His name. Lastly, please pray for my grandmother who was in the hospital this week because of seizures as a result of her strokes a few years ago. The seizures are under control and she will be moved to a recovery center soon but she is elderly and there are still some struggles ahead.
Maria Auxiliadora de los Christianos… Ruega por Nosotros!
San Juan Bosco… Ruega por Nosotros!