By Alex Wyvill
Mission Trip Chronicler
First Pre-Theology, Archdiocese of Washington
7 March, 2017
After a long, tiring day of trench-digging, on Tuesday we turned our attention once more to serving the many children housed at Blessed Assurance. Our assignment was simple: spend the entire day with the children, living their schedule alongside them from breakfast until dinner. At first, I expected the day to be a relief from the exhaustion of manual labor. On the contrary, the day wore me out just as much, albeit in a very different way.
The day began with breakfast. Those children who could feed themselves skipped off to “Table Time,” while the less-mobile kids stayed back to be fed by the volunteers. I fed Sabrina, an adorable little girl who was very cooperative with the whole endeavor. When she wanted food, she would lightly tap the table with her hand. After every bite, she would clap, as if to congratulate me on a job well done. It was very encouraging; her gratitude was obvious, even at her very young age.
While some children (like Sabrina) easily showed us their love, many others were far less able to do so. I approached one child, an older boy named Sylvester, and grasped his hand to get his attention. His lips briefly curled into a crooked smile, but it immediately disappeared. For the rest of the day, I couldn’t get his attention for even a second. On the one hand, my time with him seemed a pure gift: I was able to be the hands and feet of a child who had none for himself. I pointed things out to him, I talked to him, I moved him around. On the other hand, I didn’t feel the usual “warm fuzzy” after my time with him; there had been the brief smile, but then nothing. He seemed to let me love him as Christ loves: without regard for self, totally giving to the other. It is a rare gift to be allowed to love like this, and Sylvester gave it by doing precisely nothing.
After our morning devotional prayer, we kicked off “circle time,” where we sang songs and played instruments with the children. One of the caregivers sang songs while the kids banged on drums, tambourines and woodblocks. The ruckus sounded pretty good! In one of the songs, children and volunteers were called into the middle of the “circle” and asked to “show a motion.” I supposed that they wanted me to dance, so I summoned one of the little kids, Akela, to join me. She laughed as I twirled her round and round. It was so easy to make the kids laugh, to make them happy!
The rest of the day involved more of the same, and I returned to the cottage spiritually exhausted. I wondered to myself: why had the day tired me so much? I suddenly recalled St. John Paul II’s teaching on love as a “gift of self.” He famously said that we discover ourselves precisely in giving ourselves away to others in love. The words resonated in my heart with newfound depth. In all I had done that day, the one person I hadn’t been thinking about was myself (what a change!). And yet, I felt more “myself” than ever before. I felt alive, invigorated with a spirit that pierced through the fatigue and allowed me to love others.
All of this, of course, was made possible by God’s work through these children with special needs. Collapsing onto my bed, I felt a deep and abiding peace in the beauty of the children’s receptive presence. This gift allowed each of us to tangibly take part in the body of Christ: the children as His heart, ourselves as His hands and feet. We rested easy, thanking God for this great gift.
Make sure to follow the rest of our trip on social media using the hashtag #SemsOnMission