Intake Volunteer (IV): Do you live with your mother?"
The ten-year-old girl responds (G): No, she died.
IV: Do you live with your father?
G: No, our father left...
IV: Who takes care of you?
G: Our oldest brother.
IV: How many brothers do you have?
IV: How many sisters?
I was on a Mexico Mission Trip with a non-profit organization called Su Misericordia. That day, I was assisting the school program, handing out scholarships for students who could not afford to go to school. In Mexico, parents had to pay for uniforms, shoes, and school supplies out-of-pocket. A majority of Oaxacan Indians in Maneadero, however, work in the fields and make only a pittance. This conversation was the most I could pick up from the little Spanish I knew.
As the reality of this little girl's life sunk in, I was keenly aware of how difficult her life must be. Even still, her smile revealed an inner joy that could not be quelled by circumstance. Questions upon questions stirred in my mind- How old was her eldest brother? How is he able to take care of all six of his siblings? What do they eat at night? How have they been able to survive?
I was struck with great admiration for this eldest brother whom I have never met. His father abandons them all at the worst time possible. This brother, however, refused to follow his father's example. Instead, he chooses to stay. He sacrifices his own freedom, his own desires, and his own life to take care of his younger brothers and sisters. He chooses to act with love and mercy by assuming the role of parent. He is the face of Christ to me. He is the face of Christ to his siblings.
Several hours later, a woman with two children came in. As the children played, I could not help but notice the exhaustion on this mother's face. Again, my mind wandered- Does she work in the fields? What is her life like? How long has it been since she has felt at rest? Does she have any help? She sat quietly until it was her turn to register her children.
As I handed her the scholarships, I was inspired by Su Misericordia and all of the volunteers who make it possible to assist our impoverished brothers and sisters here in Mexico. They chose to act with compassion and great generosity when faced with the long suffering of the Oaxacan Indians. Instead of just merely "giv(ing) a man a fish and feed(ing) him for a day," as the Chinese proverb begins, through the donations of food, clothing and other supplies, Su Misericordia seeks to make systemic change by "...teach(ing) a man to fish and feed(ing) him for a lifetime" through the school program. Su Misericordia and its volunteers are the face of Christ to me. Su Misericordia is the face of Christ to these Oaxacan Indians.
Towards the evening, we went to Christina's house. Christina is one of Su Misericordia's University students who has gone through the program and is now giving back to her community. This is the ultimate goal of Su Misericordia- breaking the cycle of poverty through education in hopes that these children will have better opportunities and positively impact their communities, like Christina. At twenty-two years old, she is the teacher of a school in Maneadero. Her house has no bathroom and no shower. It is smaller than a typical two-car garage in the U.S. Her home is actually better than the majority of the homes in the neighborhood. Yet, there are no windows, and only natural lighting allows us to see inside. Walking through the dim lit home, I notice how warm I feel. Oh, yes. I had already forgotten- they do not have air conditioning or even a fan. We are taken to Christina's room, and as she speaks, I am distracted by the bed cramped behind her- no mattress, just a few blankets on top of wood. I find out later on that she, herself, had been helping another non-profit organization in the morning before she came to help us. A teacher. A full-time student. A dedicated volunteer of two non-profit organizations serving the marginalized in her city. Twenty-two years old. She is the face of Christ to me. She is the face of Christ to her community.
Towards the end of the night, one of my young adults spoke during our usual evening gathering. She said, "They do not want or need our pity...they are happy for what they do have regardless of how little it is...They inspire me..." Her words rang true to my heart. It is not pity that they long for. It is love- a genuine care for them that goes beyond material goods. It is a recognition of their suffering and a heartfelt response from others that choose not to ignore it. That is what they need.
It is us- We are called to be the face of Christ to them and those God places in our lives.
How has God been calling you to serve others? In what areas of your life can you be more generous? Who has been the face of Christ to you? How have you been the face of Christ to others?
May we be moved with compassion and be the face of Christ to those in need!
*This essay was selected for publication with Liguorian.