San Rafael, Argentina
One year ago I was getting ready to graduate from college, and I was freaking out about what I was going to do after graduation. I talked with a good servidora friend who knew I was discerning my vocation and wanted to do long-term volunteer work, and she suggested that I volunteer at one of the houses of mercy in San Rafael, Argentina for a year. I felt such great peace with this idea and knew that God was inviting me to grow in the virtue of charity, giving me the opportunity to learn Spanish, and to discern my vocation by volunteering in San Rafael.
I’d like to share some ways in which God has helped me grow in charity by being here. I’m volunteering at San Martín de Tours in the home for men with special needs whom we call angelitos which means “little angels.” I get to dress them, feed them, clean them up after their meals, brush their teeth, take some of them to the vocation school (in which they use their talents in carpentry, painting, cooking and other areas of craft), take them on walks (if they’re able to walk) or push them in their wheelchairs around the neighborhood, and play with them in the pool. Sometimes the work is frustrating or tiring, but it’s always rewarding. For example, feeding Patricio is particularly difficult because he is missing a lot of teeth, but I love it because he almost always gives a big smile while he’s eating or claps his hands or moves his shoulders back and forth like he’s shimmying. I also get to pray the Rosary with them every day, which is really special. A few of them are able to pray the Rosary aloud with me, and the rest get to be in Mary’s presence, silently being led closer and closer to Christ. One day I was praying the Rosary with them, and the boys who are able to talk were not there, so I felt a little awkward reciting the whole Rosary by myself and was wondering if it was worth it. All of a sudden one of the boys, Aldo, on the other side of the room in his wheelchair, started to push himself towards me and sat at the table right in front of me with his hands folded, eyes shut, and mouth wide open, silently praying with me. This assured me that Mary wants me to keep praying the Rosary with the boys because she wishes to shower graces on them even if it may look like nothing’s happening. Throughout my time here I’ve learned that these boys are really precious in God’s eyes and that I am incredibly blessed to serve each of these members of the mystical body of Christ.
I’m also teaching English to some of the boys at San Juan Bosco, a home for boys and teens who come from broken or abusive families. Some fun things we do in class include drawing pictures, listening to music, and singing. Sometimes teaching is pretty tough when they have a hard time paying attention or don’t want to work. I have to put a lot of thought and effort into preparing the lessons, but it’s worth it because they are learning and are proud of themselves for doing so. Also, we begin each class with a prayer, so God guides us through each lesson; we have class for his glory.
Another way I get to grow in charity is by praising the Lord in Morning Prayer, Mass, Adoration, and Evening Prayer everyday with the religious who live here. I particularly love Adoration because I get to just be in the Lord’s presence and be loved by him which makes me love him more and more and want to bring others closer to him.
One way I’ve grown in charity was completely unexpected. I have Ehlers-Danlos, a rare, loose connective tissue disorder which causes a whole bunch of issues because connective tissue is throughout the entire body, holding it together. Since I’ve been here my health has gotten slightly worse: my neck, back, left ribs, shoulders, knees, and stomach have been in constant pain, my knees sometimes popping out of place when I walk, muscles randomly spasming, my head aching all the time, and often being tired because I’m not able to sleep well. For a little while I was freaking out and didn’t know why I was in pain all the time, but little by little Christ is showing me that it’s because he loves me and wants me to grow in charity towards him and others. I’m able to unite my little cross with His, and he brings me closer to himself and lets me participate in the salvation of others. I also get to grow in humility because I’m not able to do certain activities like lifting the boys from their beds, and sometimes people don’t understand why I can’t do certain things because I look pretty normal. My health has been the hardest part of the mission, but I know God cannot be outdone in generosity and is using it for my good and for the good of others.
Throughout this mission, God has also given me the opportunity to learn a foreign language. I’ve studied Spanish for a few years in the US, but studying it in school is so different from being immersed in a place where you have to communicate in Spanish all the time. It’s definitely tough, and I still have to concentrate a lot to understand what people are saying and to respond to them, but I’m getting better and am able to build relationships with the folks down here by speaking Spanish.
The last thing this mission has helped me do is discern my vocation. Living with religious, praying with them, and serving with them have definitely helped me learn what it’s like to be a religious. Also, serving God every day in these special people has helped me understand how God wants me to serve him for the rest of my life. Recently, I got to take Spiritual Exercises, which is really helpful in centering one’s life on God and discerning one’s vocation. I’m pretty sure I now know what God is calling me to, and when I return to the US, I’m going to see if God is in fact calling me to a certain way of life and, if so, to take the next steps.
If you think God is calling you to be a missionary, definitely trust Him and go for it. He’ll help you grow in love with Him and with others. You’ll get to start learning or get better at a foreign language, and you’ll be able to discern your vocation whatever it may be. It will be difficult, but only through accepting the cross can we participate in the glory of the Resurrection.
Well, I’ve been here for seven months so far, and am looking forward to seeing how God will continue to help me grow in charity, learn Spanish, and take steps towards my vocation.