If you have followed our blog and social media over the past month, you have probably heard about our staff trip to Mexico back in December.
Along with our Program Director, Justin Bennett, I led a group of counselors from this past summer. We spent our first week in Mexico City serving at a home run by the Missionaries of Charity for orphan children who were abandoned by their families due to their extreme mental and physical disabilities. We then drove about 4 hours southeast to the small mountain town of Tlachichua which served as our base camp for our week-long mountaineering expedition of Pico de Orizaba, the third highest peak in North America.
In this post I would like to reflect upon our time serving at the orphanage in Mexico City. I will save our mountaineering expedition for my next post.
Walking into the orphanage each morning and seeing the state of these children is a complete shock to the system.
Most of the residents are bedridden and non-verbal, unable to do anything for themselves or communicate their own needs to others. Most of us are not used to seeing suffering like that in our daily lives. All too often, we want to turn away from the sight of suffering and not have to face it. But for that week, it was in our face: all day, every day. There was no ignoring the suffering of these children.
It was powerful to watch our staff process these experiences in real time.
It seemed like many of us experienced the whole range of emotions, every day: from deep gratitude for our life and the bodies we have, to confusion and even anger as to why a God would allow people to suffer like this, to joy in the little moments of interaction with these children when they would give you a smile or laugh while you were playing with them, to despair, reflecting on the quality of life they may have.
Yet, we always seemed to land on hope and on gratitude. The joy we encountered in the children we served and the sisters we served alongside was constant.
From one perspective, these children and these sisters and volunteers live a very sad life.
The children are unable to enjoy many aspects of life I often take for granted. And these sisters have taken vows of poverty to live amongst the poorest of the poor and serve them for their entire lives. Their whole life is lived for those they serve.
We reflected on how, from an outsider’s perspective, that sounds like one of the worst lives one could live – to be poor, to serve the poor with no reward. To do so away from the public eye with no recognition; nobody talking at a Gala or on social media about how great you are for what you do. Yet, these sisters and the volunteers who worked alongside them were some of the most joyful and happy people we had ever met in our lives.
How does this add up?
I was blown away by the maturity of our staff to be able to reflect deeply on these experiences, and to ask the questions that were raised by them. I watched as they were able to arrive at some remarkable realizations about what a joyful and meaningful life really looks like – one that is lived in service for others and not ourselves.
They pointed to moments outside of this trip where they have experienced this joy, and many of them pointed to moments from this past summer at camp – having the opportunity to forget about themselves and focus on loving their campers well.
There’s a specific joy and freedom that comes only from forgetting about the self and entering into somebody else’s world.
In these moments, I learn how to love the person in front of me. This is what I watched our staff discover during our week serving in the orphanage: selfless love.
Our saff recounted moments from last summer, where they experienced selfless love from fellow staff members, and served our campers with selflessness. They were primed and ready to receive these lessons again during our time in Mexico City.
What a gift that week was.
It’s almost like Jesus knew what he was talking about when he invited us to “love our neighbors as we love ourselves.”
I’m grateful to have unpacked the depth and the wisdom of those words alongside these brothers for a week in Mexico City, and I’m grateful to have another summer where we can continue to unpack those words from Jesus with our entire camp community.