The Unforgettable Summer
Picture this: You decide to take an adventure by yourself halfway across the world to help a Catholic mission. You have no particular reason for going, except that you want a change of scenery for the summer. You want to be different from your friends and be able to say that you went on an adventure. The final destination: A city in the middle of the desert in Ethiopia. Now, you’ve never heard of this place. You just know that it’s a poor place, like most of Africa and that in a few weeks time after you arrive, there will be a summer camp with other youth arriving as well. Carrying a backpack and luggage in hand, you leave with no expectations, just the pure desire for an adventure.
When the small, sketchy plane makes a rough landing, you get off with a queasy stomach, standing on the dry dessert ground. This is supposed to be the airport? It’s basically just a landing strip and one room. “Where am I?” you ask yourself. The locals call this place a city, but this “city” is pretty backwards. There are no buildings, hardly any cars, and trash covers the “streets” that are dirt roads with imprints the cars have left. You can see military tanks still buried in the sand from a war that occurred over 20 years ago. A priest and a nun accompany you, and you wonder, “What have I gotten myself into?” The adventure has begun.
Things really kicked off when the other volunteers arrived. There were about 16 of us total. Two were doctors from Mexico and the rest were from Spain. The amazing thing was that everyone got along and everyone was pretty normal. They weren’t super religious strict people. They were regular young adults who liked to party, hang out with friends, and have a good time. But the one thing that set us apart fro the rest of the world is that we were on this mission, and we were all searching for who we are supposed to become. Everyone was interesting and everyone had his or her own story to tell.
We started the summer camp in a very rural area of Ethiopia. Normally, if anyone is passing through this town, it is not to stay, let alone choose to build a mission. Their houses were mud huts and once again, the only real building structure for hundreds of miles, was the school Friends of Mission Mercy built for them.
A typical day looked like this: In the morning we would have adoration at 6:00 AM. That is where you sit in front of the Eucharist and just pray and reflect (This was optional.) We had mass at 7 and breakfast right after. The summer camp would start around 9. We would arrive at the school each day with a couple hundred people of all ages waiting for us. The doctors held a free clinic where they would see any patient and give them free medicine if we had it in stock. Many of these people had very serious illnesses and they had never seen a doctor in their life. Each day we sang songs with the kids, taught them numbers, letters, colors, and simple words in English. It wasn’t uncommon to see a five-year-old girl carry her two-year-old brother on her back the whole day, because her parents were working and she wanted to be a part of the summer camp. This was the only time out of the year where the children actually got the chance to just be children. They didn’t have to work in the field to pick food and they got to play with people who showed them nothing but love.
We didn’t teach them outright anything having to do with God or with religion. We simply showed them God’s love by loving them. We were there with them and for them. The camp ended at about 12:30 PM. We then had lunch and a break. At about 3:30, a priest, a nun, and a monk would give us classes on ethics. It was then, that I really started to search for myself. They would ask us questions that no one else had asked me, even though I had gone to Catholic School all of my life.
The questions that they asked made us think and make decisions on who we want to become as people. Questions like: What is the difference between religion and faith? Is it more important to be religious and go to mass everyday, or to have a strong relationship with Jesus? Going to church is important to grow, but its important you go out of your own free will and your have pure intentions in your heart. When something hits the fan, and everything seems like one big disaster, are you going to lose all hope? Or are you going to trust that it’s all part of a bigger plan?
How do you choose between two good things? It’s easy to pick between something right and wrong because you know what is right. But what is the best path for you when you have two very good options? These are important issues to think about because you don’t want to look back on your life and have a whole bunch of what-ifs.
The trip had a major impact on the volunteers. Out of it, one volunteer is thinking about becoming a priest. Another who was already a seminarian, decided it was not God’s plan for him and left. Two decided to stay until November. A 25-year-old volunteer returned to Spain and made the decision to come back for Christmas, but with no return ticket. She is eventually going to become a nun, and dedicate her life to that mission. Personally, it has changed my perspective on life in many ways. The original plan for me was to stay for three weeks. In the end, I extended my stay for three months.
Perhaps the most important thing I realized is that everyone has an important role to play. Other people’s “yes” to God depends on yours. You are called, you are chosen, and sent by God to share his love to the entire world. In fact, you are given the responsibility to share your faith to those who do not know it. One day you will come face to face with the creator of the universe and He will ask you, “What did you do with the gifts I gave you?” “Did you use them to your full potential?”
The return to Florida has been hard because I see a lot of my friends just living for themselves and I realize that they are caught up in their own bubble. It isn’t something they would understand if I pointed it out to them, because they don’t know anything different. Not too long ago I was the same way, but I don’t ever want to a life just for myself again.
Ask any of these African children what they want to be when they grow up and they say doctor, pilot, lawyer. It breaks your heart when you see the smile on their face and the hope they have. Because you know one day they are going to realize that they were never going to get the chance to do that. YOU, on the other hand most likely will.
Don’t be irrelevant. Live a life worth living, one that gives others hopes and dreams. You have been given unique opportunities and abilities that aren’t just meant for your benefit, they are meant to impact others. You can make a difference. You can be a hero.
Don’t live a boring life that goes with the flow of what everyone is doing now. Be different and make life an adventure, and on your adventure, Jesus is the one person that is going to be there with you and for you no matter what. Everything else eventually fades away. Ask Jesus constantly, “What do you want of me?” And when you figure out what that is, just do it.