The concept of what it is to be and American for a girl like myself, who was born and raised in Brazil, is a process that is learned. I spent years of my life educating myself and training myself to look the part so that I would be able to succeed as they do. I am a foreign born American; at least that is what is written on my naturalization papers.
I grew up with groups of Americans going to my birth country mostly visiting me at church and teaching me how to be, how to behave, how to be the first as they are. Later I moved to this country and I am happy I did. This is not a “Let’s bash the America we know blog entry.” It is rather a perspective share to the viewer from the other side.
In two thousand and nine, a group of seventeen people and I chose to go to Chihuahua, Mexico. We wanted to share the love of Christ with some orphans and we extended ourselves to the Taharumara Indians while we were there also.
We arrived in Chihuahua and were very well received by a group of pastors and missionaries who also invited us for dinner across the street. This was the only night we would have this privilege to rest in a hotel and be with everyone together. Upon having dinner and getting acquainted to one another, we made plans as to how the remainder of our days there were going to play out. We had a lot to do and many children to meet. We had to be organized, ready for anything because curve-balls happen and we better be ready to handle anything. We had no idea one was about to be thrown at us.
The dinner was great and I was in peace, I felt as if I knew everyone and could count on them for pretty much anything. It is now time to go back to the hotel and as we are all crossing the road, I hear cars and loud banging noises; someone quickly screemed, ” hide behind the walls now and get down.” That is exactly what I did, I ran and finished crossing the street, I hid behind an old wall that was half broken and stayed there until further notice.
As I hid, I looked through the wholes in the wall and saw two cars going at each other with guns. Some in the group and I were in the middle of a shoot-out between the police and what appeared to be drug lords. I was told later that that’s what they were. The police had this very small car and guns that did not look great; while the drug lords had a truck and bigger guns. All that aside, I hid until the road was clear of bangs. I was behind a wall and right to the left of the wall was the hotel I was supposed to be in, after the nice dinner we had.
The loud bangs stopped and I was finally able to walk back to the hotel. I remember upon entering, there was a room with a piano and to the left people were greeting us in English and Spanish; there was a lot of talking. No big conversations, commentaries were had about the shoot out or the hiding behind the wall, we just sort of looked at one another, had this deer in the head-lights kinda look and continued to move forward with the plan.
The plan was everything we talked about. The plan was to devote ourselves to that small orphanage where children were dropped off and refurbish their tiny learning center and later we were go to the Taharumara village and place a clean water filter somewhere we didn’t know yet.
I am not going to go into all the details of this trip because I could probably write a whole book on this alone. Having said that, the first night went by really fast and we closed that night with a prayer specifically thanking God for allowing us to be safe and being grateful non of us were shot in the shoot out. Then we divided ourselves into groups of three or four and went into our separate rooms. Girls with girls and boys with boys, we all went to get much needed sleep.
There I was again eating breakfast in the midst of a few people that were grabbing our luggages and placing them in trucks, telling us to hurry up and get going sooner than later.
It was goodbye hotel and hello middle of nowhere that I didn’t even know to go to but I went. When I asked the where about’s the answer was ” We are going to follow that car and they will show us the way.” We were in the hands of the kind Mexicans missionaries to guide us there and the local pastor. That was definitely a test of trust and perseverance. First the shoot out experience; then it was the ” Let’s follow them.”
The cool part is that not one of us saw this as dangerous or as something we were not excited about. We were so excited to be there and be able to have the experience with those children while transforming their environment, that the whole thing that had previously happened didn’t even wobbled us to do otherwise.
We prayed every morning, every-time we got into the cars and every night before going to sleep in our separate floors, rooms or wherever we were put in. We counted all as joy and adventure. We were happy to serve, be blessed and be there with them as one of us and us as one of them.
We finally arrived in the orphanage; where I had a personal shock and reality check.
I entered in through these rusty gates and immediately noticed the plain grey looking brick walls, ahead of me to the right I saw a sierra with beautiful mountains, and to the left a thing that looked like a house and another smaller structure that they called a school.
Minutes upon arrival, the pastor took us inside where they had a few rooms with red bunkbeds and I also saw some mattresses on the floor with toys around. I kept walking, getting the tour of my life. I had to hold my head up you know, crying on the first day there just wasn’t an option. I kept walking and the more they showed me around the more I swallowed my own saliva so I would not have a complete breakdown.
Now I had seen inside the lodging they had, so they walked me to their eating area next. To my surprise it was actually pretty descent and they had theses big tables that were donated to them. The tables were all lined up one in front of the other in rolls and they had a whole system going that really worked. After that I entered a tiny space; it was their chapel. They made a space for a chapel where they went to thank God for the blessings they had and petition for their necessities. I witnessed that myself on the third day, but we aren’t there yet. Right after that, I walked in their little school; the very place I was assigned to help refurbish.
See, when we were there, there was no male or female. We all did everything we were assigned to do and we took in consideration the fragility of the women present, however it was all about where we wanted to be. It was about where we felt called to serve, that is how we carried out the assignments. We figured that God would place in our hearts what we were to do, and this would show up as an interest for us or an internal inclination, and so we choose accordingly.
We had brought items to give away also, items such as food, pens, pencils, tooth brushes, tooth paste and other school supplies. We crossed the boarders of Chihuahua driving a bus carrying these items for them. See, we flew from South Florida to Texas. When in Texas we went to get our rented bus and we; seventeen of us drove through the boarders. The guard lets us pass happily after they walked in the bus and searched most of everything. They asked us to stand outside and selected some luggages to be smelled by their dogs and to be seen by their people. They knew what we were there to do, so they let us pass through. Not to ruin the surprise but we came back that same way also, through the boarders while driving ourselves in a big bus. We had no guns, no means to defend ourselves. We had us, our prayers and bibles everywhere. We figured that would be enough, as long as we have His word, we have everything we needed.
Yes, we were previously warned of possible dangers, however we spoke amongst ourselves much more about the rewards, celebration and blessings that this opportunity was to give and get from and to us a lot more then allowing ourselves to dwell in useless worries. I personally knew worry never gets anyone anywhere, but where hope is found blessings abide. I was there for them, and all I had in mind was them. I was excited about making a difference in their lives and allowing them to make a difference in mine.
Now I am fully acquainted with the orphanage and it’s structure. It’s time to meet all the children. We prayed first and the group and I walked into their eating room. The pastor made a brief introduction in Spanish and introduced us all including myself and two other translators. I said hello to some of the children while others were personally engaging in conversations with other members of the group.
This was a day that I realized how privileged I am to live in a country such as America. We had brought big bags of fruits, apples being one of them. Some of the girls from the group set besides the children talking to them getting to know them while sharing food and eating with them. Others were standing watching, and distributing the foods. I remember as if it was today, the time the children were given the apples. I was besides this little boy.
His close were worn out and he had some dirt on his face from playing outside, and he kept hitting the apple on the table as if it was a toy. As I have seen, it’s common for children to play with their food, so I thought that was what he was doing, simply playing.
After a while of observing him hitting the apple on the table, I went up to the man standing who knows them really well. I asked him if he knew anything about the boy’s behavior and if there was something I could do for him. The man kindly responded, “He doesn’t know what to do with the apple, he has never had one.” My world was slightly shared at that moment, I could not imagine a child living right besides me, I mean in Mexico. It is right besides the U.S technically my neighbor; not being able to eat an apple.
I walked up to the boy and set with him at the table. I showed him as I cut the apple how to eat it. He acted surprised and sort of gravitated towards some of the other food he had. He did eat the apple. The main thought in my mind was ” What if he likes this apple and I cannot assure that he will have this for the rest of his life? ”
See, I was not the richest in the group and I was there temporarily for a couple of weeks. I only had a couple of weeks to do something for them and the reality set in fast, after seeing the boy.
That afternoon we separated ourselves in groups. A few girls were to the left in some room doing activities with some of the children such as face painting, games and girl talk. Some were outside playing with footballs and other toys the boys had brought with them. I was at the school cleaning, dusting off and removing old furniture from inside the place to outside in the sun. Some of the girls that were with me, were sanding off the old paint from the furniture I had just given them, so we could refurbish them to be re-used in the school again. Some of the guys were striping the paint from the walls inside so we could re-paint it. Meanwhile some were placing the new school supplies we had brought for them.
We had a sytem going, it worked. We did more in a few days than a lot of people do in months. The work was intense, we didn’t stop. It was days, afternoons and evenings dedicated to this sort of fun. We had a blast.
We shared skits with them, that we created ourselves from bible stories, we played guitar for them and sang songs they had never heard, which had them started on singing for us also. It was fun to see strangers become friends through just simple acts of kindness.
We took turns between serving and sharing at the orphanage and the Taharumara Indian village, where we found a place near the mountains to place a water filtration system.
I won’t go into much details about this village because this blog entry is already so long and the longest one yet. In order to keep it shorter I will share about the orphans and the widows.
I walked up to one of the women in the Taharumara village, I had the impression she was a single one. I asked about her children through a translator, the Indians do not speak Spanish, they speak their own language. She shared with me that she had ten children, and I saw only two of them. So I asked her where the others ones were so I could meet them also; she proceeded to tell me they were up in heaven as she pointed up. I had no idea what to say at that moment. There were so many moments in this trip that shaped my life. It was as if carving a pathway. The villagers also shared with us that their language is the only one where the word love, does not exist. How do I express love to someone who’s language does not even convey such.
So I kept asking questions and I learned more in that afternoon in the village than in supreme college courses. This was life vivid and in colors. They don’t have consistent medical care, dental care or methods of preventions. The children often die before the age of five.
I will never know if I was ever able to actually be the love they needed. All I knew is we saw what they needed most and we actually spent time with them. We were the most interested people they knew during those days and we prayed for them everyday. They needed water, we gave them water. We didn’t take doctors there, we didn’t take dentists there and I wish we could have.
I didn’t know much about them prior to this trip aside from the common knowledge I found online while researching. You see, there was not much about Taharumaras online prior to this trip we took. I left the village that day to go back to the orphanage and finish what we had started. That day was midweek counting from the day we started, and that night we slept in missionary housing away from the sight we were working at.
We slept in different locations for most of the time we were there and everyday was an adventure. We took very short showers due to lack of clean water. I was dead tired and yet filled with so much joy, fulfillment and spirit that not even the swine flu breakout stopped me. Oh, and to clarify, upon arriving back to the U.S my blood was tested and I never acquired the flu even though I hugged all those children. I washed my hands a lot and used bottled water to wash my face.
Long were the days and short the hours. We truly enjoyed so much that we felt as if they were blessing us instead of the other way around. At the end of this trip the orphanage was refurbished, the village had clean water and I met children who’s courage spoke louder than any words. They were dropped off in that orphanage regardless of age. I saw a seven year old boy be dropped off and he thought he was going to picked up. His parents dropped him off as some people drop a puppy. It is horrific I know, however if we judge them, we simply cannot love them. Their parents cannot afford them and due to lack some are dropped off. The good part is that the missionaries were there to pick them up at the orphanage and take care of them there.
When we drove and crossed the borders back to America, my life had transformed. I quickly saw that even around me here, although dressed differently, orphans are everywhere and widows are many. I saw single mothers in similar needs, people with parents that are no where to be found. I saw how much work is needed here also and how easy it is for us all to get side tracked, distracted with things that don’t matter.
The difference we make is in the difference itself. I had no idea what was going to happen during that trip. I was willing, present, compelled, spirit filled; I had so much joy and I brought that with me. For some reason that was enough. They shared all they had with us, and we shared us with them. We ate with the orphans, the widows, the sick, the blind, the Indians, the pastors, the missionaries, the strangers, the friends, the rich, the poor, the man, the women, and on the last night we ate amognst ourselves only while barefoot and wearing white.
We definitely talked about Jesus to them but most of all we extended His actions. In that exchange of love towards one another, I became different. I hope to continue to live this diference everywhere I go.
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come, your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors,
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.