For the second year in a row, I spent my spring break in Tijuana, Mexico, with a group of student ministers from First Presbyterian Church. I think I'm prepared for what I will see, experience, hear and feel. I've already seen what a lack of running water and basic sanitation does to a community living on the edges of a garbage dump. At the entrance to the dump is a cemetery full of strewn and scattered markers commemorating the children who have died here without the basic living conditions that most Americans take for granted.
Each year we stay at a nearby orphanage, which is our home for the week. This year we have been asked by student leaders to reflect on our experiences through eyes of the children who live here, at the orphanage, the garbage dump and in the surrounding community. Our prayer for the week is, "Lord break our hearts with the things that break yours."
Imagine my surprise that what I see, experience, hear and feel this year is not anger, but joy -- even as my heart is broken. For I begin to sense that for us, salvation this week will come through the gifts of those who live and work here, at the orphanage, the dump and in the surrounding community. I hear it in the words of "welcome home" to those of us who are returning, as we make our way into the orphanage.
I see it on our first full workday, when one of the vans gets stuck. It is precariously close to dropping off a cliff. As panic sets in, someone in the group notices a tow truck. The driver is visiting friends in the neighborhood and has borrowed his boss's truck for the day. When he finds out who we are, he clears everyone out before completing his rescue. He refuses our money, because once, years ago, he had lived in the orphanage himself.
I feel it one evening when one of the young men in our group after dinner suddenly begins to weep. Another young man moves near him, to sit with him in his pain. Suddenly one of the orphan children moves over to the young man who is weeping and begins to rub his back. It is a beautiful scene that continues until the tears subside.
My wife and daughter are part of the all-women's team that built a house this year. I get to witness the presentation of the keys to the proud owners of the new house. After we all pray together -- first in Spanish, then in English -- the woman of the house, Patricia, says to my wife Patty, "Months ago, when I heard your name was the same as mine and knew that all young women were going to build our house, I began praying for you by name."
I tell my wife this moment contained the joy that comes from being part of the human community. There is no hiding the fact that all of us are needy. Moments like these strip us of the illusion that we are in control.
Publication date: 05/01/03