We’re at the midpoint of our mission trip and already the comments have started. What I am going to do first when I get back to Miami? Versailles or La Carreta is a popular answer. Take a long shower, sit on the toilet for an hour, or stand under the AC vent come a close second. I confess I had already thought of one yesterday.
This is understandable. We are not used to this type of living. When you are tired from so much hard labor, burnt from hours under the Dominican sun, and caked in cement from so much mixing, you can’t help but fantasize about life in Miami.
There is no question the boys are impressed. Actually, they are moved by the experience of poverty. Last night when we celebrated mass under the stars, I asked them to share what most caught their attention. Their answer: Cachi.
Down at the worksite there is an 80 year old campesina as thin and frail as you will ever see. For the last three days she has worn the same blue dress, the same black flip flops, and the same white bandana covering her head. As our young men work hard at mixing cement and lugging buckets, she walks up and down the road picking up all the garbage she finds. Not a single empty water bottle or cement bag, used napkin from lunch break, or torn glove escapes her. She collects them all and piles them together to throw away when the boys leave.
I asked her why she did that. She told me, “I have to do something. I don’t want ‘los americanos’ to work in a dirty place.” One by one she pats them on the back and tells them, “gracias a Dios y a ustedes” (thank God and you). No great feats of strength, no mastery of the pick or shovel, no knowledge of construction or carpentry, she simply had a profound sense of gratitude and a desire to do something; to do anything.
As I reflected on how the boys shared this experience, I realized that our call to service is not made simply to those who have for those who have not. Our call to service is universal and requires a response from everyone. What little I have in the face of such great challenges can go a long way. It can teach an extraordinary lesson.
Belen Jesuit is blessed with some of the greatest teachers Miami and the nation have to offer. Our classrooms are technologically sound, our campus is modern and attractive, and our pedagogy is rich and seeped in the Ignatian tradition of excellence. However, I would be willing to bet there is no greater teacher for these boys than this 80 year old, poor and illiterate campesina. Belen currently doesn’t recognize a teacher of the year, but if it did, Cachi would win.