“Finding Christ in the Face of a Child.” This is the motto of the Salesian Lay Missioners. It is such a simple saying that grew to have so much meaning for me as an SLM. Through the SLMs, I sought to be placed in the village of Gumbo in South Sudan where I worked closely with the Salesians in their high school and their after-school youth oratory.
I remember first arriving to the village and feeling lost and lonely. I was far from home, the living conditions weren’t great, and I was “stuck” there for the foreseeable future. It was the children in the village who welcomed me into their place and made it feel more and more like home over the next couple of months.
Everyday after oratory we would pray the rosary in front of the Church. One of my responsibilities was to collect all the balls and the play equipment and put them back in the storage shed while guiding the children towards the Church for the rosary. This always caused me to be a little bit behind the children in getting to the Church. However, one day as I was feeling down and was walking towards the Church to join the rest of the youth for prayer, I felt something brush up against my hand and then grab it. I looked down and saw this child, tenderly holding my hand and looking up at me with a look of love. From then on, everyday a child and I would walk hand-in-hand to the Church for prayer and through those children, I could see the love of Christ and be comforted.
Through playing with the children and teaching at the secondary school, my relationships with the community grew to a point where I considered it ‘home’.
The experience came with many challenges that tested my limits, but not a day goes by where I do not think of my students and the children I played with during my time there. It is a moment in my life I cherish dearly and keep close to my heart. It is an experience that I constantly replay through my head in prayer and speak of in great fondness. It is what informed my decision to come back to Notre Dame to enter the Master of Divinity program and fuels my desire to work in the field of international development.