“Love the poor like you would love the Eucharist.” These words have continually burned in my heart for eight years. I heard them during my first mission trip: I was an eager college junior, spending my spring break with the Hope of the Poor. I was sitting on the floor of a small chapel in Mexico City, listening to our group’s chaplain, Father Felix, give a reflection at the start of Eucharistic Adoration. “Love the poor like you would love the Eucharist;” only three days in and my heart was unknowingly transformed in an instant.
This trip was a medical mission: we served women at Villa Mujeres, a government run facility that housed physically or mentally handicapped women. Most had been abandoned by their families, who were either unable to take care of them or no longer wished to. Most of our tasks that week included feeding the women at meals; bathing and clothing them; brushing hair, clipping nails, applying lotion, handing out socks for cold feet. A lot of little tasks. Simple. But oh, so hard as well.
On the first day, I was asked to help feed some women their breakfast. I started out by spooning some oatmeal into the mouth of a wheelchair-bound woman who could only repeat the same incomprehensible phrase, over and over again. As it turned out, these became my daily tasks for the duration of our trip. Little, simple, hard. I never learned her name, even though I asked around many times, but every day I had the privilege of serving her.
As I continued to ponder Father Felix’s reflection and serve this woman, I considered the words written on the wall of every chapel where the Missionaries of Charity live and serve, the cry of Jesus from the cross: “I thirst.” Jesus, from the cross, cried out in his poverty, his vulnerability. Those incomprehensible, repeated words of this woman I served struck me as being that same cry of poverty: “I thirst”. Never before had I encountered such hopelessness and poverty as I saw in these women. Never before had I experienced the deep hunger and thirst they showed for love, friendship, and kindness. Stunned in this moment, I could see the Lord I knew, he whom I gazed upon so lovingly in the chapel, staring back at me through the eyes of this little, old woman sitting in front of me, crying out in her poverty for consolation. In serving this woman I realized I had been serving the Lord Himself. These little, small tasks must be done with an attentive heart, with listening ears. They must be done with love. In consoling this woman, I was consoling the very heart of Jesus. Our Lord’s preferential love is always for the poor, and in loving them, we love him in a powerful way.
Never again would my heart be the same.
These are the exact moments mission trips are made for, to know and encounter Jesus Christ, to grow in relationship with Him who created all goodness and love, while serving as His hands and feet. To quote the line from the great movie Les Misérables, “To love another person is to see the face of God.”
Often first-time mission goers (such as my college self) imagine how much good they will be accomplishing when they go on mission. Most of the time, these students are surprised to find the immense impact the people they serve have, instead, on them personally; they marvel at the ways they learn to receive and totally rely on the Lord’s Providence. As wonderful as mission trips are, we fool ourselves to think that we can go and cure someone’s poverty and loneliness in a short week. But, boy, can we come away seeing Christ in a totally new light!
It has taken many years for me to realize the profound impact that first mission trip had on my life. I walked away having encountered Jesus Christ as I never had before; my heart was pieced with a desire to deeply love the Eucharist and to give my life away in service of others. I realize now what a pivotal point it was for me, a key factor leading me to say “yes” to becoming a FOCUS missionary on campus and then to work full-time for FOCUS Missions, facilitating and planning for many more students to go on mission as I did all those years ago.
In the 15+ missions I’ve gone on in the last eight years, I have been constantly surprised at the ever-new ways the Lord continues to show up in my life. If you haven’t been on a mission trip before, I highly encourage you to apply as soon as possible! Go on mission, it could change your life.
Want to go on a mission trip with FOCUS Missions? Apply here!