After being in South Sudan for over three months now, I think it is safe to say that I am falling in love. I received a message from a friend this past week that reminded me of the true meaning of falling in love as Fr. Pedro Arrupe, SJ explained it. He said, "Nothing is more practical than finding God, than falling in Love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, whom you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything." As soon as I was reminded of this quote, I knew immediately how applicable it is to my current life.
|There is always time for a spontaneous dance party!|
I'm going to let my Jesuit educational background come out for a minute. All throughout university, I was taught to live out the Jesuit core values--one of which is finding God in all things. This may seem pretty self explanatory, but I have found that it goes deeper than a surface-level understanding. Finding God in each person I come in contact with, in every experience, leads to knowing Him more. Even though I was repeatedly taught this value and encouraged to incorporate it into my life, I guess I never fully experienced the true meaning. Since coming here, this idea has been observed in such a full and concrete way. When I lay in bed at night and reflect on my day, I see God…in my site partners, in activities from the day, in the community, in the beautiful environment around me, and most fully, in my sweet, joyful, mischievous kids. I don't think I have ever experienced such complete and unconditional love from a group of people that were strangers just a short three months ago.
|The girls preparing to dance for Sunday Mass.|
I have found God in these kids, and as Arrupe said, they have quickly affected everything in my life. They have made me become more focused on the present moment and more concerned about the person who is in front of me at that moment. Slowly, they have pulled me away from electronic devices that can easily steal away hours from my day, so I can spend time with them and love them in that moment. I see God in their many self-giving actions and words--when the altar boys come every weekend to work around our compound. Or when the girls devote hours of their day to prepare dances to enhance Sunday mass. I see God in the kids when they greet me and ask me how I am because I know it is more than just a "Hi, how are you." They genuinely are concerned and truly care about how I am. I see God in the kids when they invite me to their homes after school or on the weekend to just sit and be present with them. I see God in them when, day after day, they repeatedly offer to share their lunch with me. I see God in them even when they are loud, can't sit still, and bursting with energy in class and I can't take it anymore--because they are bursting with God's energy and love. God is undoubtedly present every morning when so many kids gather for Mass before the school day starts. And to conclude the day, I see God through the kids when we say the rosary and twelve and thirteen-year-old boys lead each decade. I truly am finding God in all things here, in all aspects of this simple and joyful life.
|Visiting some of our students.|
The days are quickly passing and sometimes it is hard to distinguish events of one day from another because I have gotten into a new normal routine. But one thing is constant and makes every day different-the way I see God in such a concrete way in the children. In their big brown eyes, bright white smiles, and dirty little hands. Even though I discipline the kids for disturbing class or if I occasionally rush by kids instead of greeting each one, the kids constantly show me unconditional love every single day…they show me God's love. It is impossible not to fall in love. They are the reason I get out of bed in the morning, they fill my evenings with playing and dancing, they keep me occupied on the weekends, and they definitely fill me with joy and gratitude. It only took three short months, but I have repeatedly found God in these kiddos, and in falling in love with these kids, I have fallen even more in love with God.