JACKSON, Tenn. – April 8, 2005 – After beginning their day at 3 a.m. in Jackson, Tenn., the team of 32 students from Union University peered through the thick glass of the airplane windows to view the rolling Guatemalan green mountains under the noontime sun.
Weeks of preparation had instilled expectations of hard work, language barriers and other possible difficulties, but the team, led by Wendy Veazey, Union’s director of alumni relations and annual support, was ready to see how God would use them.
“We didn’t really know what to expect when we got there,” junior Kari Bachman said. “Yet somehow God had a plan and purpose, and continually humbled us throughout the trip.”
During the fall semester of 2004, the members of the team applied to be a part of a Global Outreach trip, a mission trip organized by Union through the Office of Campus Ministries. This team of 32 included students all ages, from freshman to seniors, as well as Lewis and Debbie Murphy, the parents of Union senior, Katie Murphy.
The group traveled to Casa Para Niños Aleluya, a children’s home in Guatemala City that provides a home and an education for 419 children. Children are placed at Casa Para Niños if their home is not safe, if they have been abused, if the courts can’t locate their parents or if their parents are unable to feed and house them. One special aspect of the trip was the presence of Union senior Estela Argueta, who grew up in the children’s home.
The Union group partnered with Casa Para Niños for one week assisting with the upkeep and weekly tasks of the home, as well as building relationships with the children. They painted schoolrooms, cleaned dormitories, changed diapers, distributed Bibles, assisted with meals for the children, mopped floors and completed any of the many other tasks asked of them.
The founder of Casa Para Niños, Mike Clark, or Papi, as he is referred to by all of the children and staff, also encouraged each team member to spend considerable time each day playing and loving the children.
As the week progressed, the team began to build individual relationships with specific children. Each person spent time connecting with different children of the home, whether they were 14-month-old babies, 10-year-old girls or teenage boys. These budding relationships took on deeper meaning on the third evening of the trip when all of the children, staff and volunteers assembled in the main building of the campus for Santa Cena, or Communion.
Small tables were placed in the center of the great room with loaves of bread, bowls of grape juice and candles. The children filed into their seats as silently as can be expected, with the “gringos,” the children’s term for Americans, dispersed throughout the room with a child in their laps and one at each side.
Santa Cena is a very special occasion for these children. It is only celebrated twice a year and is an opportunity for all of those at the home to gather together. In an environment where family is often a source of pain and struggle, Papi and the rest of the staff at Casa Para Niños use this occasion to redefine for these children what it truly means to be a family.
Many have brothers and sisters at the home; often all of the children of a family are sent there together. On this night, the oldest child acts as the head of the family and administers the Santa Cena to the rest of his or her siblings.
Each family would make its way to a table, taking along other children who did not have siblings and members of the Union team with whom they had grown close. Some children who were there alone would create their own “families,” and participate in the occasion together. With every little head bowed in the faint candlelight, the oldest child would give out a piece of bread dipped in the grape juice and say a small blessing for each member of the family.
For the students from Union, the evening was not about what they could do or give, but about what they could learn. These children illustrated a true definition of family, not contingent upon blood, history, circumstance or even language. Every face around them that quiet night, no matter the color, was the face of a brother or sister. Every individual, no matter his or her age, was simply a child of God, honoring the words of Jesus.
For many, never had the words of 1 John 3:17 been so clear: “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.”
By Jill Martin ('05)