Editor’s note: As four students from Valley of the Angels prepare to graduate, Missioner Amanda Ceraldi shares how her friendship with them over the last two years has impacted her and her time on mission.

I must have said goodbye to George* at least ten times.  Every time I saw him I would squeeze him in my arms, kiss him on the forehead, and tell him how proud of him I was.  We had just left George’s 6th grade promotion ceremony, and he was packing his bags to go home.  This was the last time I would see him before he left and moved on to a new school next year, and I wasn’t sure if I could handle it.

George was one of the first students I met when I came to Valley nearly two years ago.  At first, I was convinced that he hated me.  He spent a lot of time avoiding me, never talked to me, and would make as little eye contact with me as possible. However, after a few weeks of slowly breaking down the barriers George had built up, he told me that he loved me and that I was his best friend. We’ve spent the past two years talking together, laughing together, and playing together.  George has become one of my best friends.  I once asked him why he didn’t like me when I first came to Valley.  He laughed at me and said that he’s struggled his whole life with people walking into his life and then quickly turning around and leaving him.  He was afraid that once again he would be abandoned.  George told me that he hadn’t trusted me and couldn’t love me until he knew I wasn’t going to leave.

George and the three other boys who recently graduated from Valley were the four kids I quickly fell in love with when I came to Valley.  They were the boys that laughed at my poor Spanish pronunciation and helped me practice to get better, the boys who helped take out my trash, brought my fruits and vegetables to my door, and volunteered to clean my apartment. They were the boys who asked for clases de consejoadvice classes, on everything from their education to family struggles, and how to treat women and life after Valley.  These boys taught me how to love and became like my sons.

january_amanda-and-george       january_amandas-four-boys                                                      Amanda and George                                                            The four 6th grade boys celebrating Guatemala’s Independence Day

In the final week before their graduation, and ultimately our last time all together, the four boys joined me and other members of the Valley community in my apartment for a graduation lunch filled with every possible food the boys could dream of.  As we sat around the table Fr. Michael, the director at Valley, began to ask the boys questions about their time at Valley and what their dreams and goals are for the future.  That quickly changed into conversations on religion and what God wants for us in our lives.

As I sat around the table listening to my “sons” talk about their hopes and dreams, tears filled my eyes. I’ve never had such an immense feeling of joy and pride.  I watched these boys grow over the last two years; before my eyes, they went from little boys to young men.  I may be dreading the days that we are no longer together at Valley, but I know in my heart that these boys are prepared for the world.  They are strong and kind, caring and determined, joyful and loving.  These four boys that I love so much will always be in my heart.  They became my best friends and my sons.  They taught me more than I could have ever imagined, and I will forever be grateful for their presence in my life.

Reflection Question: take some time to reflect on the people who have impacted you in your life recently. What can you do today to show them your love and gratitude?

* name has been changed to respect the anonymity of the student