Editor’s Note: The following is part of our daily holiday series celebrating “The Shared World.”

January 12, 2010: the day the whole world turned its eyes towards Haiti. The day I began a lifelong journey.

The day I started to fall in love.

I was 18 years old and in my freshman year of college. I remember walking on campus with my best friend, talking about the earthquake, trying to fathom the fear, confusion, the destruction that had suddenly struck this country. We had the typical conversation; “Wow, how horrible,” and, “I’ll be sure to pray for everyone in Haiti at Mass.” But in my head I thought, “What else?”

What was I supposed to do, go down to Haiti and help these people? I had nothing to offer them—no construction skills, no medical expertise, no money. Surely I was doing all I could by praying and reading every news update, as if that was making a difference.

But seeds were being planted. The more I read, the more sorrow I felt. This wasn’t the usual, distant sorrow we feel with a tragedy that’s far removed from us; it felt personal, like I knew each of those people in Haiti. All I wanted to do was be there with them, grieve with them, hope with them, love them.

But I was 18. A student. A poor student. It was not the time for me to be there.

It’s funny what can happen in two years, though. The Lord says in Isaiah, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways,” or, as I’ve seen this in my life, my plans are absurd and God gives me a better one.

My plan was to serve on a mission trip somewhere in the future. God wanted me to go to Haiti for spring break my junior year.

There is a mission in the village of Duverger, about a four-hour bumpy truck ride from Port-au-Prince. It’s a Catholic mission with an orphanage called Kay Mari (House of Mary) that first opened its doors months before the earthquake.

haiti

Kay Mari

They originally had one little boy living there. Since they miraculously suffered no structural damage, they quickly grew to having more than 15 children. With no one else to take care of them, these kids were brought into a new kind of family, one with multiple parents from the orphanage staff and about a dozen siblings.

I spent the week with the most joyful children I have ever met. These kids have heartbreaking stories, yet you would never guess that because they were so…normal. Running, screaming, playing.

I realized it was because they were in an environment where they were surrounded by love. And that week we didn’t fix roads or dig wells or paint houses. All we did was help out with anything that needed to be done.

We delivered food to people, we sorted clothing donations, we played with the kids, we prayed with them. We were completely immersed in their everyday lives. We didn’t try to “improve” their lifestyle or “fix” their problems—we served them in ways they needed. We loved each of them and they loved each of us crazy Americans.

This desire for service and ministry of presence didn’t end that week. It was simply the start of my lifelong journey of mission that began in the arms of Kay Mari.

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