I often forget where the students at Valley of the Angels come from. I forget the lifestyles they face at home. I forget that they are at Valley for a reason.
I forget this because, more often than not, the kids are full of love and smiles. I see them laughing, studying, and playing games. I experience them giving me hugs and kisses, braiding my hair, and helping me practice my Spanish.
I can’t see where they live, the food they eat when at home, or the people they live with when school is not in session. I can’t experience the pain they suffering from losing family members to gang violence, the fear of abuse they might face, or poverty they live in. And for me, this is an unsettling reality.
This unsettling reality comes with a lot of baggage. Recently the kids at Valley returned from a 10-day mid-year break. As they prepared to leave I was worried. Worried for their safety, for their physical and mental wellbeing, and for the lifestyle they have no control over.
This worry stems from an unfortunate situation that we recently experienced here at Valley. One of the women who works in the kitchen lost her husband to a drive-by gang shooting. They believe that his death was retaliation from forbidding their son to hang out with the local gang members. This story has been weighing heavily on my heart for the past few weeks, not only for the woman and her family, but for the knowledge that this is reality for so many people here in Guatemala and for so many of the kids here at Valley.
The kids here at Valley have captured my heart faster than I ever could have imagined possible, but the more I know about their lives, the more unsettled I feel. Their everyday lives involve things I can only imagine—abuse, malnutrition, violence, and drugs. Their “normal” challenges me to come out of my comfort zone.
With this unsettling reality comes a great deal of responsibility for me as a missioner. As a missioner dedicated to the Franciscan charism, it is a part of my call from God to be present, just as St. Francis was. I am not called to dwell on what has been unsettling in the past and I am not called to worry about what could happen in the future and outside of my control.
I have been called to walk the journey with people I encounter on mission despite feeling unsettled or uncomfortable. I am called to hear their stories, however overwhelming, and embrace them in their pain. I am called to love them as my own family, so that they know they will always be loved.
This unsettling reality could weigh me down, but it has lifted me up and is calling me deeper into mission.