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Editor’s Note: Missioner Amanda Ceraldi shares how she’s been challenged to let go of cultural problems outside of her control while serving on mission at Valley of the Angels school in Guatemala.

It seems like every other day one of my students shares a tragedy they’ve experienced in their lives with me. These tragedies range from physical abuse to the deaths of parents and neighborhood gang violence to not knowing if there will be enough food for dinner. These stories stay with me; they weigh on my heart, and they often cause me to feel frustrated.

When Samantha came up to me in tears I immediately knew someone was wrong. Like many of the kids here at Valley who have experienced tragedies in their lives, Samantha has a hard exterior, but a gentle heart. Her tears were flowing, so I hugged her and asked, qué pasa, mi amor, what’s going on, my love? She couldn’t answer, so I just let her cry, soaking my shirt with her tears.

About an hour later, Samantha’s younger brother Ollie came up to me and asked, tú me quieres, verdad?, you love me right? Por supuestoof course, I answered. Ollie, much like Samantha, has never been a really affectionate person, so I was immediately concerned.

Later that afternoon I learned that Samantha, Ollie, and their younger brother Steve, all students at Valley, had just found out, on nearly the two year anniversary of their sister’s death, that their older brother was killed while serving a prison sentence for gang related activity. It suddenly all made sense – Samantha’s tears, Ollie’s questions, they were mourning the loss of their big brother.

A group of girls praying

A group of girls praying

It was in that moment, after hearing the news of the latest tragedy, that I began to question why I couldn’t change the fact that these precious kids have to experience such a great loss. Why can’t I stop the violence that is a normal part of their lives? Why couldn’t I take away all of their pain from another death in their family?

I’ll never pretend to understand the systematic problems that plague Guatemala. The gang violence, the drugs, the abuses that seem so common in this country, will never make any sense to me. I want to stop them from occurring. I never want my students to have to worry about whether they will receive a call telling them that their parents, brothers, sisters, or any other family member was killed. But I’ve also come to the realization that as much as I want to end these systematic problems, they are outside of my control.

I’m learning that I have to let go of these tragedies that I can’t control. I am discovering that hugging my students, letting them cry, and reminding them how much I love them is something I can control and is something that might be able to alleviate a little bit of the hurt.

Reflection Question: Sometimes, it can be hard to understand the difference between what we can and cannot change. How can you be more intentional about focusing on the things that you can change and letting go of the things you can’t?