Editor’s note: Missioner Amanda Ceraldi shares her interactions with the families of the children she cares for at Valley of the Angels School in Guatemala.

I could hear them from across the parking lot. A group of girls screaming my name: “Amanda, Amanda, Amanda, we have a surprise for you!” They pulled me into the school and filled my arms with fruits from their families’ yards. I walked out of the school that day with papayas, pineapples, bananas, and jocotes, a bounty of my favorite fruits and the biggest smile on my face. When I returned to my apartment after a morning of visiting with my students’ families I came back with a lot more than just fruit.  

The first Friday of the month is everyone’s favorite day at Valley. We welcome the families of our students to visit their children for the morning. The days leading up to family visit day are full of anticipation. The night before hardly anyone can sleep and when the morning comes the kids are full of excitement. When the families finally arrive, everyone is full of smiles and ready to share the day with their loved ones.

Family visit day has become one of my favorites as well. I have grown to love the mothers and fathers, grandparents, and aunts, and even great-grandparents who come to visit their children at Valley. I often joke that my arms get very full when family visit day comes around. As I walk around our campus stopping every few feet to sit and talk with the families, I come away with different gifts. Usually it is my favorite fruits; sometimes it’s fresh-baked bread or homemade empanadas; other times it’s grilled corn or traditional Guatemalan tamales.

These gifts don’t always come in the form of food. Sometimes they are photos of grandfathers riding their horses in a competition in their local community; sometimes they are handwoven traditional Guatemalan blouses; sometimes the gifts are simple hugs and conversations.  

These small gifts have produced some of my greatest joy. They have allowed me to enter into the lives of these families. Not only do I get to love their children everyday here at Valley, but I get to hear about their other children, their jobs, and their lives. More often than not, my arms are full of gifts of appreciation from the families, but what is even fuller is my heart. It is full of joy and bliss, kindness and grace, hope and love, for these families have brought me into their families and made me feel at home.

Reflection question: When have you felt a kinship with a group of people not related to you?