Editor’s Note: Current Missioner, Erin McHugh shares a beautiful encounter in which God allowed her to grow in love with the kids at Valley of the Angels in Guatemala.

When I first arrived at Valley almost 2 years ago, I was so overwhelmed by the 215 kids. I didn’t know how I could give the love each of them needed. Being an introvert, I knew I couldn’t give myself to all 215 kids, and that gave me great anxiety. However, I knew God called me to Valley for a reason–to love these kids–so I prayed to God to strengthen my heart and show me who needed my love the most. I found myself drawn to the girls who were sitting alone, separate from the crowds, silently reading their books. I was drawn to them because those are the kids I can most relate and connect to: the quiet ones who maybe aren’t always noticed by the others.

I was especially drawn to one girl with whom I felt a deep connection, like God was calling me to her. So I made an effort to pay close attention to her. She was one of the more quiet girls, who kept to herself and her books. She wasn’t as outwardly affectionate or loving as some of the other kids, but she had the most beautiful smile and I could see a special light inside of her just waiting to shine through. I would gently come up to her when she was reading and ask her about her day and her books. At first, I could tell she wasn’t so sure about talking to me, but little by little she began to open up. She would talk to me about her books and her day. She shared with me about her family and her life before coming to Valley. She shared with me her hopes and dreams for the future. I would write her letters of encouragement and support. I wanted her to know that her voice mattered, and that I was grateful for her opening her heart to me. I wanted her to know she wasn’t alone. I wanted her to feel loved and noticed.

Through pouring myself into this one girl, I grew in love, to the point that it was like I was overflowing with love. I was spreading more love than I ever thought I had, and it was reaching each and every child. The more time I spent with this girl, I began to see her heart expand and her own love grow. She began to greet me each morning, and she sometimes even gave me a hug. She would excitedly run up to me to share any good news that she had received. She began to spend more time talking with her classmates. She began to offer help and showed kindness toward the younger kids. It was so beautiful to witness her heart open and her share the beautiful gifts and talents God had given her. I was so incredibly proud of the young woman she was becoming, which was the person I always saw in her.

At the end of this year, she wrote me the most beautiful letter. It brought tears to my eyes and said,“Gracias por creer en mí y gracias por querer ser mi amiga, a pesar del dolor que te he causado. Gracias por brindarme tu apoyo y por acercarme más a Dios. Mi madre piensa que soy la oveja negra de la familia pero tengo a alguien especial quien cuando estoy con ella, me siento más cerca de Dios, ella es valiente, sincera, amable, ella da amor a pesar del dolor. Esa persona eres tú Erin, te quiero mucho. Eres diferente, convertiste mis corazón de piedra en uno más humano.”

Translation: Thank you for believing in me and thank you for wanting to be my friend, despite the pain I’ve caused you. Thank you for giving me your support and for getting me closer to God. My mother thinks I’m the black sheep of the family but I have someone special who, when I’m with her, I feel closer to God, she’s brave, sincere, kind, she gives love despite the pain. That person is you Erin, I love you very much! You are different, you turned my heart of stone into one more human.

I was so touched that I was completely speechless; I didn’t even know what to say to her. I just told her that I loved her very much, and she would always hold a special place in my heart. It was in the moment that my heart grew even more in love. My heart was strengthened and I began to realize that I could indeed love these kids, and love them deeply. I began to see that showing a little bit of attention and love to one person can make the biggest difference in their life.

It has now been my mission to seek out those who are unnoticed and share with them the love I have received and now been able to give ten times more than I ever thought I could. This is just one story of love (out of many) that I have witnessed at Valley. Here, I am blessed to be able to witness such beautiful moments of Love blossoming around me everyday.

Reflection Question: In what ways has your capacity to love been strengthened by the love given by others?