|Four and a friend.|
I'm quite sure there are people in the world who take spiritual retreats that are somewhat different than this one. They sit in darkened cathedrals and pray, they walk through labyrinths and reflect. They think deep thoughts, and I'm so glad they do because then they write them down and I appreciate the deep thoughts but I'm spared the effort of thinking them myself.
Instead, my spiritual retreat is at this tiny little enclave of sanity in the million-person madness that is Reynosa, Mexico. Inside the concrete block walls of this mission right across the border at the very tip of Texas are seven yellow houses where children take shelter from families of indescribable dysfunction. Children who have been chained to beds by mothers desperate to earn enough money to keep them alive. Children who were found in jail cells with their mothers. Children of drug addicted, or mentally ill, or abusive parents.
Relatives or loved ones have brought these youngsters to Refugio Internacional de Ninos. Here they are fed, clothed, housed, and educated until they graduate. That doesn't mean graduation from junior high--they are educated through college if they choose to attend, and CHI foots the bill.
Most of all, though, these kids are loved. Houseparents in each of the yellow houses flat-out love these kids. Hundreds of volunteers who do work projects on the campus love these kids. Contributors from the States may never even meet the children they sponsor, but you can trust me when I say they still love them.
And the kids love back. They swarm visitors with hugs and smiles, and use the few English words they know to communicate--"Push?" they pull a volunteer toward the swings. Or "Bite!" as they brush the ever-present ants off a sandaled foot.
For four days my group painted bedrooms and swung sledgehammers to break up a cement floor where new plumbing will go. We sweat copiously and probably smelled atrocious, but doing this work felt as cleansing as a cool shower.
You see, I'm of the belief that when it comes to sharing my faith, a cool drink of water (or a bedroom painted, or a toilet installed) in the name of Christ is more convincing than a sermon. There's nothing wrong with using a lot bigger pulpit to get the message across, but this one-on-one demonstration of solidarity for humanity and against the lunacy outside the campus walls is much more my style.
It's my spiritual retreat, and I needed it so very much.