Orphans and singles, singles and orphans, you bring the two together and it’s like a nuclear bomb of love, a miracle potion. Orphans and singles are like two sides of the same coin, two halves of the same whole, a perfect fit. When we meet for the first time it’s more like we’re finding each other again after a long separation, a type of homecoming.
The first Singles Serving Orphans Mission trip was in February of 2008. 22 missionaries from all over the US met in Tucson, Arizona, and then drove two hours south, about 40 miles across the border into Mexico, to the Casa de Elizabeth Orphanage in the little town of Imuris. We were thinking that if the trip went well we might do it again, once every year.
In the subsequent 16 months we have made eight more mission trips to visit the eighty orphans at Casa de Elizabeth. We have rebuilt large sections of the orphanage, contributing many thousands of dollars in supplies and donations, and thousands of hours of skilled and manual labor. But the work we do is not the main point. The real importance of our shared work is simply the way that it speaks the language of love, our love for the orphans, and for our fellow missionaries.
This is the greatest miracle of the Singles Serving Orphans missions: The love we find in our encounters with the orphans is a love that binds us to one another with an eternal force. We missionaries are one family now. We travel the country to be together at holidays. We speak to one another on the phone regularly. We change our vacation plans, and even our life plans, so that we can be together again on more mission trips as often as possible. We are not alone. We belong to one another, and we belong to the children. This is what it means to be adopted by orphans.
What makes this possible is both the content of the retreat aspect of our mission, and the simple miracle of love God works when singles and orphans come together in his will. All of our missions are spiritual retreats based on the teachings of Pope John Paul II and Blessed Mother Teresa. From the great Pope of Love’s Theology of the Body and the example of Mother Teresa, we derive a simple teaching on the combined power of charity and chastity. Our retreat theme is distilled to this: Charity is the grace from God which allows us to give what we have; chastity is the freedom which allows us to give what we are. These simple themes seen in the examples of these great saints, are combined with regular periods of shared prayer throughout our time together, and with frequent or daily attendance at Mass together.
Some of our prayer breaks are shared with the kids, and these are the most sublime experiences of the mission. We sit in the dirt and rocks and a bit of grass in a bit of shade and the kids sit around us leaning against us or piled on top of us and we pray. At noon we do the Angelus with them, at three the Divine Mercy Chaplet. We do the prayers in a mix of English and Spanish. Afterwards, there is quiet. No one announces or enforces this. It happens. We are together in the love of God and the love of another. This is the deepest sweetness of life. This is what it means to be adopted by orphans.
The kids know that we love them because we work so hard for them and the see us working and they work with us. They know our love because we come back time and again. They know we love them because we cook for them every day (grilled hamburgers is their favorite meal), and serve them, and clean up after the meals. They know we love them because we believe deeply that God wants orphans to have ice cream, and water pistol wars.
And from all of this quite naturally grows the bond, the connection which it seems is God’s master plan for orphans and singles. We walk along holding hands, carrying them on our shoulders or, with the little ones, in our arms. We chase them and they chase us and we play soccer and basketball and climb trees and push them on swings and then we’re simply walking along with our arms around their shoulders or their hands reaching up to hold ours.
The first time we went to Casa de Elizabeth there was a little girl named Banky who had just been found abandoned in the streets of Nogales, the nearby border town. She had bad teeth and wouldn’t smile. She was violent with the other kids and was afraid to be picked up by or to play with the missionaries. She said she was six years old. No one knew her birthday, and neither did she. Fourteen months later she was a well adjusted, happy kid, with better teeth, but she was still saying she was six years old.
We gave her a birthday party, and birthday presents and a beautiful, homemade, heart-shaped, triple chocolate birthday cake, but, more importantly, we gave her a birthday. All of her friends — she has friends now — sat at a big table with her at the head sitting in her favorite missionary’s lap, and she was the happiest kid in the whole world. Now she knows she has a birthday, and she tells people she is seven, and she smiles the cutest smile of any orphan ever.
The kids at Case de Elizabeth have each other, and, for all of their needs and their poverty, they seem to be doing just fine. The SSO missionaries who are returning home to their lives as American singles, often living alone, and spending far too much time alone, are the ones who seem to be in far greater danger than the kids. It is not good for the man, or the woman, or the SSO missionary, to be alone. We must not be alone — this is what it means to be adopted by orphans.
It seems to be working. We’ve had over sixty different people attend our trips, many of whom have returned over and over again. Two missionaries from our first trip are now engaged to be married. Another missionary was inspired to join the Catholic Church, and did so at this past Easter Vigil.
When Pope John Paul II died, the newspaper in my hometown, normally a very anti-Catholic paper, quite miraculously printed a huge banner headline that proclaimed “We are all orphans now.” There is a sense in which all of us are orphans in this world, until we are united finally and forever with our Father in Heaven. But we orphans can be adopted by orphans; we can all be orphans together, and we can know that this makes our Heavenly Father smile. And with the eyes of our hearts we can see the beautiful smiles of our Papa, John Paul II and our Mother, Teresa, together with the Father smiling on us and on our Lord as he comes to fulfill his promise, “I will not leave you orphans, I am coming to you.”
“Amen. Come Lord Jesus.”
Visit www.SinglesServingOrphans.org for more information