od Lays a Foundation for Serving the Poor
During the summer of 2009, my wife and I accompanied some two hundred high school students and chaperones on an annual McLean Bible Church mission trip to the Dominican Republic.
One day I worked with a construction team making small repairs and improvements at an orphanage. After completing that project, we were taken unexpectedly to the community of Quisqueya to perform a surprise “makeover” of a two-bedroom apartment, the home of a local Dominican school teacher, Mirqueya Guzman, which she had transformed into a day-care center that served more than fifty children. Mirqueya had opened her doors eight years earlier, moved by the needs of the impoverished children of broken homes—with parents beholden to drugs or prostitution or voodoo. When children were not in school, she welcomed them.
We spent the day repainting walls, replacing aged kitchen appliances and cabinets, repairing lights and electrical wiring. We provided shoes, school supplies, and snacks for the children. When a surprised Mirqueya returned from her outing, she fell on her knees and wept. I will never forget her parting words of gratitude: “What a great God we serve that you would fly across an ocean to help people you do not know to benefit children you will never see again.”
Similar Needs in My Own Backyard
My experiences in the Dominican Republic remind me of the gratification that can come from serving the poor in the developing world. But my readings and reflections in the C.S. Lewis Institute Fellows Program have led me to see that there are materially and spiritually needy people in my own community who need a helping hand as well.
This was driven home to me during the morning of my Urban Plunge experience. The Center for Student Missions (CSM) team with which the C.S. Lewis Institute partnered sent my Fellows team out in the morning to the Anacostia neighborhood of Washington, DC, to volunteer at the Children of Mine Youth Center.
We were greeted by the director, Hannah Hawkins, whose young husband was murdered in 1970, leaving her with five children to raise. Rather than surrendering to grief and rage, she promised God that if He would give her the strength to survive this challenge, she would serve those less fortunate than herself. More than ten years later, she founded the Children of Mine Youth Center in her home. There, like Mirqueya Guzman in the Caribbean, Mrs. Hawkins invested her own money to provide hot meals, clothing, tutoring, and other assistance for children in her neighborhood.
Mrs. Hawkins and Children of Mine are still going strong. Many of the students are latch-key children. Many live with caretakers debilitated by chronic substance abuse or who are overwhelmed by the need to raise children on an income that cannot provide adequate shelter, food, and clothing. These children often fend for themselves. Mrs. Hawkins had a vision to prevent these at-risk children from becoming children in crisis: in faith, providing love, security, education, and effective communication.
Here within ten miles of my suburban home in Arlington, Virginia, was a day-care center extending services similar to those offered by Mirqueya Guzman 1,470 miles away in the Dominican Republic. This experience challenged my romanticized notion of overseas missions, one that had given me license to compartmentalize any call to “serve the poor” to those who may live beyond our country’s borders. This is consistent with the need for local service suggested by my Fellows mentor and commanded by Christ—to love my neighbor without regard to the proximity of my neighbor.
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