It was a sad farewell as members of our small community that we had formed this past month all left Israel and went their separate ways. The relationships that we formed by sharing in the adventure and the love of Christ over the past month will last a lifetime. For the three of us, however (Nicolas, Tiffany, and Claire), our adventure continues into another month...and another community.
Our first chapter of this new adventure started with our return to Jerusalem. The next two weeks we would be volunteering with the Hebrew-speaking parish working with children from migrant families. The parish, often called the Kehilla (Hebrew for "community") is a small but lively community that has done a lot of good to change the lives of so many people. They provide accessible child care and after-school programs for children of migrant families. Many come from families that are struggling financially, often single-parent households. The parish provides a crucial service to the community without which many families would not survive.
The parish and volunteers are truly Christ- and service-centered. Most attend daily Mass at the Kehilla, even after a long and tiring day of caring for the children. Although some of us had different work schedules from others, we three made it a priority to have most meals together, pray morning and evening prayer, and to go to Mass after work every day either at the Kehilla or one of our English-speaking options.
Nic and Tiffany worked with the older school-age children from kindergarten to age 12 after school. They would pick the children up from school and walk them to the center. There they would try to do activities with them such as crafts, sports, and even songs and dancing to keep them occupied and out of trouble. However, the children definitely tested their limits by constantly pushing the boundaries of what they knew they were allowed to do and not do, and you could often hear them getting scolded by different workers and volunteers. Due to the situation of these families, the parents and guardians of the children are unable to give their children the attention and discipline needed at such a formative age, so these children are often seen acting out when at school or at the children’s center. Many times it was a battle between trying to decide what offenses were worth reprimanding the children and trying to help them learn what was acceptable behavior.
Claire worked with the toddlers and babies during the day, which was also challenging. Although they were adorable and did have their cute moments, many times they could be found picking fights with other children, crying when they didn’t get what they wanted, and being stubborn when it came to eating or doing their daily activity.
Despite the challenges, in many ways the children also inspired us. I am convinced that I learned more from the children in the two weeks than I was able to teach them. Keeping the balance between work, prayer, and community helped to reflect on the meaning of the work we were doing. Many of the times it felt as though we weren’t helping as much as we could, but the other workers and volunteers were always so gracious to us and thanked us every day for being there. That small action of gratitude really helped me to put everything in perspective. Even if it didn’t seem like a good day of work, just being there and trying was more helpful than we thought. Our time really taught us the value and ministry of presence.
Meditating on Jesus’s perspective also brought dignity and value to our work. Often enough in the Gospels we are told that children fled to Jesus. How loving Jesus must have appeared to them that they were so attracted as to run to Him without care! How could we better love the children we were serving despite the challenges we faced? In a culture where children are often considered of the least value, in Matthew, Jesus defends the children saying, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven… Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.”