This past summer, I went to the Dominican Republic (D.R.) on a mission trip for a week with my seminary classmates and a group of young adults from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. The trip was sponsored by the Office of World Missions. In this Jubilee Year of Mercy, it was fitting for us to serve the people of God at La Sagrada Familia, our sister parish, through the Corporal Works of Mercy. We were to visit school children, provide afternoon recreation activities for teens, and spend a morning at various homes cleaning the yard or painting the exterior walls of the houses.
Leaving behind the familiar: Milwaukee, English, family, and friends, we made our way to the unfamiliar: Sabana Yeuga, Spanish, and strangers, ready to serve those in need. On our two-hour bus ride to La Sagrada Familia, four of us rode in a van with the luggage. During our ride, the driver offered his thermos of coffee to share. It worked out well because we were tired from an early morning departure. Even though we all ended up falling asleep still, we were able to enjoy fine Dominican Republic coffee. Upon arriving at our sister parish, the truck with our luggage was unloaded and I found myself put into another truck with my luggage to the house of my host family.
Not knowing Spanish besides the essential phrases: por favor, gracias, and donde está el baño, I was dropped off at my host family’s house as a stranger with a bag and back pack and was welcomed in with loving arms. Every morning, my host mother made sure to feed me well and when I came back in the evening after a hot 90-degree day, she made sure my water bottle was full so that I was never thirsty.
The generosity of the people did not stop there. At one of the home sites after the yard was cleaned and the outside of the house painted, a few of us saw the coconut trees around the property and made it a mission to find a coconut to eat and drink. As my two friends and I made our way to find a fallen coconut, one of the men followed us and said all the coconuts on the ground were of no use and that we would have to climb the tree to grab a coconut. Since none of us were expert coconut tree climbers, we returned to the home site. Upon returning, the man summoned one of the teens to climb a coconut tree and knock down some coconuts. He must have done this a few times because pretty soon, it was raining coconuts. After this unexpected surprise, some of the other teens took a couple of machetes to cut open the coconuts and started passing them around for us to enjoy. After working hard in the morning and gaining an appetite, it sure was a refreshing drink and a tasty snack. Upon leaving, the back of our pick-up truck was filled with coconuts, bananas, and plantains for the entire mission group.
I came on the mission trip with the mindset that I was going to serve the people of God. I didn’t expect to receive anything in return. Reflecting on the generosity of the van driver, my host family, and those whom we served in the D.R., I realize that being brothers and sisters in Christ doesn’t allow us to only be on the giving side, but also to receive the gifts of others. As followers of Christ and stewards of his holy Church, we are called to serve him. “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” Mt 25:40. Each one of us is called to serve our brothers and sisters because the Lord has bestowed upon us gifts that we have received and are meant to be used for others. We are asked to give of what we have, and not of what we lack. We become good stewards by giving of our time and talents to our local parish, volunteering at a soup kitchen or giving to a food pantry, going to dinner fundraisers, and visiting those who are sick or homebound. We are called to welcome the stranger in the pew who happens to be visiting the church for the first time. Christ is present in every one of us and by neglecting a brother or sister, we neglect Christ. Let us praise and give thanks to the Lord for all that he has done and given us and let us serve Christ by serving one another.