Like Eucharist, I was broken

Farm of the Child

Like Eucharist, I was broken. Broken bodies. Broken Spanish. Broken hearts.

By Erin Ramsey, a Farm of the Child Missionary

A few weeks ago, Father John asked me to share a part of my story with you. It is a story of adventure, of brokenness, of learning to be Christ for others, of learning to put love into action. I am learning, too, that my story is just beginning.

This past summer, I had the opportunity and utmost blessing of spending two months serving at an orphanage on the shores of northern Honduras called the Farm of the Child, or the Finca del Niño (for those of you who se habla español). The Farm is an incredible place built around the pillars of spirituality, service, simplicity, and community. It embraces children who come from backgrounds of utter brokenness, abuse and abandonment, and gives them the opportunity to become productive Christian members of Honduran society. The Finca kids live in houses divided by age and gender with Honduran house parents, and are provided with social services, spiritual development, healthcare, and a quality education. Typically, long-term volunteers- generally recent college grads- commit 2 1⁄2 years of their lives to live, work and serve at the Farm as teachers and social workers among various other positions. Each summer, however, Notre Dame sends two summer service students to enter into the community for two months and serve as two extra pairs of helping hands wherever needed. And so, just over two months ago, I packed up malaria pills and my Spanish-English dictionary, jars of peanut butter and a heart full of hope yet uncertain of what was to come, and began a new chapter in my story.

Our summer was a crazy-beautiful adventure of laughter, tears, and an abundance of grace. My site partner Cassidy and I lived in a house with about fifteen other volunteers, two bathrooms, cold mountain water (sometimes), plenty of geckoes and an abundance of love. Our life was simple yet beautiful… no cell phones or TV, a 30-minute ride through mountain roads and seven river crossings to get to town to use a phone or computer, no washing machines or microwaves, cooking all meals from complete scratch, sleeping on thin mattresses on wooden slabs, and waking to roosters crowing at all hours of the night. Our primary role at the Farm was as substitute teachers- from kindergarten to 7th grade to special education and everything in between. Outside the classroom, we became mentors, playmates and friends as we joined the House 4 boys for a Tuesday night rosary, took the littlest girls for a morning swim in the Caribbean twenty feet outside our door, or spent an hour tutoring a struggling second grader.

We were blessed and filled by the love and support of our missionary community… idealistic, faith-filled, compassionate young people with so much love to give our kids and each other. They gave us tips on washing our clothes in the pila and encouragement after an excruciating day at school. To give you a mental image of my brothers and sisters who are living the narrow way by giving two and half years of their lives to serve Honduran orphans, I want you to imagine a group of young twenty-somethings rolling out of bed and joining together in community for morning prayer consisting of various flailing dance moves to U2’s “Beautiful Day” blaring on our CD player… at 5:40 AM. Beautiful, bizarre, and totally unique, each of them. How blessed I am to be their sister.

As I sat in Mass here at St. Stephen last weekend, I wondered how I could wrap up my summer in 12 minutes… what I could say that could possibly explain this labor of love I was so blessed to stumble upon. And then the choir began to sing Bread for the World, and I heard the line “May we who eat be bread for others.”

When Christ says, “Do this in remembrance of me,” He not only calls us to remember and celebrate through eating bread and drinking wine… He calls us to actually be Eucharist, to be broken and poured out and shared with the world. God calls us to become what we receive. Bread is taken, broken, blessed and shared… and our call to be Eucharist requires the same of us. We allow ourselves to be broken and poured out, food for the hungry, life for the weary, the living, breathing Body of Christ on Earth.

This summer, like Eucharist, I was blessed, and I learned to encounter the sacred in the daily walk of life.

One night I wrote by the light of a single candle and listened to the sounds of explosive laughter and harmonies of voices singing alleluia resonating through our house which is so filled with geckoes and love. I joined the oldest boys from House 5 as they taught me to fish and hunt “cangrejos” (crabs) by the light of the moon. I sat by a campfire on the beach, was dragged into the sparkling water (fully clothed) and floated on my back with my Honduran brothers, looking at the stars and the cloudy sky illuminating the tops of mountains in the distance. My soul sister Cassidy and I ran on the beach during an afternoon “tormenta” (storm), letting the cold rain pelt our faces and soak our clothes, diving head-first into the warm, choppy waters, yelling out to the mountains until explosive thunder sent gringa free sprits running, laughing, shrieking inside for cover. I find God’s alegria in the wide, smiling eyes of Honduran kids watching their four “profas” jump into the “posa” (fresh-water swimming hole) fully clothed after hiking an hour down the mountain back from Mass, in the sign of peace, in knowing that we are all part of the Body of Christ. God speaks through beautiful Honduran sunsets, through the songs and games of the littlest girls in House 1. I open, empty, and am filled… by little voices that sing, little hands to hold, and by the everlasting love of my Father.

I also had the joy of attending my very first Honduran wedding, as the entire Finca community was invited just a few minutes down the beach to celebrate the “boda” of an old vol and her new husband. Dogs and two-year-olds plopping down in the aisle, totally off-key singing and a gorgeous sunset made for an experience that was pretty “diferente” but totally beautiful. Afterwards, joined by the oldest Finca boys, my fellow vols and some only-moderately-sketchy local Honduran men, I shook my gringa hips under the bright starry sky until the wee hours of the morning.

Like Eucharist, I was broken. Broken bodies. Broken Spanish. Broken hearts.

One of my biggest challenges of the summer was teaching. Kids that come from really rough backgrounds plus a new, young teacher with no background in education who isn’t exactly fluent in their language… well, you do the math. Teaching at the Farm was immensely humbling, as the kids at our school are wonderful but really know how to give gringa newbie a hard time. I learned the art of “tough love” in the classroom, but often went home feeling quite defeated. My challenge was to love them intentionally in spite of and because of it all.

Life has not been easy for the kids on the Farm, as they come from backgrounds of brokenness, abuse and abandonment. CS Lewis says, “To love at all is to be vulnerable.” Vulnerable, indeed. We learned to put our hearts on the line daily as we opened ourselves completely to risk to love. And so we risked, and often experienced, immense pain… through dealing with a tough 5th grader for an hour, through facing the reality of life for our neighbors, through seeing the deep sadness in a child’s past. But love is patient and kind, and endures all things… so we cling to the conviction that love wins, and so we experience something so deeply beautiful. We are called to enter into the suffering of our kids, to be broken as they are broken, as bread is broken.

About three years ago, the Farm welcomed a family of five- 12-year-old Dalila, 9-year-old Nolvia, 4-year-old Marita, 2-yr-old Darwin and 6-month-old Rosita. The children came from a small, one-room, concrete house where they rarely had enough to eat. Their mother was unable to provide for them, and had recently left them to fend for themselves for fifteen days straight. Each day, the oldest daughters Dalila and Nolvia had to leave 6-month-old Rosita and 2-year-old Darwin alone in the house every afternoon while they attended school. Except when they stopped going to school for a few weeks because they didn’t have notebooks, and you can’t go to school without notebooks.

At the Farm, the Cruz family has been given plenty to eat, plenty of smiles and attention, plenty of notebooks and a quality education. Rosita and Darwin arrived sick, malnourished and close to death; they now run across the campo eating mangos, smiling, running to me with open arms for a hug. It is a blessing to watch them grow in health and happiness, yet we are also reminded that our children carry a cross. Our call to be Eucharist requires that we are broken with them, that we enter into their suffering and help them shoulder their burden.

Like Eucharist, I was given.

Holy Hour is a sacred time on Thursday nights where the entire Finca community gathers for prayer and adoration, and is possibly what I love most about this place. Little voices sing loudly and off-key. Carlitos, one of the Casa 3 boys, falls asleep against the pew. Alex and Sigri clap off-beat. The Casa 5 boys, who think they are oh-so-”suave”, genuflect before the Eucharist. And despite what may have happened in school or at dinner, how much Spanish I still can’t understand or how empty I may feel… I love them for who they are and who God created them to be.

During our very last Holy Hour of the summer, as I sat on the tile floor of the chapel and watched the children enter the church, now-6-year-old Marita of the Cruz family ran over and plopped down in my lap. Within minutes, she was breathing the deep breaths of a child fast asleep… and as her little lice-infested rested head heavy on my arm, I recognized that Christ was as present in the sleeping child curled up against my chest as in the Eucharist before us.

On our final day in Honduras, as I sat in Mass, my soul brother and fellow volunteer Michael leaned over, smiled and whispered, “You forgot to wash your feet!” I looked down and laughed, for my feet were absolutely filthy. Smelly. Ant-bitten. Calloused. Stained dark brown with dirt. Later that night, I prayed in thanksgiving for dirty feet. Feet that have weathered ants and mosquitoes, that have run bare on the spiky grass of the campo during games of soccer with children, that have walked the streets with the poor. My feet left scarred… as they should. They are signs of work, of toughness, of a life loudly lived. Now they must venture out to continue to walk by faith, to “compartir”, to openly and lovingly be changed and go forth to love and serve.

When we go to receive Eucharist and the minister says “The Body of Christ”, he or she not only refers to what they hold in their hand, but also who is in front of them. The Eucharist is the Body of Christ… and so are we. Saint Augustine puts it perfectly when he says “be what you see; receive what you are.”

Be what you see. Receive what you are. Eucharist that is life changing, that is world changing. To what end? So that Christ will continue to have eyes, ears, and hard working, generous hands in our beautiful yet broken world.

I want to stress that answering the call to be Eucharist does not always involve getting on the next plane to a 3rd world country. Being Eucharist starts here and now in our own homes, in our own communities. God calls us each in different ways- but His call is always radical, it is always to choose the narrow way. God always calls us to be Christ for others. We become His hands and His feet in this hungry world. Yes- I can tell you that my neighbors in poor, rural Honduras were frequently hungry for food. But as Mother Teresa says, there is a kind of hunger far worse than hunger for bread- hunger for love. And you don’t need to go far to encounter those suffering this type of hunger. They are here… in the assisted living home down the street, in your 9th grade geometry class, maybe sitting in the pew in front of you, maybe even in your own home.

We can be what see; we can receive who we are and act on it, being Christ for the world. We celebrate, and we ask… how, today, will I be what I see? How will I be blessed and broken, poured out for others? How will I live the call to be Eucharist here and now? How can we be the Body of Christ? The world is hungry. We must go in faith to love, to serve, and to be for others.

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