I was a bit concerned how I would communicate with the children in the orphanage in Guatemala that first day because I was relying on my one semester of Spanish in college, but the children quickly showed me that I would learn much more from them than words could express. On the first day, a seven-year-old boy ran up to me, he grabbed my hand and put his hand next to mine. His tiny fingers barely expanded past my palm. He smiled, giggled, and then, ran off on his next adventure. As he skipped off, I instantly thought of these words that a priest told me a year earlier, “Look at your hands, and see how God has made each one of us beautifully. You need to spend more time witnessing how children are a gift to this world.” At the time, I did not think much of these words, but simply brushed them off as a “cute” saying. Surprisingly, it was the hand of this child next to mine that made me realize that God was challenging me on a profound level to experience why Christ calls us to be childlike.
I was blessed to be able to experience this authentic love during a mission trip that I led this summer through Marian University. Another student and I had been making preparations all year to lead a group of 12 people to Guatemala City. During May we embarked on a 10-day journey to share and encounter the Gospel through about 200 children who lived in a Franciscan orphanage called Valley of the Angels. These 10 days will most certainly be days that I will reflect on for the rest of my life.
It did not take me long to realize why the Father wants to guide us to have the pure heart of a child. Sometimes the call to be a child can seem like we are being told to live out a totally blind and ignorant faith, but it is quite contrary. To be childlike is to be curious, always willing to soak in new information, and being open to discovering new depths of the Father’s love. I could write page after page of stories of these little ones, but I will just share a few moments that show why being childlike is the most authentic way to live your life.
They showed me that a simple life is one of pure joy and love. Each morning as the sun began to peek over the fog that hung in the tree- covered mountains on the edge of the city, I would witness a few children sweeping the walk ways with a glowing smile. I would hear children singing as they hand washed their clothes. I would walk into the dining hall and smell the fresh bread that some of the older children were baking. Each task the children did with gratitude and joy. These children came from broken families that they would go back to throughout the year, and most of them had nothing more than a 20 X 20 foot scrap metal building they would call home. In the States, we would be quick to say that a life like that is not worth much, but to these children, every task of life is a blessing, every meal is a banquet, and every encounter with a person is a gift to be cherished.
So many people today have surface level conversation, but when these children talked to you, they made you feel loved. These children are not concerned with cell phones, television, or wearing the coolest clothes. They live simple lives with no barriers or masks, enabling them to see the beauty of a conversation with another person. How often do you talk to somebody and give them your full? attention? These children just loved having someone with whom to share their life. For example, one Sunday we had to walk to Mass. I ended up walking with three young girls. It was so simple, yet a profoundly beautiful walk. We were not racing through life, rather we were enjoying life and the bright green trees, birds, and friendship.
The most captivating moment was on the last day, when they lined up the children to give us hugs goodbye. Tears began to fall out of my eyes as I embraced each child. In that moment, I realized in a new way how the Father loves us as His children. The Father does not want us to be overcome by the masks and shame of our life. He wants us to be open, vulnerable, and able to strip away the mess. Like the child who has just finished his bath, is washed clean, and begins to run naked through the house singing, “I am a child of God!”
Nicholas Sellers is a seminarian for the Diocese of Evansville and is a member of the Class of 2020.