This Saturday, I and several others will be leaving for the City of Children. We’ll be doing our best to obey the Great Commission, and we’ll need all the encouragement we can get.
It’s my fourth year going, and I still get jittery excited just thinking about it.
We as the Fairlane group will be joining a group from Southside Church of Christ – not the one here in Shelbyville but the one from Winchester – not the Winchester here in Tennessee, but the one from from Virginia. These guys are on fire, and I can’t wait to fellowship with and be encouraged by them.
The City of Children is an orphanage located in Ensenada, Mexico on the Baja peninsula. We’ll fly from Naahville to San Diego ans then load up on a huge shuttle bus, cross the boarder, drive around (not through) Tijuana, and end up at the orphanage just outside downtown Ensenada.
The orphanage itself is pretty well-cared for. It is maintained by people who actually care for the children living in it and show that care not only through loving the children but also loving and respecting their living space.
But it is surrounded by a world of dirt floors and plywood ceilings – a world of physical hunger as well as spiritual starvation – a world only two hours away from San Diego. It’s unsettling to think of how close this world is; it’s even more unsettling to think of much of that world has already leaked into our world.
A Typical Morning: Work Projects, Construction and Benevolence
Breakfast is served at 7:30 whether we wake up for it or not.
Then we’ll divide into three groups and set out for the day at 8:00. One group will stay at the orphanage and work on projects at the home. The other two groups will set out for the community. They then will split: one to do some kind of construction work and the other to do benevolence.
The group that stays at the City will work on projects around the property. Some years, it’s been repainting some of the boys and girls’ dorms. Other years, we’ve dug trenches and laid cement for future groups to build on. This year, since there is a drought in the region, we are setting up water collection stations (basically gutters and barrels) to help out the drinkable water supply.
The construction work always varies each year. In last year’s case, we built a house for a woman (whose name escapes me) and her grandchildren. She and the kids were living in a 9 x 10 wooden shack. Our team built her a fully operational house with electricity, running water, and a kitchen. And we did it all within a week. I usually don’t brag, but that is some hard work, and I’m glad it was for that woman and those kids. I’m honestly still kinda in the dark about this year’s project. I know it has something to do with rebuilding and repairing a local assembly house, but I’m don’t know what all we’ll be doing. #GonLearnToday.
My favorite morning activity is the benevolence work. We’ll carry food boxes and personal hygienic items to families in need. We’ll also talk to them a little bit, try to encourage them in their affliction as best as we can, sing and pray with them. This is personally the most uplifting for me because I feel my spiritual talents involve empathizing with and encouraging strangers. Hopefully they feel the same way.
Afternoon Nap Time…or naw
Once everyone is gathered together again, we’ll meet in the visitors’ dining hall for lunch. Throughout the week, different age groups of the children will eat with us…don’t eat the peppers, no matter what the kids say.
After lunch time…just when you want to take a nap…it’s PLAYTIME! It feels like a curse because we all want that nap, but it’s so much more a blessing because we want to play with the kids and the kids want to play with us. The game of choice is soccer (fútbol), and I usually end up being goalie (am I right?). But there’s also basketball, kickball, scavenger hunts, good ol’ “Yo Tengo” (which means “I Have” …what we call “Keep Away”).
After playtime, we have an hour to rehearse for our Vacation Bible School skit for that day. We produce these skits ourselves, and we practice them here at home before performing them.
An Evening of Fellowship, Praise, and Discussion
At 5:30, we’ll all meet back in the kitchen for supper that we also share with the children.
Then at 6:30, we migrate over to the auditorium for the VBS singing, skits, and classes. Our theme this year is all about being “Fishers of Men.”
We’ll open with song. The fun part is singing in Spanish the songs that I have being singing in English my whole life. I especially like noting the differences between the English and the Spanish versions. Sometimes lyrics sync up, and other times they don’t; it’s interesting to me at least because even when they are different, they still give the same expression.
Then the skits go up. As much as I want to follow this typical day at the City of Children in order, I’m compelled to save the skits for last.
After the skits, we’ll break into classes divided by ages. I gravitate toward the teen and young adult classes because, once again, I feel that I can best empathize with these guys and gals, and hopefully encourage and be encouraged by them. And the discussion is actually engaging. One might think the language barrier would hinder most of the communication, but it doesn’t really matter. There are translators to help everyone understand each other, and the discussion actually flows at a normal pace.
After classes have let out at 8:00, we’ll all meet up at the pavilion attached to the American dining hall for one last snack and a little more playtime with the kids. Then they’ll head up to their dorms at about 8:45 and get ready for bed.
We, on the other hand, will meet up for an American devo, fellowship, and encouragement. Because at the end of the day, we will all need that encouragement from each other. This is where we strengthen the bonds amongst ourselves so that we can be a better team. You’d be surprised how much irk and ire within the group can be lifted and carried away by the rising smoke of the campfire.
After our devo, we’ll go to our dorms and turn down for lights out at 10:00 PM sharp (yeah right…but for real, though).
Personally Fulfilled Via Drama
The reason I wanted to save the skits for last is because this is where I feel like I’m at my peak.
Storytelling is my passion, and I earnestly believe that people can grow closer to God through stories. Jesus did it through parables, and I feel like we can do it through these skits.
This year, I’ve had the privilege of writing, directing, and acting in the skits, so it’s hard not to be a little proud of them. This is, after all, what I want do for a living, and this is an opportunity that I have to exercise those creative muscles.
The Definition of Pure Religion
This all culminates into one Super-Objective: to help those who can’t help themselves.
I love how James puts it:
Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. (James 1:27)
“To look after orphans and widows in their affliction” is the phrase that always comes to mind when serving at the City of Children. Not just because it mentions orphans and widows but because it mentions their affliction.
We often don’t think of the word “affliction” because it’s a little archaic. A better understanding comes from looking at the Greek word Paul used, which is thlipsis. It means compression, pressure, and distress of mind. We better understand it as being between a rock and a hard place.
This affliction affects everyone in some way. And sometimes, we can’t realize our own affliction until we see it in other people.
And it’s in this affliction where we all meet each other. It’s a subterranean platform to which we’re all brought down, and we need each other to help each other get out of such slumps. I used to think that people could get out by themselves, but the suicide of a best friend convicted me to change that notion.
It reaffirms the fact that humans are tribal creatures and should rely on each other in the hard times. Instead of ambitiously climbing up the hierarchy, we find much more comfort in bearing each other’s burdens, carrying each other’s worries, and meeting each other’s needs.
That’s what I get from serving at the City of Children, and I pray that anyone who serves there with or without me can feel the same fire I do.