What My Best Friend Told Me.

I must have been around eight years old the first time my school took us for a social labor trip.

Our road-trip took us towards the most impoverished parts of the city, one that we were supposed to cheer up with our presence. We would bring food, coloring books and made-up games with us to give those children a day that they would never forget. We were told that these children waited for us to go and visit them all year long and that they simply could not wait to see us and play with us!

My eight-year old heart melted whenever I heard those words-the thought of making so many children happy just by being there was almost too good to be true. That first visit was a blessing and the ones that followed were too. Every time I saw those smiles upon their faces I thought, ‘this is what being a missionary must feel like!

Time went by and, sadly, the trips became more of a routine for me. It was something we did every year with our class all throughout middle school and high school and the magic of seeing such simple happiness was all but gone. I was no longer touch deeply by the significance of sharing with this beautiful children. Even though I loved every moment spent with them and to play with them was one of the highlights of my month, I had lost the true meaning of what we were doing.

My best friend-God bless her soul- reminded me one sunny day.

We were around thirteen at the time and we were on one of our social labor trips. The routine never changed- we taught a little catechism first, played a bit later and then ate at a certain time- but there was something new in this particular trip that none of us had expected.

If I close my eyes I can still see it clearly-the little stone steps that lead towards the bright-colored and modest classrooms…the smiles of the children waiting for us there…and a certain special someone that was hard to miss: He was a young boy with a certain mental disability that had the brightest eyes and the greatest smile I had ever seen.

I remember being simultaneously curious and frightened. This boy’s presence was something I’d never dealt with before. I didn’t know what to do or how to act around him. I opted for the easiest thing and simply avoided him at all costs.

I’ve never doubted that God intended to teach me a powerful lesson that day, one that would twist my world around. Because while most of the people avoided this beautiful child with joyful eyes and a bright smile, my best friend in the whole wide world hugged him with kissed him with such love that he never left her side again during the length of the visit.

I was speechless. And this is what my best friend told me,

“He is my family too, Cristina. I hug him because I love him. And I love him because God is his father too.”

I don’t know if she ever realized what she’d done as soon as those words left her mouth. I still remember the blush that crept up my cheeks and the soul-crushing sadness I felt when I realized how much truth there was in her words. I remember looking at the boy with new eyes from that moment on-looking on as she sat down with him during lunch-time and helped him eat his food, looking on as my best friend accepted this boy’s never-ending hugs without a word and returned them with enthusiasm, looking on as he settled his head on her shoulder and she placed her hand on his hair.

She might not even remember when I asked her if she was sad when when we had to leave and the boy clung to her as if she was a lifeline. She told me that she was sad because the boy had made her so incredibly happy with his example-the fact that he had next to nothing and that he thought so highly of such simple acts of love amazed her.

That day she taught me one of the most valuable lessons I have ever received.

Her words and the smile she had on her lips for hours after we’d left reminded me that these children were changing our lives, perhaps even more that we were changing theirs. Most of the time all we had for them was a basket full of toys and sandwiches for everyone but they always had a joy and warmth that lifted our souls. The love that they have to offer is oftentimes greater than the material things we intend to give them.

We like to think that we are the ones during service but I’ve never doubted that these children of God, with their loving smiles and sincere gratitude, might do an even greater service to us by reminding us of what’s truly important.


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