By Julianna Lewis, VIDES+USA
The following reflection is a notable entry to our annual Volunteer Story & Photo Contest. Each year, we ask our member programs to submit stories and photos of their daily life to celebrate the experiences of faith-based service.
When searching through Catholic Volunteer Network a few months before graduating from university, I had no idea what my next year of service held for me nor where it would take it. Sifting through the countless opportunities in the RESPONSE magazine, I began to apply to various programs that offered volunteer positions overseas. Having volunteered and led mission trips to Honduras throughout college, I felt my heart being tugged toward doing more service work abroad. After several applications and interviews, I was accepted by Volunteers in Development, Education, and Solidarity (VIDES+USA).
The organization offered me placement in Bogotá, Colombia, working at a geriatric care home for elderly sisters for a few months and afterwards in Geneva, Switzerland helping represent the organization at the international level via the United Nations. I accepted the position and went to training in San Antonio that summer of 2018, in preparation for my year of service. At the beginning, I was extremely nervous. Although I had received a brief description of what my role would be in each of these placement sites, I was not sure what to expect beyond that. There was so much uncertainty ahead of me; I was questioning my commitment to a year of service in two different countries and continents. What would be awaiting me there? Would I be happy in my work? At training, my nerves were set at ease–at least for a short amount of time. I learned about the Salesian order, their patron saints, and how they tie into the mission and the founding of the volunteer organization. All of this flowed into the main message, which was the importance of setting aside intentional time for daily prayer and reflection, especially in the form of journaling during the service.
In September, I packed my bags and moved to Bogotá where I would volunteer and live in community with elderly Salesian sisters. I was the only volunteer at the placement site, which at first made the transition difficult. My volunteer position entailed working alongside the nurses in delivering care to each of the elderly sisters in all aspects of life, from helping them bathe to assisting them in getting dressed or eating. The work was incredibly demanding, as there were just a few nurses and myself at any given time at the charge of over thirty sisters.
At first, it seemed difficult to be able to spend time in prayer each day due to the workload. One of the sisters who I cared for would ask me almost every day to please sit down with her and say a rosary. The first couple of weeks, I felt as though there was simply no time to “waste” in prayer, especially during the day. I soon found my journal that I had been given at VIDES training and remembered the emphasis that had been placed on writing, reflection, and prayer. Even though I was tired after volunteering each day, I began to journal regularly and reflect on my day. Through prayer, I came to realize that part of my volunteer work was not only serving the sisters in a care taking capacity but also accompanying them in daily life.
This was a pivotal moment in my time in Colombia. I began spending time with each of the sisters, talking with them, keeping them company while they ate meals, playing games with them, playing the piano with them, and even praying the rosary often with them. By the end of my time in Colombia, I came to see that the most meaningful interactions that I had with the sisters came out of being open to spending time with them and “wasting time” in prayer. I realized that even (and especially) when we are the busiest, we should dedicate all the more time to prayer.
The first few weeks, I had tried to go at my service alone, trusting only in myself and my abilities, which made me feel so overwhelmed. Trusting in God and bringing Him into my daily service through prayer gave me the comforting reassurance that I am not alone; all the worries that I had started my year of service with were slowly eased by entrusting them to the Lord. I took this lesson with me to my placement site in Geneva where my full workdays at the organization’s Human Rights Office also made prayer life difficult. Now as my year of service has ended and I move into the “real world,” I am very grateful that volunteer experience with VIDES has taught me to prioritize God and service to others even when life gets busy.
“The fruit of prayer is a deepening of faith. And the fruit of faith is love. And the fruit of love is service.” -Saint Mother Teresa
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