“I will go Lord, where you lead me. I will hold your people in my heart.”
November 6, 2013 - El Salvador
My journey to NPH El Salvador began in 2008 when I traveled to the home with a group from my parish. The focus of the trip was simple and pure – to build relationships. Since that first trip, NPH has never left my heart. It is safe to say that relationships were built because I am now answering and fulfilling a call that I heard the first time I ever set foot on the grounds.
This visit quite literally changed my life. I came home to the United States with a renewed desire and passion to serve, but not just with anyone or any organization. My heart and mind were both made up, and one day I vowed to return to NPH El Salvador as a volunteer.
Since that first trip, I made two more visits in 2009 and 2010. With each trip I could tell that a mere visit was not enough; only affirming that which I already knew, which was to come back “home” and serve. As my senior year of college began, I started thinking about life post-college. Many of my friends were considering graduate school or were looking for jobs. I tried to consider those options, but I always came back to NPH. There was just no other option. It was impossible to ignore this call, this yearning.
My connection and life with NPH has been a beautiful journey. It began the moment a child ran up to me and grabbed my hand during that first visit. My connection was furthered by the interaction I had with the boy who would later become my godson, which started with an intense Bingo game and ensuing water gun fight. My journey has been fed by being a sponsor, by writing letters, and by visiting the home. Those subsequent visits were not about visiting friends but instead were about visiting my family…my family of hundreds of brothers and sisters! Now, I feel I am truly a part of NPH El Salvador. I do not just think and dream about being here. I sometimes stop and think about where I am because it almost does not seem real or possible,“ Am I finally here?”
Yes. I am home. It took me five years, but I am home.
I have only been here for a few months, but I can better understand the gravity of what Jesus said in the story of the judgment of the nations, “And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’” – Matthew 25:40. This now makes so much more sense to me. It means more to me. Living here at NPH, fulfilling these words seems like such a simple thing to do.
However, I know that in the world many of us struggle with how to care for those who need us the most. There are also times when we deliberately choose not to care for the least of our brothers and sisters. It is in these moments where we make the decision to reach out that allows love and light to enter into our very souls. To hold a sweaty hand, to play a game of fútbol (even if you’re terrible at playing like I am), to help someone with their homework, to just simply be there for one of the pequeños…it is in all of those moments, and so many more in which I am able to clearly feel the presence of God.
We are called to be the feet, the hands, and the face of Jesus to all we meet. I am doing my best, but of course there are times when I struggle, when I am weak, when I am tired, when I miss my family, my friends and the comforts of another way of living. It would not really be a life if there were not struggles, if there were not any crosses to bear. I have discovered that the recipe for volunteering is one part cost and infinite parts reward.
One interesting thing about my position here is that I am the only volunteer. It has been quite a while since the last volunteer, and so my presence here has been a conversation starter for many of the pequeños. They have asked me why I am here or how I came to be here. The answer is simple, and they get it right away when I say, “I just came back home.” Ever since my first visit here I have always wanted to return and to serve. You all are my family too, and God called me and led me here to be with you and to serve Him.
As a volunteer, I assist the religious education teacher in the school in the mornings. In the afternoons, I work in the sponsorship office. Being a part of this great department has allowed me to witness from a different perspective the exchanges between godparents and godchildren. It is a beautiful thing. Sponsorship fosters meaningful relationships between complete strangers.
However, I have come to find that my role is not confined to just those two areas. Most weekends I help take care of the section of the youngest girls in Casa Santa María. I am officially a sponsor of one pequeños, and I also still lend a willing ear to whomever wants to talk about serious things or to just be silly. A lot of the pequeños refer to me as their sister, and so I call them my siblings. As a result, I am frequently called Maestra Tía Licenciada Madrina Hermana Ashley. This nickname of mine encompasses a little bit of everything that I am and that I do. I love it!
Just like sponsoring my godson here, I came to serve and volunteer with NPH in an interesting way. Perhaps some would say a backwards way. Instead of applying for sponsorship and receiving a child at random, I came home knowing exactly whom I wanted to sponsor. I do not know the stories of the volunteers at the other NPH homes, but instead of meaningfully searching for organizations in which to volunteer and serve it seems NPH found me. At least, I did not have to search for it because I already knew exactly where I wanted to be from my first visit here.
The Avett Brothers sing it best when they say, “If you’re loved by someone, you’re never rejected. Decide what to be and go be it.” These few lines resonate with me because I am here at NPH El Salvador by the grace and love of God, and I am here because of the love of my family, of my friends, of parishioners, of coworkers. All of that love has carried me here to NPH, which is a place so full of love. I have already lost count of the number of “cup runneth over” days. Father Wasson’s principal of unconditional love is so clearly and beautifully being played out here. Our children are loved, and with that love, I believe that they can be anything they want and reach any of their goals.
The Lord calls us all to do many things in life, and I am so grateful for having been called here to NPH El Salvador. I am but a mere servant, a handmaiden of the Lord. I have to say it is pretty awesome.
Ashley Cole Siferd / JJ Lizarde
Communication and Project Coordinator