by Andrew Craig
The kids run up, smiling ear to ear, and give you the biggest hug imaginable. “How can a child so small show so much love to people that they only know for about a day?”
These were the thoughts 20 other BC students and I had when we went to Natchez, Mississippi for spring break to help at the Holy Family School, a Catholic early learning center for kids ages two to five. BC has been fundraising and sending students down to Holy Family for what is now 20 years. And after volunteering for three of those years, I can say it is one of the most enlightening and life-changing things a person can do. We fundraise throughout the year in order to afford to go down to Mississippi and to support the school with both supplies for the teachers and tuition for the students. While at Holy Family, we help fix up parts of the school, teach lessons, do tasks for the teachers and Sisters of the Holy Spirit, and spend time with the kids.
The kids are everything on this trip. They are the reasons the teachers and the Sisters go on teaching, why we keep coming back, and why this school is still open. The children at Holy Family are incredibly smart and driven, and they are also overflowing with love. Seeing kids grow up after going on the trip more than once is both heart-warming and heart wrenching. You know you’ll have to say goodbye to those graduating once they finish kindergarten. But the most fulfilling part is knowing that these kids have been given such a good start at Holy Family and that most go on to attend private schools on scholarships and are at the tops of their classes.
During Jesus’ ministry, He welcomed children and advised His disciples to be more child-like in faith. To me, nothing is more day-brightening than a laughing child. Jesus knew that children were trusting and full of love, and this is exactly what He asked, and asks, of His disciples: to be trusting and overflowing with love, just like the children who went to Jesus and just like the students in Holy Family School.
As Fr. James Martin, S.J., points out, Jesus must have been a sociable person, someone who people would enjoy being around. I can only imagine how many people Jesus helped and shared stories with while He was working as a carpenter in Nazareth. How many homes Jesus must have visited, not yet as a prophet, but as a carpenter coming to fix or make something for a person’s home. There is no doubt He had His fair share of interactions and funny stories with children running around while He worked. He saw the gift of joy that children carry with them, and He saw this as something that can be lost when one “grows up.” But Jesus also knew that this joy, this happiness and love that children carry does not need to be put down in order to grow. On the contrary, keeping joy close, trusting in others and in God, allowing one’s self to Love without doubt and mistrust, help one to grow even more in ways that God cares about.
Running through the Holy Family playground with Eric, pretending to be a lion, guarding the Savannah from hyenas—it was tiring, but it was something I will not soon forget. Child-like imagination is one of the most amazing things. Maybe that is why Jesus knew that child-like faith and love is the only kind that can come close to seeing God’s Kingdom on Earth.