Melissa Altman, a Maryknoll lay missioner in El Salvador, reflects on "blindly" embracing the adventure of mission within family life.
“But what about Eli?” my sassy, then-4-year-old used to ask me when it was time to stop playing on electronics or when it was time to set the table. My daughter, Evey, even asked this when she received a special treat. Everything was a comparison to her brother.
This question became her mantra during her toddler years. At times it drove us crazy. Evey’s question reminds me of the parable in today’s Gospel, in which Jesus reminds each of us not to look at the splinter in another person’s eye, but rather the plank in our own.
As a 4-year-old, my daughter always wanted to know what her brother was doing rather than focusing on herself. Upon reflection, I now ask myself how often I fall prey to thinking in terms of Evey’s childish question, considering what other people are doing and instead of worrying about my own actions.
Part of the reason my husband, Pete, and I joined Maryknoll Lay Missioners eight years ago was the opportunity to live out our faith radically through concern for the most vulnerable in our world and to do it with our children. As children of Maryknoll Lay Missioners, our kids have been exposed to different places and people here in El Salvador. They have always been part of our ministry and they joke with us that we drag them into all kinds of situations.
In January, Pete and I began to get involved in our parish’s social ministry. In El Salvador, the ‘Pastoral Social’ (parish social ministry) is an umbrella term for the parish’s efforts to live out the Church’s social teaching in all aspects of daily life, including through health care ministry, environmental stewardship, ministry to the sick and aged, human rights advocacy, etc.
Recently we volunteered at a free health clinic run by the parish. The parish coordinators asked three local doctors to donate their mornings to give free consultations, and they even got common medications donated. We asked if we could bring our kids to help serve at the clinic and the other members agreed.
When I told Eli (15) and Evey (11) that we would be getting up early and volunteering Sunday morning, they groaned a little, but agreed to participate. Eli and Evey are used to these types of family obligations. Most of our time in El Salvador has been “the blind leading the blind,” because, as parents and non-Salvadorans, we don’t always know what to expect. However, that is the adventure of mission, and it has made both kids flexible and adaptable to new circumstances.
Evey still likes to know some specifics -- the “who, what, where, when and why” of the activity. I didn’t have much to tell her about this opportunity, which is a normal response from me and Pete. We often remind our kids to be open and see what happens. Just like analogy in the Gospel today, I was the blind person leading her into the pit, but I reassured her that we would learn together and the morning would be fine.
When we arrived at the church hall, a few other parish social ministry members were already there. We jumped in and started helping set up chairs and tables. Our family was put in charge of the weighing station using the traditional scale, the ones you usually see in doctors’ offices. We got a brief tutorial on how to use the scale before people started to flood into the church hall. We all fumbled a bit with our first few patients, but we got the hang of it.
After a short time, Pete and I stepped back and let the kids do most of the weighing. Just like in the Gospel reading, the students became the teachers and by the end they didn’t need our help. After the clinic was over, I asked Evey if she liked the serving, even though she didn’t have all of the details ahead of time. She smiled and said, “Yes, of course, Mom. It was fun.”
And she didn’t even ask, “But, what about Eli?”
Photo courtesy of Melissa Altman.