WINNEBAGO—A few weeks ago, I went with my youth group from Saint Aloysius Parish in New Canaan on a mission trip to Nebraska. For an entire week, we did service work on the Native American Reservation of Winnebago.
Our time with the people of the Omaha and Winnebago tribes was a myriad of amazingly unique experiences. We were able to see how Native Americans have integrated the Catholic faith into their culture and identity. We also performed truly meaningful service: working with children, landscaping, and working with a local church to help clothe and provide resources to the members of the tribes in need. Lastly, we were able to grow in our faith each evening in times of reflection when we looked back on our day of work, explored ideas like how to encounter Christ in the people we met, and considered where faith and works intersected in our day.
Personally, the most difficult yet enlightening challenge was at our first work site. A local church runs a thrift store benefiting the local Native American community. Our job was to unload a huge shipping container of donations, organize the clothes, and reload it so that the thrift store would be ready to open soon.
Of course, I knew we were doing important work, but the challenge for me was that it felt too behind the scenes. I found it difficult to see the impact of the work we were doing because I wouldn’t get to see the thrift shop go up, nor the clothes purchased. I remember thinking to myself: “They said we’re doing God’s will, but it doesn’t really feel like it—I’m just folding clothes. I fold clothes at home.” But two events happened that flipped my entire outlook on the situation, as well as my life back home.
First, the two locals who supervised our work at the thrift store came back in to evaluate our progress when we had finished the job. They were practically in tears as they saw how much work we did for them. It was then that I realized that these weren’t just two of many volunteers, but rather they were the only ones and would’ve had to do the entire project if not for us, and I could see in their beaming smiles how much they appreciated us for it.
For our next assignment we were at a local elementary school spending time with the children. We had ice cream, played games, and brightened their afternoon. The second event happened when the kid I had befriended, Kyle, smiled and hugged me in the most heartwarming way when he heard I’d be coming back the next day. I know I’ll never forget that moment and his child-like joy.
Reflecting on these two events, I came to the conclusion that when you do something for others, as background or menial as it seems, there is no real need to see the full impact. In the right mindset, it’s fulfilling in itself—it’s doing God’s work. With this in mind, a smile or two along the way can make it all worth it.
By Alex DiFiore, rising freshman at Fordham University, parishioner of St. Aloysius