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near to my heart: hands for christ

February 1, 2010

I spent the first Saturday in December running back and forth across a gym floor all evening long – in high heels, I might add.  It was the night of the Juarez Hands for Christ Benefit Dinner, and I was tasked with bringing everything together.  There had been a few teams of people who planned different aspects of the program: the venue, the meal, the entertainment.  I helped with entertainment, and being the stage manager, most of my work happened the night of, which explains the running in heels.

The annual dinner was hosted by the Shrine of St. Francis Xavier & Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Grand Rapids, MI, with the proceeds benefitting the Hands for Christ Ministry, which supports El Centro Comunitario del Espiritu Santo in Juarez, Mexico (Community Center of the Holy Spirit).  The center is located on an abandoned garbage dump and serves the many families who call the dump their home.  (Visit their website for more info.  Also see the video at the end of the post.)

I first heard about the center when I was in high school.  The Shrine of SFX/OLG hosted one or two mission trips to the Community Center every year, and fellow youth group members who had gone to Juarez would come back with amazing stories of hope and love in the midst of hardships and poverty.  The students from SFX/OLG assisted in the director, Frank, with anything that was needed, from hard labor to meal preparations, helping at the daycare or visiting families.  The year I was there, we painted a building our previous group had built and filled in a pit so it could be used as a soccer field.  I had longed to see with my own eyes the beauty spoken of by my peers, so my parents sent me on the mission trip for my birthday fourteen or fifteen years ago.

The people I met were truly beautiful.  Their hands may have been empty but their hearts were full of love for the Lord.  They put my faith to shame.  I was only able to go that one time, but the experience was unforgettable. 

SFX/OLG continued the mission trips, and I was able to stay updated and involved even if I wasn’t able to go personally.  My involvement increased last year when Amanda Vernon approached me about helping with the benefit dinner.  She was giving a special concert at the dinner and asked if I would be her stage manager.  The annual dinner helped raise extra funds each year for the mission trips, but not as a way of offsetting the cost for volunteers.  Every dime raised at the dinner purchased supplies and necessities for the center.  These  essential items were delivered by families from all over West Michigan who sacrificed their Christmas break to travel to Juarez via bus and serve the poor. 

That year, however, was different.  For the first time in twenty years, the trip to Juarez was cancelled.  It was a difficult decision made by Deacon Ken Baldwin, who leads the trips, and Frank, the director of Hands for Christ, but it was too dangerous.  There had always been an aspect of danger but the recent increase in violence was significant.  Our lack of physical presence in Juarez was devastating not only to the volunteers, but to those who relied on our support at the center.  The dinner was of utmost importance.  It was a chance for us to show Hands for Christ that we had not forgotten them and we would still be beside them in prayer. 

The situation did not improve, and there was no trip again in 2009.  But we still rallied to the aid of our brothers and sister in Christ.  The dinner was a success, thanks to the grace of God and the generosity of many.

I was about to fall over by the end of the evening.  Coordinating the cooks, set-up/clean-up crews, sound/lighting crew, performers and speakers made for a full evening, but I was grateful to be involved in a worthy undertaking.  

I am already looking forward to helping at the dinner in 2010.  I might even start training so I won’t be sore after a night of running in heels… or I could find some walkie-talkies…

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