The priest asked me to do it. So I really had no choice.
When I said yes to his invitation to be a chaperone on our parish’s youth mission trip to Nicaragua, I really had no idea what I was getting into. Twenty-one high school students, six adults. A week together serving poor, disabled and vulnerable children in a community created to take in children no one else wants.
So, a few months later, our group boarded the flight from Atlanta to Miami. Once in Miami, we would catch a connecting flight to Managua.
As chaperones, we planned ahead. Three of us would board the flight first, followed by the 21 high-schoolers, followed by the remaining three adult chaperones. That was our plan. We would have the teenagers sandwiched between us.
I got on first, and stood, watched and counted to be sure all of our teens made it on board and into their seats. We high-fived, smiled and had a good time as everybody boarded, on our way to put our faith into practice together. In fact, we were all wearing matching T-shirts, partly for camaraderie and partly to make it easy to find one another.
Once everyone was on board, I sat down in my seat and began to read.
Not long after, a very handsome couple arrived and sat in the two seats next to me. They appeared to be in their mid-30s. I learned that they had been in Atlanta for a business meeting, were originally from Palestine, but now live in Qatar.
Once seated, the man leaned over to me and asked, “Do you mind if I ask you something?”
“Sure,” I responded.
“You with all these kids?”
“Where are you going?”
“Nicaragua. Is that where you are going too?”
“No. We are just going to Miami. I want my wife to see South Beach. She’s never been there. It’s beautiful. Why are you going to Nicaragua?”
“We are going on a mission trip to do physical labor and to spend time with disabled, abandoned children. It’s good for those kids, and it’s good for our teenagers to experience how differently so much of the world lives.”
He nodded. Then he spoke quietly to his wife for a while.
He leaned over again, and said, “I’m sorry to bother you again.”
“No bother at all,” I replied.
“I’m a curious person. A software engineer. Can I ask you another question? Do these kids get paid to go to Nicaragua?”
“No. It’s worse than that. They actually pay to go to Nicaragua. They each had to raise $2,500 for the orphanage there and then pay their own travel expenses to get there.”
“Wow. We don’t have anything like that where we come from.”
He then turned and spoke to his wife for a few more minutes.
Finally, he leaned over once more, and asked, “Can I ask you one more question?”
“What’s their motive?”
I have to admit. I was taken aback. What a question. I had never been asked that before. What’s their motive?
It took me a minute to collect myself and to come up with an answer.
Finally, I said, “Well, we are Christians. We go to a Catholic church here in Atlanta. So I think the reason we are going is love. Yes, I hope their motive is love.”
He nodded and that was it. Our flight took off. He and his wife visited with each other. I read my book. We landed in Miami and we went our separate ways.
But that man and his question have stayed with me ever since. It’s a really good question.
What’s your motive?
In fact, it’s a good one to ask yourself often. When you’re at work. Or while talking with your spouse. Or when evaluating how you spend your money. Or when spending time in your parish.
What’s your motive?
And I pray your answer and mine will be: Love.
Allen R. Hunt is senior advisor for the Dynamic Catholic Institute.