Excerpts from the journal of Deacon Donald Smith.
Lent, which for many Catholics conjures up thoughts of Operation Rice Bowl, the Catholic Relief Services program of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, is a good time to share the story of Deacon Donald Smith of Meriden, who went to Zambia in January and came back, he says, a new and better person.
Deacon Smith, a CRS Global Fellow since October 2015, was chosen for the immersion trip so that he could return to describe, firsthand, the work CRS does in other parts in the world.
While in Zambia, the group visited a number of institutions and learned about programs that are supported by CRS, which first arrived in that country in 1999 as a result of the explosion of HIV/AIDS. The purpose of the trip was to familiarize the group with the work CRS does there, most of which is supported by funds raised by Operation Rice Bowl. The group toured schools and youth centers, witnessed projects aimed at strengthening financial health and the economic stabilization of families and communities and saw nuns and priests giving their all to improve the lives of those among them.
Deacon Smith, who serves at St. Joseph and St. Mary parishes in Meriden, says that he was forever transformed and enriched by a visit to St. Anthony Children’s Village, an orphanage run by Dominican Sisters in Masala Compound, Ndola. Its staff of 25 cares for about 90 children, many of whom are mentally or physically challenged; more than 30 of them have cerebral palsy.
His travel group included five permanent deacons, two priests and two members of the CRS staff. Deacon Smith kept a journal during the trip.
“... A little boy took my hand and led me around his yard. He spoke no words. He was just happy to have a new friend. That moment is etched onto my heart.”
“I can never be the man, the deacon, I once was. On that afternoon in Ndola, God tore open my heart and opened my eyes to see and love those children as family.”
“We were privileged to celebrate Mass with the children. ... These kids, with so many serious problems and issues, just burst with their joy in the Lord! ... It was truly a symphony of the Holy Spirit!”
“... they know with absolute certainty that they are loved. They know they are safe. They know they are cared for by people who willingly and lovingly sacrifice for them.”
“God is love — and God was in that room. He was present at Mass in a way I’ve never felt before. I knew it. The kids knew it. ... Truly life-changing.”
On Jan. 16, the group had a retreat at the hotel where they were staying. Here are some of the thoughts that Deacon Smith penned during the retreat:
“God has been at work in the good sisters of St. Anthony’s Village, who live their faith, whose love for the children is an endless spring of life-giving water, poured out for all in need.”
“God has been at work in the CRS staff, who live their faith each day, who led me to the water — and smiled knowingly as I drank.”
“CRS and other humanitarian organizations talk a lot about ‘solidarity.’ Until the Lord led me to meet his family in Zambia, ‘solidarity’ was, for me, just a bit of jargon used to describe an abstract concept. I get it now. Solidarity is adopting God’s other children and taking them into your heart. Solidarity is answering our Father’s call to love brothers and sisters we can never know. Solidarity is feeling and responding to the bonds we share as God’s family.”
“God has been at work in the children, who simply … love. Who depend on love. Who place their faith in the love of others. They have so little, yet they have so much more than I do.”
“God has been at work in me in Zambia. Driving me out of my comfort zone.”