Feet on the ground! Eyes to the sky! That’s the way (of a Salesian Volunteer)!

By Luis Chacon
(Coordinator for Salesian Volunteers)

It’s cold outside. You feel a little tired from the long hours of work in the fields tending sheep. You feel an empty stomach from thinking that there is something missing (and it isn’t food). You sense that something is coming, and you don’t know what it is. You sense that it is something big. You listen to people, and you have dreams while you sleep. You decide to pay a little more attention to everyday things. You are surrounded by friends and family, and it occurs to you to go beyond your instincts, to follow what your faith tells you to do.

You see the sky. It is full of stars because there are no city lights around. However, you see that there is a star that shines much brighter than the others. You remember the advice you were given, and you feel an impulse to follow it. You invite many people to follow the star with you, but not all follow you. Yet you are there, ready to follow the star.

It is the same sky that you see everyday. You know some of the people who walk with you, and others you barely met. But you are all going together with your feet on the ground and your eyes to the sky, following a star that shows you the way. .

While you are walking you hear many people talking, and at some point they make you doubt if what you are doing is the right thing. But you do not stop. You keep going because you have faith, and you know that at the end of the road you will reach the goal and find the greatest thing you can to find the meaning of your life.

These are the shepherds following the Star of Bethlehem to meet Jesus, who will not only find the meaning of their lives, but who will find a new path to follow when they meet Jesus. After this meeting, their lives will not be the same again.

This is the path of the Salesian missionary volunteer who hears many invitations, and perhaps at the first invitation the volunteer doesn’t decide to accept. But called a second or third time, the volunteer acts… Some people say it is not worth going to Skid Row, to Tijuana, to Bolivia, to the Summer Camp, to the parish, to the Youth Center. They think that nothing will change. However, the volunteers decide to follow the star, to follow the voice of God in their hearts that invites them to do something for others.

The volunteers, like the shepherds, strive to lead the way (counselors in summer camps, active members of their parishes, older brothers, parents, etc.), and they know that they have to give something more. They feel that they need to run an extra mile to make a difference in someone else’s life.

They go to the desert and together walk to meet Jesus. The volunteers find the face of God in the face of the old lady lying on Skid Row asking for food, in the smile of a person who is grateful for the turkey sandwich, in the “God Bless you” from the thirsty person who receives a bottle of water, in the laughter of the children of the Tijuana orphanage who hold their hand and ask them to stay and play for a while, in the faces of other volunteers who help those who need it.

And at the end of the day, when the volunteer has met the Infant Jesus in the face of others and has realized that the mission has not been completed, the volunteer has realized that after that encounter his or her life cannot continue as it was.

We received a donation of more than 40 tents, sleeping bags, and plastics to cover the tents from benefactors who collaborate with Fr. Paul at the St. Joseph Retreat Facility in Rosemead We also received tons of clothing from Irma Carrillo, and blanket donations from St Dominic Savio Parish led by Victoria Figueroa. We had a lot of donations, and even donations that we didn’t expect.

We thought it would take us hours to distribute everything. However, in less than two hours we had the cars completely empty. Also something happened that made me feel powerless. In a park on Skid Row, a group of 6 immigrant ladies surrounded me and asked me for more baby blankets, toys, diapers, children’s clothes, etc. When I saw that I had nothing else, that my pockets were totally empty, I didn’t know what to do and decided to give them the only thing I had in my wallet, my business cards.

I asked them to send me a message telling me what they needed and that I would get them. That’s how it was. Some of the moms wrote to me and with the collaboration of friends and the Salesian Family Youth Center I was able to collect donations and take them to some of the shelters in Skid Row and at other sites.

There we were, the volunteers, standing in front of the child of God, giving our gifts and with a restless heart wanting to give even more…

This January, with the support of Juan Carlos Montenegro, we are thinking of holding a Don Bosco celebration at the Salesian Family Youth Center. We will bring the mothers with their children from the shelters. We will have games, food, and gifts. It seems like an unconventional idea, but following a star in the middle of the desert was also unconventional. Starting the construction of the Basilica of Mary Help of Christians was also unconventional, and feeding hundreds of people with a few loaves and fish was also unconventional.

Thank you to all the people who during this year have directly or indirectly helped the Salesian Volunteer program of this Province. To all the volunteers, donors, leaders of the Province, and SDBs who have helped us to see the face of Jesus in our most needy brothers and sisters– Thank you! For helping us keep our feet on the ground and our eyes to the sky while we follow the star, thank you!