Reflections on postgraduate service from a recent alum

By: Laura Camarata, ‘16

September 11, 2018

Thinking back on my senior year at Notre Dame when I was discerning postgrad service and mission work, there were so many questions with which I struggled. Among them, I remember feeling uncertain as to whether it was even permissible to ask questions like "What can this service program offer me," since I was supposed to be the one serving, not the other way around.

While it is possible to ask this in a purely selfish way, there is also an altruistic way of pursuing the question. Especially for those of us desiring to lead intentional Christian lives of service beyond these programs, it’s natural and good for us to want to receive things from our experience as long as they are oriented toward the other, and ultimately, toward God. In other words, being self-aware of both the virtues we have, and those in which we would like to grow, is not a bad thing. And so another way of phrasing the question above may be: “What virtues could this program work to cultivate in me?”

Although God works in our particularity, and my experience does not speak to everyone’s, I took a few minutes to gather my thoughts on how I have grown, now 18 months into this journey at the Finca del Niño:

    1) Patience—For one, the Honduran pace of life is slower, more relaxed, and less driven by achievement or efficiency. Additionally, despite much hard work, kids’ trauma-based behavior doesn’t necessarily change overnight; nor do my own sins and weaknesses. I’m learning to live into the Jesuit idea of “trusting in the slow work of God.” Or as Fr. Greg Boyle writes, “My God is a God who waits. Who am I not to?”

    2) Freedom—A bit ironically, I experience such freedom as a result of my time at the Finca. Ironically, because many personal freedoms that I have in the US are denied me here: I cannot drive at night; I cannot leave the grounds by myself or without permission; my diet is determined by what’s available to the Finca that week. And yet the simplicity of life here offers a much deeper freedom to choose the good. I’m no longer so attached to certain foods, conveniences, or bodily comforts, even when visiting the States. I’m no longer so affected by society’s ideas of what is right and proper for me. Reiterating a continued, whispered “yes” to God through my life’s actions frees me to say a confident “no” to those things of this world I know will not fulfill me.

    3) Perspective—The majority of the Honduran population lives not knowing what tomorrow brings. Although we have more stability than our neighbors in many ways, for better or for worse, quite a few aspects of our lives here at the Finca follow that line of unpredictability. Life lived like this has made me truly gain perspective on what is important. I feel infinitely more in touch with how much of the world lives. Consequently, returning to the States for vacation is shocking and overwhelming because I experience abruptly a whole different set of worries and priorities, but I’m grateful for this nuanced understanding.

    4) Prayer—Before coming to the Finca, I considered myself a woman of prayer, but truthfully, I only really prayed when it was convenient for me. Our community-wide prayer routine, the unwavering faith of the Honduran people, my own smallness before the challenges faced here—all these things act as impetus for truly integrating prayer into my daily life and breath. I’m now really not quite sure how I ever got through my days without it before.

    5) Confidence, courage, and conviction—Before the Finca, I was proud to be Catholic, and actively wrestled to understand and reconcile my faith with the world around me. When I was home on vacation, I saw one of my best friends for the first time in over a year. Unprompted, she told me that I hadn’t changed—that I was still the same—but it seemed that my center, my whole reason for being and doing had shifted. Although it sounds dramatic, upon reflection I realized that my friend had spoken the truth—that my first year at the Finca had sowed in me the confidence, courage, and conviction to live a deeply intentional, committed Christian life—and to encourage others to do the same.

And so there is good that can come from asking a question that is initially perceived as self-centered. But there is also great and merited worth in asking what it is that I can offer to this population, the individuals served in any given program.

With respect to the Finca, it takes a village to raise a child, and here we’re attempting to raise many. Amid the Honduran house parents and professionals, and the religious Franciscan sisters, we missionaries are blessed to play a pivotal role in the development and formation of these children. We are in need of followers and imitators of Christ, critical thinkers rooted in prayer and unafraid to step into the unknown. We need individuals who are resilient, flexible, compassionate, and open—open to embracing equal parts joy and hardship—and ultimately open to the graces that God wants to bestow upon them through the Honduran children we have the honor in accompanying.

Laura Camarata graduated from Notre Dame in 2016 with a BA in Psychology, a supplementary major in Latino Studies, and a minor in Education, Schooling & Society. She is currently a missionary at the Finca del Niño, a Catholic children’s home found on the northern beaches of Trujillo, Honduras.


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