The following essay took second prize in the inaugural contest sponsored by the Admiral Callaghan Society.
The award ceremony was held April 26, 2012, in the Carlin Commons.
A Church in Agua Prieta
By Victoria Elias
I silently walk down the dingy street. Broken-down houses surround me. The few cars parked alongside the rotting curb are rusted and duct taped. I reach a church. With its high ceilings, stained-glass windows, and beautiful artwork depicting Mary and Jesus, I wonder how this beauty could exist in such a poor community. Later I learn the answer. I am in the border town of Agua Prieta. This impossibly beautiful church, as well as the extensive shelter and soup kitchen for deportees that the church houses, is all run on community donations. This is a “base community”-the poor helping the poor. Self-empowered, they saw a need for service and they filled it. Service, whether in a shelter, on the front lines, or in a soup kitchen, holds our communities together. Through the example of the Agua Prieta community, my uncle’s service in the Marines, and my own service experiences, I have learned the value of a culture of service.
My Uncle Mickey was born into a family with a strong sense of service and patriotism. So, when the Vietnam War began, Mickey left graduate school and joined the Marines (1). Thus far, Mickey had lived in predominately white communities. But in the Marines he worked with people of many different races (2). He fostered friendships and gained respect for people of all races. The camaraderie of the Marines allowed him to let go of the prejudices with which he was raised. Two weeks before Mickey left for war, he married my Aunt Patti (1). They wrote letters to each other every day (2). In some of them, Mickey expressed his dissatisfaction with some aspects of the war and our political system (2). Neither Mickey’s nor Patti’s letters were ever censored (2). They wrote what they believed and were never punished for disagreeing with some government decisions. Mickey wanted to give the people in South East Asia that same freedom of expression, so he kept serving for five years (2). Mickey recognized the gift of living in
America. He understood that his freedoms and his sense of equality were not typical throughout the world, so he gave back. He served simply because it was the right thing to do.
Throughout my four years of high school, SI has continually given me opportunities to engage in service. Beginning with my St. Anthony’s Plunge and culminating with my immersion trip to Nogales, my view of service has changed throughout the years. At first I thought service was charity. I thought service was about giving to those people beneath us. I organized bake sales for Pennies for Peace. I sewed jean purses to sell for money for a school in Costa Rica. I felt good about myself. Then on sophomore retreat, I was asked to sit and have a meal with the people at the St. Anthony’s soup kitchen. I felt instantly terrified. I desperately wanted to serve food, so I could somehow separate myself from the people who seemed so different from me. Instead I forced myself to make polite conversation and plastered a fake smile on my face. Two years later I found myself in the Kino Border Initiative soup kitchen in Nogales, Mexico (3). I didn’t speak Spanish and I felt that familiar fear and discomfort wash over me. Determined to beat my irrational fear this time, I sat down and said the few Spanish phrases I had picked up thus far. I repeated this exercise at every meal for two weeks. After a few days, something changed. My smiles became genuine and my questions became sincere. I loved talking to these people and hearing their stories. I loved when they made fun of my terrible Spanish. I loved telling them about my life. I loved hearing about their children and their favorite foods. One day I became ill, so I had to sit in the corner of the dining hall and silently sip water. My new friends sat next to me. They cared for me, offering me comfort and companionship. They taught me the true meaning of service. Service is about being present with another human being as equals. It is about providing for the needs of others and letting others care for you.
In our privileged nation, sometimes we forget that our gifts of education, food, shelter, freedom, and so much more, are just that- gifts. We think that we are entitled to the extraordinarily fortunate lives that we lead. How can we combat this apathy and spread the “culture of service”? I asked this question of the woman who waited five years for her husband to return from war because she believed in that service- my Aunt Patti. She believes that our country should require two years of service of every young person (2). The service could be in the military, as a nurse, as a teacher, or in whatever field calls to you (2). The type of service does not matter. What matters is the realization that we are raised with something unique and special in America and we need to give back (2). I respect and agree with my Aunt Patti, but I also think that service requirements should start at school. I believe that all schools should require service to provide a “taste of service”. I think that, given a taste, people will choose to serve again and again. SI has whetted my appetite for service, and I can never go back. The pain and the love I felt in Nogales will stay with me forever. I learned my lesson there and I hope to continue learning it throughout my life. Service is not about inferiority and superiority. It is about sharing and loving indiscriminately.
We need to make base communities like that in Agua Prieta commonplace. We need to form friendships between races and socio-economic lines. We need to perpetuate our freedoms and values, so that all people can talk and write freely. We need to sit and be present with others. We need to remember that each of us has an obligation to use our God-given gifts to help others. In short, we need to serve.
(1) "Michael David Â“MickeyÂ” Fleschner - MarineChat.com." Michael David Â“MickeyÂ” Fleschner. Web. 25 Mar. 2012. <http://www.marinechat.com/forums/showthread.php?p=62882>.
(2) Fleschner, Patricia A. "Mickey Fleschner: Military Service." Telephone interview. 25 Mar. 2012.
(3) Kino Border Initiative: A Collaborative, Binational Ministry on Both Sides of the Border. Web. 25 Mar. 2012. <http://www.kinoborderinitiative.org/en/>.