If 14 hours in a 12-passenger van doesn’t sound like your idea of a good time, add in some karaoke and you have the beginnings of a Campus Ministry service trip.
The van ride was just the beginning of our journey. We encountered the occasional bump in the road (literally), a questionable gas station or two, and nearly crossed the Mexican border (also an accident). We left Newman with the idea that we would be teaching immigrants – “clients” as they were called at La Posada Providencia – lessons ranging from English to the American political parties. Little did we know, we were the ones who would do the majority of the learning.
Five countries were represented at La Posada, ranging from Latin America and Cuba to East Africa. Each client had a different reason for seeking refuge in the US; some were fleeing economic disparities, and others would have been killed if they had remained in their country of origin. Regardless of their reasons for seeking refuge, all had one resounding dream: to be an American.
Every day our lesson plan included the Pledge of Allegiance and singing “God Bless America.” Each client would diligently review the words of both, and as a group we would practice pronunciations. While the rest of the lessons were important to the clients, they were always insisting on practicing and learning more patriotic songs. Never have I seen someone so excited to sing “God Bless America,” or feel so privileged to hold the flag as we practiced the Pledge of Allegiance.
“Land of the free and home of the brave” has become a phrase that is second nature to the majority of Americans. When we were little we said the Pledge of Allegiance in school because that was just something you did every morning after the 8 o’clock bell rang. We took for granted what it meant to be an American, or at least I did. After seeing the tears in the clients’ eyes as we said the Pledge of Allegiance, or the joy and smiles as we sang “God Bless America,” I realized just how blessed we are. The clients were willing to sacrifice everything they had to become Americans; I was born one, no sacrifice there.
I think it’s safe to say that the service trip was not what we expected. We didn’t expect to learn from our students, we didn’t expect the welcome and acceptance we received, and we definitely did not expect the new friendships with such inspiring people. However, I can safely say each of the 17 Newman students and Father Fog* are incredibly grateful for our time spent at La Posada, and we will carry the experience in our memories, and the people in our prayers.
* Newman Chaplain Fr. John Fogliasso