God Can Use Us to Reach Others

Nancy recounts her experience doing charitable work at a juvenile detention center where she became aware of the purpose of placing herself in service of others.

For charitable work, we go to a juvenile detention center north of Los Angeles to visit, pray, and have a Catholic Bible study with the young guys and girls who are “doing their time.” They are free to say yes or no to the Bible study. Four of us from our community go with a larger group from the Archdioceses and are often paired off with other volunteers. Today, Guido and I were paired together and sent to visit the young men in cell block Y1. When we arrived, a very nice probation officer started to immediately apologize, as though she already knew the response the kids would have. As we approached the kids, they looked at us and said, “Not today, Miss.” The probation officer, seemingly sorry for us, told us to try the other side. We walked to the other side and another probation officer immediately started apologizing, too, and when the guys saw us, they also said, “No, thanks.”

We walked out feeling a little discouraged but not giving up. We tried over at cell block X and T, which are for young girls, and we found three other volunteers but no girls. We walked back, making plans for the rest of the day and accepting that today there would be no charitable work, but when we arrived back to the visitor center, the coordinator told us to go try E and F and take some rosaries because three kids inside wanted rosaries. We accepted the rosaries, got our clipboard ready again, and headed in that direction. We hit a low point when we knocked on the shaded windows, peering inside, to see two people at a table. They didn’t even look over their shoulders. Ready to give up and go back to the plans we had just made, we started walking back to the visitor center. Passing L and M, we remembered the coordinator talking about the great group he had the previous week, so with weak enthusiasm, we knocked on the shaded window. Inside, a volunteer was already in a small group with nine guys, so we started to leave, totally accepting defeat. The door opened and a probation officer asked if we wanted to come in and check the other side? We entered, and as we were passing by the group with the volunteer, she asked if we could help with the guys who spoke English. Our spirits lifted immediately, and we said yes! We were grouped with five young guys, and we asked for their names and told them ours. They saw the rosaries and asked for them, all the while asking Guido where he was from. We only had four rosaries, so we gave them out, and let the fifth young man pick one of my saint prayer cards. Immediately, they flooded us with questions: What is the rosary? Who is the saint? How to you pray? Guido told them the saints are like our guardian angels, and he asked if they wanted to learn the guardian angel prayer in Italian. They all said yes, exclaiming they didn’t know any foreign languages, so he started reciting, “Angelo di Dio…” Next, they then wanted to learn how to pray the rosary, so we started off with the Our Father, this time in English. They explained that they didn’t really know how to pray, and they didn’t know they had a guardian angel. We also taught them a very simple prayer that they could say all the time: “Come Holy Spirit, Come through Mary.” We repeated it together so that they could learn it. The rosaries had Mary and baby Jesus on them, and they asked about Jesus’ family. Guido asked them if they were baptized, and by the end of our session, four of the five had signed up to be baptized! We couldn’t believe it. We finished the session with a prayer for each of their court dates and their families, and our hearts were overflowing. The coordinator could not believe four people asked to be baptized! Driving home, Guido and I were in silence because it was hard to believe what had happened.

We asked ourselves, do we come to charitable work in order to get people baptized or do we come because of something that has happened to us? The gospel of the seventy-two from Luke:10 came to mind. “The seventy-two returned rejoicing, and said, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us because of your name.’ Jesus said, ‘I have observed Satan fall like lightning from the sky. Behold, I have given you the power “to tread upon serpents” and scorpions and upon the full force of the enemy and nothing will harm you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice because your names are written in heaven.’” We were discouraged by the time we arrived to L and M, and this was the correct position to be able to stay in front of the guys with simplicity and poverty of spirit. In this way, God can use us to reach others. And He did.

Nancy, California, USA