“For me to be a saint means to be myself.”
Padre Diego referenced these words by Thomas Merton during the commissioning mass for the newest group of Rostro de Cristo volunteers as they lined the first few rows of the chapel at the University of Scranton.
Knowing how I felt two years ago in those same chairs, I could not think of better advice for a new volunteer. Be yourself. After all, that’s what people always tell you to do, whether for a job interview or a first date. “Just be yourself, they’ll love you!” We are often told this as we fidget with the unknown.
During roughly two weeks of orientation, it was humbling to witness the incoming volunteers become confident in saying that “yes” to this commitment of not only being a Rostro volunteer for a year, but also the “yes” to becoming their true self, through this next year and beyond. They spoke it with their laughter, questions, fears, and their hopes. These twelve individuals taking their first steps of salsa or bachata together was them learning to step into the mission and pillars of Rostro de Cristo. It warmed my heart to see this community of new volunteers enter into this experience with their authentically true selves. It excited even more to think of their opportunity to spend these next thirteen months together, learning about themselves and each other, while supporting and challenging each other to continually say “yes” to living out the mission of Rostro.
Seeing the incoming volunteers begin their journeys of saying “yes”, encouraged me to shift into the higher gears of processing my own volunteer experience and how I, a former volunteer, can continue to live out the ideals of the program. Without a doubt, my spirituality and image of God has grown based upon my time in Ecuador. With my return to the States, I interact and seek to be of service to others differently than before my volunteer year. Maybe Rostro and the hospitality of our Ecuadorian neighbors is what makes me so readily say “yes” to any food or small gift offered to me. Being mindful of turning off the water while washing dishes or taking military showers echoes the shouts of “AGUA, AGUA, AGUA” from the tanquero trucks. Or perhaps I should blame Rostro for the start of my longest committed relationship with seven people that I barely knew at the time, two years ago. Orientation reminded me the best parts of my Ecuadorian self and encouraged me to continue to incorporate them into my U.S. life.
This formational experience of Rostro de Cristo calls us to be vulnerable with ourselves and those that we meet along the way. It asks us to be our “dorky, awkward, and stupid” selves (in the words of the orientation presenter, Paul Fugelsang). And while striving to be vulnerable and be with the vulnerable consistently presents itself as a challenge for volunteers, it is through orientation and the reflections throughout the year in their intentional, Christian communities that volunteers learn the skills of how to process and proceed in living out the mission of Rostro. It is through la familia Rostro that we can become more ourselves.