This spring break, I went to Chicago on a spring break campaign.
I originally had gone as a favor to a friend who needed somebody older than 21 to drive a van, but at the end of the trip, I was so glad I went – not because of the generic tourist stuff, but because of how I felt God’s presence in the work we did.
Granted, I did go to the Sears Tower (now the Willis Tower) and the Navy Pier, eat my fill of deep dish pizza and the famous “Chicago Mix” of Garrett’s gourmet popcorn. And I even fulfilled a life dream of mine by seeing the Chicago River dyed green for St. Paddy’s Day.
It was a fantastic trip, and even the 18-hour drive wasn’t too bad with good music and conversation.
But the best part of the trip wasn’t eating new foods and exploring the Windy City. It was in a preschool for underprivileged children whose parents couldn’t afford day-care or normal preschool programs.
I spent the several hours with those kids, playing basketball with bottle caps, building towers out of blocks or robots out of cardboard boxes and dancing with the carefree spirit of a three-year-old. And apparently, my dance moves can’t escape ridicule, even there.
One activity I did was with three little Hispanic girls who spoke less English than I did Spanish, which is saying something.
Our combined task was to match up two everyday objects that related to each other. For example a baseball bat with a glove, or a baby with its bottle.
One of the girls would grab the card and cry, “Baby! Baby!” And I would respond, “Dónde leche?” Then we would spend the next couple of minutes trying to find the square with the milk on it.
We had almost finished when somebody grabbed a card with a spider on it and shoved it into my face. I pretended to be scared and screamed, cowering on the other side of the table. This caused the other two to grab a bee and ant to continue my torment. I tried dividing my attention equally between the girls, but one would eventually decide I wasn’t doing a good enough job and shout “Aquí, Aquí!” And the process would start over again.
Finally, they tired of the game, and a new boy came to my rescue with a gun he had made of connecting blocks, with which he killed the bugs.
This was but one afternoon I spent on my spring break, and it alone would have made the trip worth it.
I made several new friends, not just those three girls: about 50 other children; a man in a shelter who was a 4.0 college student until a stroke ruined his ability to speak; a man who couldn’t afford to buy himself breakfast, yet wrote songs of praise based on the gospels; a man who explained why King David was a pimp and even a woman who said I looked like a porn star.
God works in mysterious ways, and I discovered it is impossible to not be happy doing his work.