In December 2015, Carolyn Alessi (member of the Greater Hartford Church of Christ) and her two daughters participated in the HOPE Youth Corps trip to Cebu, Philippines. Here are Carolyn's own words about why serving is an important part of healing for her family:
“Our human compassion binds us to one another – not in pity or patronizingly, but as human beings who have learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future.” -- Nelson Mandela
In 2013, Typhoon Haiyan, the deadliest typhoon in history, left villages in the Philippines devastated, children orphaned, spouses widowed and communities grappling with the overwhelming task of rebuilding their lives. This storm completely blindsided these who were unprepared, burrowing a deep feeling of despair and heartache that seemed at the time to be unyielding and relentless.
In many ways, my life in 2013 mirrored the same emotional tragedy of those who survived Typhoon Haiyan. The New Year in 2013 started out with great hopes as my husband, Tom Alessi, and I etched out our short and long-term future. We dreamed of volunteering as a family one day to serve those less fortunate.
In June, I was completely blindsided, left in deep despair and feeling lost in the abyss of grief and heartache. My life as I knew it came to a screeching halt when we suddenly lost my seemingly healthy husband of 15 years to an undetected sudden cardiac death. Needless to say, the remainder of that year felt like a horrible movie as I was cast in the unwanted role of a distraught, grieving young widow swallowed up in emotional chaos, with two fearful little girls left confused and dazed by life’s raw reality. A seemingly strong and rooted faith of 25 years that somehow left me wounded and nearly broken seemed to be called into question.
Now, two and half years later, the rebuilding is steady and ongoing in my life and in the lives of the Filipino communities. The typhoon of “loss” seems to be a distant memory to us who have lived through it. The fears have subsided and have since been replaced by the determination to move forward and to find laughter in the smallest joys of life.
The rebuilding of the Filipino communities could not be done on its own but needed the help of compassionate strangers. I knew I could not climb the slippery slope of grief alone. I needed help to tear down the isolating walls that I built around me and to welcome the compassionate and loving arms of those waiting to console us. These very arms represent the arms of our Lord who is full of compassion and mercy.
For us, 2015 has been a year of service. Whenever I felt the wave of grief come crashing through, I remembered Jesus as He fed the 5,000 shortly after hearing his cousin John was beheaded (Matt 14:10-21). I would seek out ways to serve, give of my time and money to the family of believers and the mission. The quote at the beginning from Nelson Mandela has a deeper meaning to me, as we decided to spend Christmas break serving with the HYC Philippines team.
This was a different kind of Christmas for us as we made our way through the rural communities lined with tin roofed shacks, the compassion we felt for these people hit a chord deep within us. The hope we have in Christ was being poured out on to them through our acts of service.
The joy we felt from our love for God which was being expressed through the warmth of our hugs to the children in the poorest communities, to the lonely old man who lost his wife seven years ago and chose the bottle as his only friend, to the family who lost everything in the typhoon who can now enjoy the home we built for them and to the mentally challenged little boy who found his way into my arms and heart, Juwaven aka “Bibi.”
My soul continued to be fed when God unexpectedly met my deep need as a mom as I gained insight and sound advice on how to raise my girls to become future young disciples from two devoted families from San Diego, an elder’s wife from Australia, a father of a teen from Singapore and an Aussie single brother who leads the preteen ministry in his country.
For the past year, I have grappled with the fear of how to raise two preteen girls as an only parent in a world that was determined to swallow them up. These fears were relieved because my girls were surrounded by rising teen and young campus leaders from across the globe who have a contagious zeal for God, an unabashed love for one another, and a deep sense of commitment to live out Jesus’s mission of not only seeking and saving the lost but of responding to the cries of those in need.
My girls have living and breathing examples of who they can aspire to be. When my 10-year-old says, "I want to be just like Patty Burrage (a fellow volunteer) when I grow up," I know my desire to see them become disciples is within reach. I would spend every penny I have a thousand times over to give them this opportunity because it gives them a fighting chance to be unified in the Lord with me and their dad some day.