I arrived at church this evening shortly after the service started, and slipped into the tiled santuary as the congregation stood to sing a hymn. I approached the five rows that the Casa Hogar occupies and catching her eye, motioned to Hermana Deysi.
Where do I sit?
Sit here, she indicated the far end of her pew, so you can help me with the little ones. I nodded and she leaned back so that I could scoot into my place. Past Enrique, past little Giovani and past Beatriz, her hair tied neatly with a blue bow. I settled into the space between Luis, acknowledged my presence with a smile, and Samanta, who patted my hand with her little one.
From where I sat in the back row, I could see the backs of forty dark-haired heads. Johana with her hair down, tamed only by a headband balanced atop her jet black hair. In between dressing and pony-tailing the little ones, Rubi had found time to pull her short locks into a tight bun on the side of her head, graced with a black bow. The row just in front of me was occupied by young boys, packed shoulder to shoulder, their gelled hair glinting in the fading evening light.
Sitting on either side of me, my seven-year-old charges behaved marvelously; standing and sitting, praying and singing as the service progressed. After several rounds of stand, sing a hymn, sit, stand, repeat, we opened our Bibles and the pastor lead the congregation in reading the evening’s passage. The passage read and the prayer said, we sunk once again onto the pews, silence settling over the huge room as the pastor prepared to speak.
The sermon was a rare bilingual sermon, with a visiting pastor preaching in English and Pastor Ramos translating into Spanish. As the pastor mentioned various passages throughout the message, Luis leaned towards me, Can I look for them? he asked, extending his small, dark hand for my blue Bible. I nodded and handed him the book, which he accepted happily and began to flip through, studying the page titles in his quest for 2 Chronicles.
Minutes later, I noticed movement out of the corner of my eye. Glancing down at Samanta, I had to supress a smile as her little head nodded back and forth in the beginning stages of sleep. Her eyes were closed but every time her head fell forward, she would pop back up, her eyes momentarily opening, startled awake by her own sleep.
For a moment, I let her continue to sway back and forth, while I considered how best to handle the situation. Decided, I reached over and laid her head gently against the back of the pew.
Less than a minute later, I felt something bump my arm. I looked down to see the girl’s head, her cropped hair slightly tousled, resting against my arm. This time I could not supress my smile, as she heaved a sleepy sigh and sunk a little deeper into her seat and against my arm.
The rest of the sermon passed without incident, and as the message came to a close, the congregation rose to sing a closing hymn. As I eased her head off my arm, Samanta’s eyes fluttered open. She nodded as I motioned for her to stand, and obediently, although sleepily, rose to her feet. Luis, my Bible set gently on the pew next to him, stood as well, singing boisterously along with the choir director.
A hour later, back at the Casa Hogar, it was time for me to leave. My brother and father had arrived, and greetings and high fives, hugs and kisses had been exchanged. My mother and I, along with a handful of the older girls, had served dinner, and the children were trickling out of the dining room and into their bedrooms, to change, to bed, to sleep.
As I skidded down the open-air hallway, yelling good-byes into bedrooms and kissing cheeks as I passed, Samanta came bolting out. Clad in pajamas, her toothbrush in hand, the little one was on a mission for the bathroom. Adios, I said, wrapping one arm around her in a quick hug before sending her on her way. But she stopped, and turned to face me, her unusually light eyes reflecting the light from the bulbs that line the hallway. She motioned for me to lean down, which I did, bending until we were eye to eye. She grinned, revealing a mix of adult teeth and baby teeth, and wrapped her arms around my neck, her little arms squeezing tightly.
Moments later, she let go, but not before turning to kiss me on the cheek. We said goodbye again, and then she skipped off to scrub her little teeth, and I continued down the hall, laughing as girls yelled their goodbyes through the screened windows and young boys jumped out of their bedrooms to say goodnight.
I always enjoy church nights here in Mexico, and tonight was no exception.
See you tomorrow, Casa Hogar.