“Magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.”
—Matthew 2:12

In today’s Gospel, we are told about the journey of the Magi, the three Wise Men who traveled far and humbled themselves to worship the Christ Child. They brought with them special gifts – gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These gifts are are symbols of Christ’s royalty, divinity, and eventual suffering and death. They are special because in giving them, the Magi acknowledge who Jesus was to be: our Savior.

We are called on this day to acknowledge Jesus as Savior in all that we say and all that we do. Just like the wise men, we all have treasures that we can offer the world. These special gifts are not always tangible and cannot be wrapped. Instead they are within each of us. A smile for a stranger who looks like she could use one, a prayer for someone who needs it, a helping hand for someone struggling. They may not sparkle on the outside, but they certainly cause people to shine from within, both the giver and the receiver.

Like the three wise men, our international volunteers take long journeys, traveling far from home, to bring their gifts of skill, compassion, and love, to some of the most vulnerable communities in the world. In 2018, we helped place 661 volunteers in 17 countries. Each and everyone of them is having a positive impact on the communities they are serving. Some are focused on helping expectant mothers deliver healthy babies, others are ensuring that people have access to clean, safe water and improved sanitation, and all of them are improving access to life-saving health services for the most vulnerable women and children in the world.

They all bring unique gifts to share with the people they serve, some gifts you might not expect. We recently received this beautiful story from registered nurse volunteer, Carrie Flaherty. She said, “I want to share this because I don’t think that Martin will.”

Martin Rubino, Project manager for the Nzara construction

Martin Rubino on the construction site at St. Theresa Hospital.

Martin Rubino is an engineer from Connecticut but he is now living a long way from home. He is serving at St. Theresa Hospital in South Sudan, helping oversee the construction of a new surgical unit at the hospital that will help increase the health services available to this community. This is Carrie’s story:

As an engineer helping to build the new surgical wing of St. Theresa Hospital in Nzara, Martin probably knew his work would directly save lives at some point in the future. But he is already saving lives here and now, by donating blood to patients in dire need. Patients like baby Cecilia.
Cecilia and her mother before discharge

Cecilia and her mother.

Cecilia is a twenty-three month old girl who came to St. Theresa Hospital with malaria, complicated by severe anemia. To give you an idea of how critical her condition was – The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) categorizes anemia as a hemoglobin of less than 11 g/dL for children under six years of age. In my experience, patients are generally symptomatic and require a transfusion if their hemoglobin is less than 6 g/dL. Cecilia had a hemoglobin of 3.6 g/dL.

When Cecilia arrived to the hospital, she was pale and her fingertips were white. Lethargic and irritable when awakened, she was too weak to do anything but lie on the pallet next to her mother. Here at St. Theresa Hospital, severe anemia is among the leading causes of pediatric deaths. There is no stock of blood products – if you need a transfusion, you have to bring along family members who meet certain criteria and are willing to donate.

In Cecilia’s case, there were no familial donors compatible with her blood type. A situation like this is a death sentence for a child. Luckily, Martin heard about our need and volunteered to donate his perfectly compatible type O blood. That afternoon, I checked in to see Cecilia receiving the transfusion, sitting up in bed and already looking more alert. She was discharged a few days later, as a lively toddler once again.

Cecilia is feeling better

It’s unlikely that Martin imagined himself saving lives this way when he decided to make this commitment to the people of this community in South Sudan. But that is the beauty of giving ourselves in the service of others, we never know how big an impact we can make until we choose to give.

A new year stands before us, like a new chapter in a book. May we all be inspired to bring hope and help to those who need it. We wish you many blessings of love, joy, warmth, and laughter in 2019.

In grace and peace,

CMMB – Healthier Lives Worldwide

Today’s reflection was inspired by Loyola Press.