Love is in the air in this Valentine month. St. Augustine wrote in part, “To fall in love with God is the greatest of romances.” To fall in love with God leads to the desire to serve him.
My desire to serve God has led me to “Get on the Bus.” Get on the Bus (GOTB), a program administered by the Center for Restorative Justice Works (CRJW), brings children and their caregivers from throughout California to visit their mothers and fathers in prison. In my few short months volunteering for GOTB, I have had the privilege to witness caritas, the practice of Christian love for one’s neighbor.
It is truly a labor of love for GOTB staff and volunteers. They work tirelessly: to secure clearances for 3,000 individuals; to raise thousands of dollars to pay for 57 buses transporting 1,500 children to 9 prisons; to meet with hundreds of families in preparation for their visits; and to plan activities for the families to ensure that their visit is especially meaningful and memorable.
I hear personal stories of forgiveness, mercy, redemption, and love. There is Michelle, who was incarcerated for five years. Her husband was left to care for their four children. She vividly remembers the first hugs from her children after not seeing them for over a year. Michelle now works at GOTB. She feels fortunate to have the opportunity to give back and do God’s work.
And, there is Christine. She cared for her incarcerated daughter’s six children. Because of GOTB, she and her grandchildren were able to visit her daughter/their mother. Many caregivers are unable to make the drive because of the distance and expense. A survey revealed that about 50% of incarcerated mothers and 38% of incarcerated fathers said they would never see their children without GOTB. Christine now volunteers for GOTB because she wants to give back to the program that has meant so much for her family.
As Amalia Molina, CRJW Executive Director, beautifully expresses it, GOTB staff and volunteers help bring hope to children and families of the incarcerated. All the hours and hard work come down to that “holy moment” – when a father or a mother touches his/her child after months and sometimes, years of separation. It is a time for hope and healing.
I am in awe of those who work in restorative justice. It is an area of social justice that is often overlooked and misunderstood. It challenges and expands our notion of “neighbor” to include the incarcerated, ex-offenders and their families.
Finally, “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” (1 John 4:16) As an Ignatian Volunteer, I am grateful to work with those who abide in love – the indefatigable staff and volunteers of Get on the Bus.
Here’s to “the greatest of romances” this Valentine month!
Arminda, her husband and their two teen sons live near Los Angeles. She calls herself a rookie Ignatian Volunteer. She previously worked in public policy and has a passion for social justice.