The book of Proverbs says “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.”
We see this verse in action as the students of the founded educational ministries of the Dominican Sisters of Peace build peace in their communities every day. Gracie Fogarty, a student at our St. Agnes Academy in Memphis, TN, learned to build peace at a refugee center in Texas. She tells her story here.
Tic-Tac-Toe — a game loved by children everywhere — will now forever hold a special place in my heart. I know that it may seem a little peculiar that such a simple game could hold such importance; however, once you hear why this game changed my life, it may hold a new meaning for you, too.
On June 30, I was asked by the Religious Education Director at my school, St. Agnes Academy, if I would be interested in joining the Catholic Charities of West Tennessee team on a mission trip to Texas. She told me that we would be working at a respite center that welcomed refugees who are entering the United States for better living conditions and that we would leave in four days.
All I could say was, “Wow. Why me?” My heart was saying, “Yes! Yes! Yes!” But my mind was hesitant. It all felt too sudden. I then remembered a quote that has been my motto for a while now: “Let your faith be bigger than your fear.” I like to believe God was the one telling me, “yes,” and after this experience, I know full well that God was the one calling me and tapping on my heart. God was calling me to help God’s people, to do God’s work, and to spread God’s love. I knew I had to go and do God’s work and bring others closer to God as I shared God’s love.
One way I made known God’s love was through the simple and well-loved game of Tic-Tac-Toe. I know it sounds farfetched, but I uniquely discovered it to be a gateway for new friendships. While I created many friendships through my mission trip in Texas, three stand out, and they all began with this child’s game.
First, I met a nine-year-old girl who spent a lot of time talking with me. I came up with the idea to teach her how to play Tic-Tac-Toe, and she thought it was the best thing ever! I asked her if she had any favorite games, and she replied, “This game!” It made my heart so happy that I had brought her some joy. I was intrigued that something so simple could bring so much joy to a person.
The next day, some of the other Memphis group members were talking with a young man when I walked into the room and they introduced me. He asked me to play Tic-Tac-Toe with him. He was a remarkable man. We all got to know him really well that day. He told us that he would never forget us and that we were his best and first friends here in the USA. He even drew a heart on a piece of paper and began to write something inside it. Once he finished, we saw that he had written “amigos” on the paper inside the heart. He told us that we have created that meant so much to him.
The third day of our mission trip, I met a little girl with the sweetest smile and most beautiful heart. Again, we got to know each other through a game of Tic-Tac-Toe! She taught me so many things in the few hours I had with her. She taught me what it means to be a friend, and how important it is to make others feel beautiful and loved. This little girl has a huge piece of my heart, as do all of the other refugees that I had the privilege of meeting. Saying goodbye has never been easy for me, and saying goodbye to this little girl was no exception. Before I left she said: “Please don’t forget about me. I love you with all my heart.” It was so hard to say goodbye to each of these people that I met. However, how lucky am I that I was able to have such an experience and meet so many new people that made saying goodbye so hard? God truly blessed me through this mission trip. He blessed me with new friends, a new view on humanity, and He grew my heart to love service even more.
My week in Texas was an experience unlike any other. I got a real glimpse into the “uproar” that our country has been focused on. I have come to realize that this is more a human issue than a political issue. These people were living in terrible conditions. They need only to feel loved, accepted and cared for. These people are some of the sincerest, kindest, gentlest, and most grateful people I have ever met. These people are so special to me, and they have taught me so much about how to be a genuine person. They deserve to have their dignity restored, and I pray that I was able to play a role in that. The mission I was on was about welcoming these people with open arms and offering them peace, which they so richly deserve. Who knew that part of bringing them peace would begin by playing a simple game? All, I know is that I give all the glory to God.