The Power of a Smile

September 25, 2013 at 3:00 pm


It is early morning in Guatemala City. The sounds of church bells ringing and the echoes of children singing are coming from an orphanage. Their voices float above the walls that separate them from the violence and danger of the city.

This is Hogar Rafael Ayau, where IBO Alexia Johnson decided to make a pilgrimage to help the orphanage any way she could. At the time, three Orthodox Christian nuns, including Madre Ivonne, had been asked to take over the orphanage after it was discovered that the children there were being used as sex slaves.

It was with much hard work that a church, school, and the wall had all been built all to protect the children from the outside world.

“Here I learned the power of prayer and of God’s love,” says Alexia about the experience that changed her life.

As she helped clean the church and build a garden, she saw how simple things mattered so much to these children, who had so very little. It surprised her to learn that even zip lock bags were precious to them.

I learned that the simplest things can mean the world to people. – Alexia Johnson

Happy in spite of difficulties
In spite of their difficulties, “the children really seemed happy, even if their clothes didn’t fit right,” relates Alexia. “I noticed one boy had a rope holding up his pants instead of a belt, but things like that didn’t seem to matter to them.”

Alexia was able to help bring smiles to these children. She and a group of women volunteers took the older girls to buy them new clothes. On another day she was part of the group that took the younger children to the zoo.

The nuns wanted to move the children away from the loud, dangerous city, so they decided to build a new place in the mountains, overlooking a lake, near their monastery. And now the children are surrounded by peace and beauty, including a majestic domed church.

A work in progress
“This is a big project, still in progress, but the nuns have faith that God will provide,” says Alexia, noting that her time at the orphanage made a long and lasting impact on her, especially, now that she has a baby herself. “The love for a child is so deep. I can only imagine how the nuns must feel for all of those children,” she says. “They are so close they are like a family.”

These children have so little, but they all smile, says Alexia. “And their smiles are so contagious, that you have to smile back. You can really change people’s day, maybe even their world, if you just smile. It is so simple!”

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