Near death experience gives new life

By  Andrew Selvam, Youth Speak News
  • February 5, 2007
I could feel the undertow of the Pacific Ocean pull me further into the waters as I attempted to yell out to my friends for help and tried to catch a glimpse of someone on shore. I couldn’t help but ponder whether these moments would be my last. With barely time to say a prayer, I was being toppled over by huge waves which moved my body in every direction. Minutes later, as if by the hand of God, a wave pushed me close enough  to shore so that I could grasp hold of the ground again. A near-death experience was not how I expected my Peruvian mission trip to end.

Last spring, I spent almost three weeks working in the shantytowns of Peru with 29 other young people from across Canada from Canadian Catholic Students’ Association, the national chaplaincy of Catholic campus ministries. The program is called Solidarity Experiences Abroad and it allows young people to volunteer in a Third World country while experiencing a true kind of Catholic fellowship.

The trip has been offered to young people for the last 15 years in Cuernavaca, Mexico, but this was the first time it was offered in Lima, Peru. Unfortunately, due to a turnover at the CCSA chaplaincy, the trip has been cancelled this year.

Throughout my weeks in Peru, I meditated primarily on poverty and what it meant to me. I considered what role Peru would have on me upon my return to Canada and on my new vocation as a high school teacher. Ironically, it was the last day of my trip that truly cemented what I was trying to internalize all those weeks before.

The fact that my near-drowning experience occurred on my last day helped solidify what my role is here on earth. Struggling to breathe after coming out of the water, I felt like I had signed an ironclad contract. It was an affirmation of the preciousness of my existence and the existence of the many I encountered in the shantytowns of Peru. Reflecting on my moments in the water, every wave seemed to highlight every moment in my life that made me vulnerable to sin and selfishness; every moment that I did not truly give of myself and every moment that I did not pray to God in request and thanksgiving.

The waves also solidified for me the internal suffering of every single child I saw during my trip. The wave that saved my life symbolized for me the children, who in the face of poverty still lifted their heads with smiling faces. These were children who restored a park with our mission group and who came to sing and dance with us. They taught us that material poverty is by no means connected to spiritual poverty.

In my own life, this experience showed me what I could have missed had I washed away. I felt like I was being given another chance to become alive in Christ, by reaching into my previous spiritual adversities and using them to enrich my future experiences.

(Selvam, 24, is a teacher at  St. Edmund Campion Secondary School in Brampton, Ont.)

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