My Only Prayer Was to Meet Christ…San Lucas, Guatemala – 2015.

Days before I left for San Lucas, Guatemela, on an international missions trip with my parish, my life felt like it was completely unraveling. Most notably, I received a notice that my marriage had, officially and finally, been annulled. After ten years of being divorced I did not expect the mix of emotions that came over me. Relief, anger, and sadness wrestled with each other. Relief that I could remarry in the Church or join a religious order. Angry that I would not get the life that I had dreamed of with my, one and only, husband and a house full of children. Sad that the man I so desperately wanted to love God the way I loved God was now pushed even further out of my life. What little sway I held as “the first wife” or “mother of his children” was gone.

When I stuffed my belongings into my backpack just hours before heading to the airport, I kept praying, Christ, I want to meet you. I didn’t want to think about my ex-husband, or my work, or my kids, or my family, or whether I should join a religious order. For months, I had been struggling with how to gently let my family and friends know that I wanted to talk about my interest in a vocational call as a religious. In straight forward language I wanted to say, “I want to find out more about becoming a nun!” Not “Hey, I’m moving in to the convent next weekend. Bring your truck for a moving party. Pizza’s on me!” I didn’t want to think about how my decisions could hurt others and change their lives so drastically. I just wanted to meet Christ in a real way. Whatever that meant.

So, with all that swirling around in my head (And much more! But hey, it’s a blog post not a novel 🙂 ), I found myself in a country 2,000 miles away from home with 16 other beautiful souls willing to step out of our everyday lives and be open to the graces that God had for us. For me, this trip meant surrendering to God in a way that was scary and exciting all at the same time. Could I trust Him to work through me and me actually stay out of His way? Could I trust that He would really take care of me? Would He ask me to do something I really didn’t want to do?

Flannery O’Connor says endings should be both surprising and inevitable. I’m ready to find out where this trip to Guatemala will lead this girl from Oklahoma. 🙂

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Lake Atitlan, San Lucas, Guatemala

This day never ends…Part 3 (August 3, 2007)

August 3, 2007 Part 3

After the Ministry of Hope Crisis Nursery, we were off to the Youthcare Ministries. This is a mission that finds boys that have no homes then gets them off the street and into a stable environment. My head was already spinning from the activities of the day. I teared up several times after leaving the babies. We pulled up to the gate of the Youthcare Ministries, our driver honked and a little girl of maybe four came running to open the gates. Once inside the gates, we saw several teenage boys standing around. Their teachers were not around, but they were more than willing to take us on a tour. We saw their bedrooms, kitchen, schoolroom and garden area. They were in the middle of cooking something for dinner. Stephan was the young man who took the lead in answering our questions. He is 15 and has been at the Youthcare Ministries mission for about two years. Before that he was alone, on the streets, and addicted to drugs. He is now in a safe environment where he can be fed and educated. Stephan was the highlight of my day! He was articulate, respectful, attentive. He loves schoolwork and very happy to be where he is now. The head of the school, (William) was not there, but I will have the good fortune to meet him later on my trip. I was able to look at the books that the boys are learning from. They are learning both English and Chichewa. Stephan also knows a little Spanish. The accommodations are meager. But all in all the spirits are high and the boys seem happy.

All too soon it was time to go back to the lodge for dinner. I wanted to sit and talk with Stephan about his hopes and dreams for the future. I wanted to know what the best thing was about living at the mission and what he would change if he could. “Family is the most important thing,” he said several times. He wanted a sweet wife and lots of children. I had wanted to be the sweet wife and have lots of children too, but things hadn’t turned out that way. In that moment I felt so close to Stephan in our shared hopes for our lives. Time was slipping away, and we had to return to the lodge before nightfall. We said our goodbyes and were on our way. 

Oh, how could I forget! A group of us did the chicken dance with the boys. They knew the dance; we knew the dance, and we had a blast!

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Alec, Me, Stephan at the Youthcare Ministries Safehome

 

Wait, this isn’t the right village. (Friday, August 3, 2007)

Part 1, Dzama Village, Malawi

My morning started with a full breakfast: fried egg, fried potatoes, baked beans, sausage and toast. And of course a bottle of Coca-Cola! The plan for the day was to visit Dzama Village first. This is the village that, through GAIA (Global AIDS Interfaith Alliance), Christ Church’s contributions have helped build a school and install a water pump. Then the second half of the day was to be spent either at the Ministry of Hope Crisis Nursery or Youth Care Ministries. As we came to realize more and more on the trip, flexibility to change plans was a must.

We loaded into our van and headed to Dzama Village. No one seemed to be expecting us and class was going on inside the school building. It was only after we had unloaded and started playing with the children and talking with the teachers that we were all informed that this was not in fact Dzama Village. The teachers were helpful in getting us back on our way. We finally made it to right village. Children lined both sides of the dusty road; school was not in session. Some children had blank expressions on their faces others had smiles from ear to ear, waving happily and chasing after the van.

We parked near the new school building; our van surrounded by excited children. For all my grousing at times, I do love children. They are my weakness. They were all fascinated by our digital cameras. The peals of laughter after seeing one’s image on the playback screen filled me with joy. The village was one of the poorer areas we had seen. It felt at times to be one big campground. We were shown the schoolhouse that was almost done. There are about 125 students and of that number 45 are orphans. The desks and seats are interesting. Both are made entirely of cement. They stay nice and cool. There are probably many happy bottoms in the 100 degree weather for that.The children sit five to a desk.

One of the teachers kept saying that they don’t have textbooks and that they still need them for the children. I can empathize but looking around the village, textbooks would not have been on my top five list of things for the children. We were shown the water pump that had been installed. They are now able to pump water for cooking, laundry and wherever they need it. My initial impression of Dzama Village was “there is too much to do, a school and water pump won’t fix this.” It got me to thinking what is it that we as Westerners are trying to do in Africa? I went in with notions of taking basic medical/school supplies, clothing, a few toiletries. But I wanted to listen to what the villagers said they wanted and needed. The problem I found in Dzama was it sounded like the teacher was parroting back to us what he had been told by someone else what he needed. He said it over and over, “I beg you for books.” Books are a helpful tool in education, but as life has taught me many times, you don’t learn everything from a book. I left feeling confused, and that I had nothing to offer these children.

We said our goodbyes and headed back to Lilongwe for lunch. What’s for lunch? Say it with me now, Chicken! The most exciting part of my lunch came at the end. I stepped outside for a bit and started talking to a local fellow. His name was John. He lived in a local village nearby and came into town to sell some things that he made. I asked him a few questions, being the nosy person that I am, and he was more than willing to be honest with me. We talked about his HIV status, his son, and LaBeka the woman who came from the UK and taught him and a few others how to make bracelets and necklaces. I bought one of each. He is part of a group called Tandezo (help) that supports people living with HIV. Writing this now I can’t believe that we talked about so much in the span of 15 minutes, but I guess I had faith that I could ask him personal questions and we could get to the heart of something instead of just talking about the pretty weather.

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My, Sweetie. The most beautiful little girl in the village.

Two weeks to go…

Another entry from my journal before the trip to Malawi.

July 17, 2007

Last night during the traveler’s meeting we watched a documentary, Invisible Children. The film documented African children who slept on the verandas or basements of a hospital to avoid being abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army and used as child soldiers. Although taking place in Uganda, a country plagued by war and unrest, some of the encounters were a grave reminder of the poverty that still plagues many African countries. This could be a very long post with all of the places that we are going to visit, but I wanted to write about an incident that my priest recounted to our group. She did not experience it first hand but was able to relate the stories.

There is this idea I suppose about white people from the first world swooping in, giving away goodies, then leaving. Trying to change that image is difficult.
During a trip, the travelers were drinking bottled water. Once the bottles were empty, they didn’t think too much about them. However, they were a prized commodity as the locals could pour cooking oil into them for use or to sell. On the last day of traveling, the travelers thought it would be a nice idea to gather all the water bottles and distribute them to the village, but instead of a happy moment, the travelers were confronted with an angry mob. There were not enough bottles for everyone and older people were trampling younger ones trying to get the bottles. What started out as a well-intentioned action left a bitter taste for the travelers. Even though Malawi is a democratic country and has been free since its liberation in 1964, the actions people take when in the face of extreme poverty can be shocking. 

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