Tuesday, June 18, 2013

A Trip to the Casa San Miguel and Other Life Lessons

Things I’ve learned in Bolivia and while spending four nights in the Casa San Miguel Arcangel (St. Michael the Archangel) House next door:

1. I find it so perfect and precious when a girl in the Hogar’s plans for the day include first doing her chores, then washing her clothes, and then doing her homework!

I was helping her with her homework 
while she decided to make me a 
crown full of flowers from the garden!
     Those are the girl’s daily responsibilities and often they have to be reminded many times before completely or even starting them. But, occasionally girls will be sitting at breakfast and tell me that they want to be really obedient and get their things done well and quickly. Other times the girls very early in the morning or in the afternoon run up to in order to tell me that they have accomplished both their chore and clothes and now want to go their homework.  One girl in particular asks be just about every day if she can enter the Bibilioteca (Library) after she finishes her chore and washes her clothes. Ever since this girl arrived at the Hogar back in December she has had a strong interest in learning and a desire to do homework. On the first Friday she was here she asked if she was going to go to school tomorrow. In telling her that she still had a few weeks left of break she looked kind of down and seemed so excited to start at the new school, Laura Vicuna. Then I asked her what kind of things she likes to do. Most children would say playing or coloring but instead her response was one word, “Tarea!” (Homework). All she wanted to do was homework and learn.
It makes my heart smile and I hope they are learning some important lessons through their instances of excellence such as we need to take good care and take advantage of the things God provides us with (house, clothing, education), we are part of a ‘family’ even if it is a little broken and composed of many different families and every person has to do their part out of respect and love for the others, I need to listen and do what I’m told because Hermana (Sister) and the volunteers love me and know what’s best for me, and I can set goals and accomplish them too.

One of the little ones decided to help me wash my clothes. 

2. I appreciate respect more than being popular or best buds with the girls:

This was something that was a hard lesson to learn because it is easier to be popular but respect is so much more meaningful. When the girls think you are the cool one then they will tell you about the boys in their lives, the drama, and other fun things. But, the moment that you have to discipline them everything goes downhill. There is a relationship shift that they don’t like and it’s hard for them to see you as an authority role. They stop listening, become disobedient, won’t talk to you (much less about their lives), and it’s hard to reach out to them. This happened with one of my girls and within a few hours felt like I had loss all of the progress we had made over the last few weeks. After that I had to put my foot down a little more, be a little less friendly but just as loving, and little by little gain her respect.
The Chapel in Casa San Miguel
     An example of this is from when I was in the Casa. Just for a brief explanation, the Casa is the next step that the girls can take out of the Hogar. It is a apartment style living for 18+ girls that have aged out of the Hogar but continue to want to study. With permission of the Sisters they can move into the Casa and live there supported by a ‘Godparent’ in the United States and stay until they finish their studies (often through college). They live under the supervision of the Sisters, pray daily in community, have chores, and have to follow the Casa rules. But, it is a wonderful experience for them to begin living on their own while still having a type of parental support and supervision. They learn to budget their money, manage their time, and be somewhat independent which is necessary for the real world.  
Hermana (Sister) Julia and Hermana Mariluz with one of the girls. 
 In January the Sisters all went out of town for a few nights on retreat to welcome the Mother Superior to Bolivia.  The Sister living in the Casa asked if I would watch over the house for those days. This meant that I went their every evening around 7pm and then stayed until the next morning, which then I returned to the Hogar to work during the day. In the evenings at the Casa I prayed night prayers with the girls, we watched a little TV, hung out, and I made sure every girl made it home safely. On my last night there when I went over to pray with the girls they were all in a funk, or just being teenagers/young adults. When I rang the bell to go and pray they all ran into one room and locked me out. At first I got mad and threatened to call the Sister in charge. Knowing these girls are ‘adults’ I let them be, got my prayer book, and went to their chapel to pray myself.  I wasn't sitting in there for more than a few minutes and they all came in saying “surpresa” (surprise) and with bright smiles on their faces. They surrounded me with their chairs, were really friendly, and prayed reverently.  What an unexpected surprise it really was and it warmed my heart that after a moment of defiance they quickly changed their minds. It was a moment when I truly felt respected, accepted, and that these girls were starting to grow up. Also, they know in their hearts that prayer throughout the day is so very important.
After prayer with the girls we hung out the rest of the evening in one of the apartments. I learned how to make maicena (corn starch based drink/snack depending on how thickly it is made) and helped the girls create sandwiches out of them. We put maicena between crackers, then dipped them in coconut, and shared them together. They were very tasty and it was a blast to spend time with the girls.  This experience reminded me and the girls often remind me of the parable of the two sons. “‘A man had two sons. He came to the first and said, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’ He said in reply, ‘I will not,’ but afterwards he changed his mind and went. The man came to the other son and gave the same order. He said in reply, ‘Yes, sir,’ but did not go.  Which of the two did his father’s will?’ They answered, ‘The first.’” (Matthew 21:28-31) The girls told me they weren't going to come to prayer but actually listened and were obedient. They in the end got the reward even though originally they were defiant. I find this with the girls at the Hogar in particular. They will often yell at me and refuse to do their chores when I remind them. But after that, they often go and do them and sometimes even apologize for yelling at me. As upset as I can get when the girls tell me know it is so beautiful to see them turn around and do it anyway out of respect and love. It is so important to give them a chance to do right even if they don’t want to before being so quick to react.

One of the girls from the Casa
lead us up to the top of the hill
behind the Hogar to look for tuna
(cactus fruit)
Three of the girls from the Casa
at a party at the Hogar

3. Nothing is ever as simple as it seems but nothing is impossible with a little determination:

The hallway in the Casa
One of my nights in the Casa I ran out of water in my water bottle and went to the big water jug in the hallway to fill it up. When I got there I realized that the water bottle was empty. Thinking I could help the girls out, I wanted to put a new one in. It was dark in the hallway but I’m used to doing this at the Hogar so I expected it to be a quick fix. I found the tab for taking the lid off but no matter what I did I could not get it to come off. After my own force failed me I took my keys and tried to use them similar to a knife. I made a dent! That though was not quite enough to get the lid off. Finally I gave in and went searching for a knife in “my room.” Finally I located one and not wanting to wake the girls up with the light in the hallway grabbed my headlamp. The girls may think that I look like a miner and call me “minero” whenever I use it but it sure comes in handy when I need to be hands free. Very carefully and only with splashing a little bit of water all over my face I finally cut off the lid. I felt so ridiculous but a sense of accomplishment when I finally put the water bottle into the dispenser and not one of the girls woke up!

     Another day while in the Casa I went back to the Hogar to grab some things from my room. I got those things but in leaving my room I shut the door before grabbing my keys. The sisters were gone, Christy didn’t have an extra key, and worst of all my keys not only to the Hogar but also all the keys to the Casa. After a moment of panic I told Christy and then took some time to think. The sister who is in charge of the Casa called later that day to check in. I told her the situation and she suggested that I stay in the Hogar in Christy’s room that night. That was an option but not ideal since I was supposed to pray with the girls in the Casa and make sure they all made it home safely. Plus Christy and Eliana were both in the same room which might make that place a little crowded. Thinking about the possibility of breaking into my room I took a look at the window. Although it has bars on the outside there is a mesh screen that is attached by screws. Thinking that my keys were on my bed, maybe if I could get the screen off there would be a possibility of hooking them with something. So, carefully we unscrewed the screws and moved the screen to the side. Luckily, I never lock my window so it was easy to open. Christy found an L-shaped pipe that the girls usually use to collect lemons from the lemon tree and we used that to pick up and get my keys out! What an adventure and success! Thanks be to God I was able to be with the girls in the house that night! This mission experience definitely requires one to be creative, determined, and think outside of the box.

4. Happiness and peace can only come from God…or you will go crazy in an Hogar of 45 chidlren:

There is no doubt that living with children brings daily joy and moments of pure happiness. Many trials though also accompany every life and especially those of orphans and abandoned children. One day you are their best friend and the next when you tell them no or have to discipline them the tables turn and you are suddenly their worst enemy. But, as with respect my goal is not to be the most popular. I am here to guide them and most of all to look out not for their superficial happiness but for their souls. This comes with its struggles and many moments of teaching and redirecting. In order to do this though I have one thing left to depend on, the love of God. Only in Him can I find true peace and unconditional love. Proverbs instructs us to “Trust the Lord with all your heart, and don't depend on your own understanding. Remember the Lord in all you do, and he will give you success.” My mission here would not be possible for even one day without putting all my trust in God. He is the one that called me to be here, not the sisters and not the girls. He has such a great plan that I can barely start to understand. He knows what He is doing. All I can do when I feel completely lost is remember to trust in His will and guidance and hope that one day it will begin to make more sense.

I have also found that it is so important to count the little successes of every day. Not those moments when I necessary succeed or win but rather those moments when God leads and I or one of the girls turns their hearts back to Him and do His will. It might be a time-out that ends with a really great conversation, an apology that is made with the heart and concludes with a hug, or something as simple as a girl completely her responsibilities and feeling proud about it. In these moments I remember so very clearly that “We are not saying that we can do this work ourselves. It is God who makes us able to do all that we do.”  (2 Corinthians 3:5). It would be wrong of me to say that I have done anything good here. Now in saying that, I am not saying that I do not work very hard every day. But, all that the good that I do comes from God and is the way that He works here. I get to see God work in the lives of every single one of these girls. I have the chance to see His Spirit alive moving and leading these girls in all they do. What an opportunity to get to be His hands and feet in the lives of these girls. Without God though, I wouldn't be able to make it through one day nor one morning. He is what enables me to live, teach, change, guide, care for, and be all that I need to be for these girls. He gives me peace when I feel restless, He gives me hope when all I see is brokenness, He gives me love when I feel so unloved and unappreciated, He gives me strength when I feel so very weak, He gives me energy when all I want to do is sleep, He gives me joy when I am rundown, and He gives me serenity when I realize the many things I can’t change, gives me courage when I am fearful, and gives me wisdom when I feel so lost and without a solution. I thank Him every day for the gift of being here, for the lives of these amazing girls, for the blessings He pours down upon me and all that are in my life, and for all of the ways that He shows His presence, His work, and His immense love to all.

5. Sewing is not as difficult as it seems:

My whole life I have never known how to sew. I am not sure if it’s because I was too lazy to learn or the reason but even a simple stitch was unknown to me. Of course that was until I got to Bolivia. One day over vacation the girls were sewing the edges of sheets. It was a very simple stitch but still took some time so one of the girls asked if I would help her. We sat down, she taught me how, and little by little I practiced. The first many stitches were different lengths apart, did not form anything close to a straight line, and took quite some time. Over time and practice though I have learned a few different stitches and have even spent time mending clothes. 

At a school event. They were dancing and she decided
to try on my sunglasses. 
In fact, that all started one day when one of the little girls was changing out of her school clothes into normal day clothes. I noticed she had a gaping hole in her pants and told her to put something else on and I would fix it for her. She did that and then proceeded to look through all of her clothes for holes and rips. I walked away with a small mountain of clothes to re-stitch. I would spend breaks, some afternoons, and any time I was watching TV practicing and mending her clothes. Another morning while the girls were changing for school one of the girls told me that I had to fix her button on her blouse. Although I had never put a button on anything before we acquired a new button, thread, and a needle and I went to work. What a surprise to see that I could successfully sew a button onto clothes. On occasions I have also put in zippers and even sewed the two pieces of a jumper for school together. I would not say that I could yet sew clothes that someone would actually want to wear but I have learned so much and the more I practice the better I will do. They say practice makes perfect and although I am far from perfect I am glad of this new talent and gift and every other lesson I have learned so far!!! 

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Espanol, a beautiful challenge!

           My journey in learning Spanish has been one with many confusions, celebrations, and something similar to a child learning their first language. I used to get told on a regular basis “no entiendes” (you don’t understand) or “tu tarea es a apprender espanol” (your homework is to learn Spanish).  Day by day and word by word for over the past 4 months I have acquired quite a good vocabulary of Spanish, well Hogar Spanish that is. One of the first few days one of the girls offered to help me. She took note cards from the biblioteca (library) and quizzed me on some vocabulary.  The girls also often correct my Spanish and especially my pronunciation which I truly appreciate and is rather humbling. Sometimes I even catch their mistakes which reinforces my own learning.
When it comes to the sisters the head sister started very slow and patiently with me including one day (a month later) when she asked my site partner to ask me how I want doing and didn’t believe it when I responded with “bien!” Another day she came into the dining room and asked if there was queso (cheese) on the table. I quickly responded with “Si, esta aqui” (yes, It’s here). She was very impressed with my knowledge of the world queso (a word which I’m pretty sure most Americans even know) and proceeded to tell the other sisters about it. But all I can do is smile and appreciate the acknowledgement.
The director of the Hogar when I first arrived (another sister) has also been tracking my Spanish ability, but a little more accurately. I still rememeber the first time I was able to tell her what I did on one of my days off. I had gone to a feria (festival), celebrated someone’s birthday, and then returned to the Hogar. The surprise on her face when I said more than that I had a good day was impeccable. She probably told that story to the sisters at least two or three times at meals that week. After that she was proud of me and decided to test me and show me off. She did this by quizzing me at meals by asking me what I had don’t that day/morning. As simple as that sounds when you only know present tense plus fui (I went) is quite a test, which only multiplies when you have 10 religious sisters waiting for your response. But, I always seemed to get something out of my mouth. One of these days I learned a Spanish distinction. As far as I’ve always been concerned mañana tomorrow. You can imagine my confusion then when sister asked what I had done “en la mañana” that day. In my mind she was asking what I was going to do tomorrow, which wouldn’t have been that much different. By the end of the day though I learned that la mañana is actually the morning and has nothing to do with tomorrow.
Another funny habit they have here is to add –ita or –ito to any word they choose. Usually that would mean smaller version but I think they just like how it sounds. For example, rapidito (fast), ahorita (now), porfavorcita (please), galletitas (cookies), sillita (chair) and I’ve even heard esquinita (corner). Other times they use it as a type of affection or knickname such as mamita, which is what parents sometimes call their little girls.
                I have also been blessed with the chance to pray in Spanish. I started learning the prayers of the rosary with a good friend and other volunteer, Maggie  while I was at orientation. Not knowing Spanish I worried that praying in Spanish would be different and not as meaningful. But, I persisted knowing that is what I would be doing for the next year. Little by little I have come not only to memorize the prayers, at least many of them, but now I understand them, and they are not just words but prayers. It’s different but a way that I can connect with both the girls here, the sisters, and of course speak with my best friend and Father. A few times and hopefully soon more frequently I have had the chance to pray with the sisters in the mornings. It is liturgy of the hours which I have come to love as a form of daily prayer and I get a chance to do it with other which improves my feeling of community. Even better is that if they don’t have mass that day they have a communion service which gives me the chance to start the day with the Eucharist, the greatest gift of all! Without the love of Christ in my heart there is no way that I can share that love with the girls that I’m called to minister to every day.

Maria Auxiliadora de los Cristianos...ruega por nosotros
San Juan Bosco...ruega por nosotros; in honor of his feast day which was this past Thursday... "For you I study, for you I work, for you I live, for you I am ready even to give my life."

In the peace of Christ,


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Fiestas, Bailando, y Comida!!!

            I think I mentioned previously in another blog but I cannot reiterate enough how much Bolivians love parties, celebrations, their culture (including of course food), the Catholic faith, and any reason to get together and share time with one another. In the short time I have been here I have been to three parades and at least 4 parties, sometimes having more than one per week. These times always include singing/music, dancing, food, and time to socialize. They often even cancel school for such occasions. They celebrated Padre’s birthday and then had one parade right after I arrived. A week later I went with a couple of the senior girls to watch them march in another parade. After that there was student’s day which meant that the girls only had a half day of school, got special lunch and dinner made by the cook here, and cake for dessert! That same day in Cochabamba is the day of love and the first day of spring so there was much to celebrate! Food in Bolivia, from the main dish to the dessert, is a big ordeal.
Yummy, very large, ice cream sundaes at the market with Me, Monica (my current site partner), Amber (previous SLM still living and working in Coch), and Christy (my future site partner)! 

There are many different types of dishes which reflect the culture and when you are a guest it is advisable to come with an empty stomach. The few times I have gotten to go visit Monica’s Bolivian family’s house I have left quite satisfied with usually having eaten both a meal and evening tea.

After dinner and dessert we put on a dance contest for them. It was so cute to see all of them dancing alone and with each other. They even organized themselves into two different groups and were making up their own dance designs, including a large pyramid. The next time there was Cochabamba day which included two masses and a big night time celebration on the church/school grounds. It is common for parties here to have foosball and trampolines. Odd combination yes, but the children definitely seem to enjoy them! 

The most recent parade that I went to was one in which three of the girls danced and a couple of the girls went to watch. Many of the schools throughout Cochabamba participated and each represented a different type of dance from Bolivia. Some of them were repeated but it was still very cool to see how each dance was portrayed by each school. Of course all of the dancers were dressed in the costumes that were appropriate for the dance. They were so beautiful, colorful, and fun. I was reminded by watching one of the first few groups of the resourcefulness that Bolivians have. Instead of juice boxes here they have a company called Pil which sells juice in small plastic bags.  One of the school collected tons and tons of these empty plastic bags and used them to make beautiful, ornate dresses for their dance. They had also made the boys costumes out of recycled cardboard. 
The girls from the Hogar participated in two different dances. One dance was a slave dance which is in memory of or to represent the African slaves that were in the Yungas. When people dance this they usually paint their faces black, where fake afro hats, and make music with bongo drums. I don’t remember the name or the significance of the other one but they some of the dancers were playing recorder-like instruments and the girls were wearing black dresses with other colors and hats with strings hanging down on all sides. I've really enjoyed being able to watch them dance, support them, and see what they know about their culture, which is a lot.
The most recent celebration I went to was this past Sunday. Monica (my current site partner) was at another Hogar for her first year in Bolivia. While there she participated in a bible study and through that met some wonderful missionary sisters. They were celebrating their annual celebration and invited her, and consequentially me. So I journeyed an hour across town, went to mass at this gorgeous Franciscan church with a precious polish priest, and then went to the convent with Monica. When we got there they were selling food, drinks, and desserts. We both got pique which is French fries, with chorizo (bright red sausage), hard-boiled egg, beef, and vegetables, with ketchup, mustard, or mayo on top. It is commonly sold on the streets during parades or festivals and is quite tasty! Monica introduced me to her bible study friends and the sisters who live at the convent. They were all wonderfully welcoming and very friendly. Later on the entertainment began which included some skits done by children and even the bible study, music with many different instruments, and even some traditional dancing. It was quite a party and reminded me that I have so much more to learn and experience. After a month and a half I thank God for all he has shown me and that I have gotten to experience but remember that I have to continue to keep my eyes, ears, and mind open to all the Bolivia and the people here have to teach me. Both inside the Hogar, on the streets of Bolivia, and at the various events there is so much richness in culture, life, and celebration here! 


Thursday, October 4, 2012


Presence…something that seems so simple but is yet often so difficult. In one way it is just being there, or witnessing something. In another way though, presence means being present physically, emotionally, mentally and especially spiritually. The purpose is to making your presence felt not so you can be important but so that the other person/group knows that you are there for them. You are there fully as you are, as God’s hands and feet to guide, encourage, comfort, and help them in whatever way possible. As I spoke of in my last blog when you are present you are able to see not only the child in what they are doing at the moment but Christ within them. My work here includes being present to each and every child whenever I am working with them. This can sometimes be difficult when I am working with more than one child at a time because as the gospel today from Luke says, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few” (10:2). There are often so many girls needing many things but very few of us to answer their requests. Sometimes though, it means have one child sitting on my lap reading a book, while one is on my right learning to draw and another sitting on my left working on math homework. Other times it requires hopping from place to place because one child needs help with laundry out back and another with homework inside Hogar. But some days one child needs a little extra help and patience and I have been blessed to give that to them so that they can get through the day and finish all of their work. During those times I have to remember two specific things in order to be present. Firstly, presence and being able to recognize the beauty in every child requires a lot of patience, something that I continue to work on every day here at the Hogar. The second requirement was laid out in the gospel from Matthew this Tuesday:

“The disciples approached Jesus and said, ‘Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven?’ He called a child over, placed it in their midst, and said, ‘Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the Kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven’” (18:1-5).

In order to be present you have to be able to empathize and put yourself in the shoes of the other person or group. You have to become not childish but rather child-like. This means simple, innocent, sensitive, patient, and joyful. It also requires an immense amount of humility in order to put the other person first and your wants, needs, and opinions last. Especially when it comes to children it is important to be able to see where they are coming from, meet them where they are at, and help them move on from there. This isn’t always easy especially because I don’t know many of these children’s pasts and experiences they have gone through that have left lasting impacts on them. There are many examples that I have of learning to be present here but I would like to share three from the past couple weeks.

Me with two of the girls while we were playing one evening outside the church.

The first was a week ago in the afternoon when the girls were working on chores, laundry, and homework. I noticed that three of the girls weren't around so I went to find them. Walking out into the entryway/playground I saw them all playing. I stopped and talked to one of them about her chores and laundry. She said that they were both finished and I asked her if I could see her clean laundry on the line out back. Responding with a yes but please carry me I looked at this 9 year old and told her that I knew she could walk. But she didn't want to so she grabbed my arms and tried to make me pick her up. Eventually she was just lying on the ground and so instead of leaving or trying to force her I sat down next to her. I told her that when she was ready to walk we would go back there and check out her laundry. I even tried to reason with her offering to carry her part of the way back to the inside of the Hogar if she could walk to the back on her own. She whined, put her head on my lap, and even tried to hang off of my back. Eventually after a few minutes she said she was ready so she stood up and we walked back to find her newly washed clothes. The rest of the afternoon she did her homework efficiently and without whining and even got a break to play.

Another day in the morning I was sitting at the table in the library helping one of the 1st graders with her homework and she was doing a pretty good job. But once her classmate finished her homework before her and got to read she started getting upset. At one point I pointed out a mistake and she lost it. She started screaming, crying, and hitting the table. When I tried to calm her down she freaked out even more and still crying went under the table into the corner. At this point she was out of reach but clearly very upset. So, although it may sound strange I got under the table and sat next to her. She crawled into my lap and I held her and tried to comfort her while she cried for a while. I told her that I was there, that everything would be alright, and that when she was ready we could talk. Eventually she stifled her sobs enough to tell me that her math homework was hard, that she wanted my help, and was ready to try. We got out from under the table, finished her homework, and then she went to read finally back to her little joyful, affectionate, accomplished self.

Another little girl who often doesn't want to listen, want my help, or want do her responsibilities has provided me with a few opportunities to be present to her. The other night I learn that she didn’t know how to read. At bed time we went to the library to pick out a book because her and a few other girls wanted to read stories before bed. When we got back to the room I was sitting with her and instead of asking me to read or for help she just started making up words to the book and looking at the pictures. I asked her a few times what the first and next words were and when she didn’t know any of them I started reading it to her. She then decided of course right then at bedtime that she wanted to learn to read. So we read the book together me reading each and every word and then waiting for her to repeat it. Only having read Spanish children’s books for the last month my pronunciation was nothing close to perfect but it was enough for her. She got very excited that she had read a book and wanted to read more another day. Tonight she didn’t want to do her homework but we decided she had to and made her finish before she could go to bed. This did not make her very happy and she spent much of the evening crying not because it was hard homework (coping a picture and words on a page) but rather because it was homework, her teacher assigned it to her (how mean of her haha), and we were making her complete it. After putting all of the other girls to bed I went into the room where she was working and after working pretty well for a while she was having another break down. I told her I would help her, pulled up a chair and asked her what the next word was.. She erased and rewrote many letters because she wanted everything perfect like always, got super excited and felt accomplished realizing she didn’t have very much left, started crying and got frustrated a couple times, but after telling her almost every letter she finally completed it, thanked me, packed her backpack, threw her tissues in the garbage, and went to bed.

Although most of these experiences were not easy for me or the little child I know that being present and letting them know that someone was there to support and help them made a difference. Getting made or frustrated only makes things worse, especially when it comes to children who have experienced a lot of negative feedback and interactions. What the often need is someone to just sit there and wait for them to be ready or walk them step by step through something that seems so very daunting to a child, like homework. Sometimes I am present and the girls don’t want to accept the love and help, but they know that even if they find it annoying I am always there. I have to be consistently patient, encouraging, humble, and loving so they know that in the inconsistencies and struggles in life there is someone who will be predicable. It is not easy and I am not perfect but God helps me every day to work to be this for these girls and most of all for Him. There is nothing more fulfilling and joy-filled then getting to offer this to the girls every day. In loving them and serving them and helping them I am in turn loving Him and serving Him and helping Him. In being present I can begin to fulfill the words of the prayer of Saint Francis: 

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury,pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen

Please continue to the girls in your thoughts and prayers as they continue through this last trimester of school! 

Maria Auxiliadora de los Cristianos...Ruega Por Nosotros

San Juan Bosco...Ruega Por Nosotros 
and on the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, San Francisco de Asis...Ruega Por Nosotros 

In Christ,


Thursday, September 27, 2012

Christ's Face, Words, and Actions

                This last Sunday’s Gospel couldn’t have been more perfect to relate to the work I am doing here and the children I encounter every day. It was Mark 9:30-37:

Jesus and his disciples left from there and began a journey through Galilee, but he did not wish anyone to know about it. He was teaching his disciples and telling them, "The Son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him, and three days after his death the Son of Man will rise." But they did not understand the saying, and they were afraid to question him. They came to Capernaum and, once inside the house, he began to ask them, "What were you arguing about on the way?" But they remained silent. They had been discussing among themselves on the way who was the greatest. Then he sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them, "If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all." Taking a child, he placed it in the their midst, and putting his arms around it, he said to them, "Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me."

Since I have arrived here I have had to remember every day the slogan of the Salesian Lay Missioner: Seeing Christ in the Face of a Child. He is there so very present and yearning for love. When it comes to the children here the idea of receiving them and them being received lovingly and with open arms is somewhat foreign. The majority of them are here not because their families can’t afford to provide for them or because they have no families but rather as a result of severe abuse, neglect, abandonment, unsafe/unhealthy living situation, and other family issues. They have not been accepted or loved the way they deserve and the effects of the deprivation show through every day. It is sometimes hard for them to accept the love that we have for them. In the past when I read this passage I envisioned a joyful, innocent little child who just wants to play and learn and explore. But, the children here although very joyful and playful have had some of their innocence and trust ripped away from them by those they are supposed to be able to depend on the most. This Bible passage is a challenge for me and everyone else to not just accept that innocent, trusting, joyful child but each and every child where they are at and with everything that they have been through. In order to see Christ’s face in them and accept Him in them I have to remember that they are not perfect and are often very broken. I have to hold them when they break down crying because the homework is difficult. I have to make chores and clothes washing a little more fun so they can experience the joy of childhood. I have to sit with them and wait for them to talk when they shut down because they are in trouble. I have to tell them I love them after they have tried to beat me up verbally and occasionally physically. More than anything though I am blessed to get to do all of these things every day. I get to remember what they have been through but see through that into their soft hearts full of love ready to be given and received. I get to put myself last because a child tells me they just want to spend time with me, asks for help with homework, wants to play, or has a bloody nose. I get to receive them in a way that others never did and remind them that they are worth loving, they have value, and that they are capable of being beautiful children of God.

More than any other week so far I have seen Christ’s face in these children through their actions, smiles, screams, and especially through their words. The first three weeks I didn’t have a good enough grasp on Spanish to actually have a conversation with any of the children. But, this week things have been a little bit different and I’ve been trying to ask the little ones questions about the book they are reading, their favorite classes at school, their homework, and even what they learned at mass on Sunday. It has been fun getting to know each of them on a more personal level and seeing their likes, dislikes, strengths, and weaknesses. On Sunday afternoon I was helping a young girl copy pictures on her paper using the window and one of the pictures was Christ on the cross. It reminded me of mass and so I started asking her and another girl about mass (since I was gone watching three of the girls dance in a parade that morning and had to go later that evening). When I asked one thing that they had learned at mass the other little girl said (in Spanish of course) “We need to listen to the word of God.” It was so simple yet profound and beautiful to hear from the mouth of a little 7-year-old. To know that the children are not always just going through the motions and playing with each other at mass but actually remember some things is so wonderful. This was especially great for this little girl who although very bright usually doesn’t know where her clothes or other possessions are and when you ask her often gives you no response at first but a blank stare.

A couple days later I was helping that same girl with her homework again but the other girl wasn’t around. She was tracing a picture of clouds, sun, porch, and children and I was asking her what they all meant in Spanish. When we got to the sky I asked her what the name was and if she liked them. She said yes and then when I asked her why she looked up and me and said, “Because that is where God is.” Wow was all that I could think and it brought a huge smile to my face. It probably helps that the word for sky and heaven is the same but I can tell that she recognizes where God is and that He is a loving person. These children need the hope that God and especially the resurrected Christ offer them. Lastly, yesterday after helping one of the girls wash her clothes we were in one of the rooms at the hogar and on the wall was a picture of Jesus. I asked her what she thought of Him or if she loved Him and her response was, “Yes God is my father and Jesus is my brother.” For this little girl who is very loving, affectionate, and yet often loud and forceful I was so very pleased and excited to hear her response. She in some way or another has learned that her true loving father is our Lord and savior. I pray and hope that these children’s hearts continue to grow and they not only know but truly believe in the love of God and can depend on Him, hope in Him, and rest in His arms.

Please continue to pray for the girls here, for healing, for their ability to trust, for their ability to be loved and accept the help that they want, and for their ability to be children despite everything they have endured. Please also pray for me and all of my fellow Salesian Lay Missioners both at this Hogar and elsewhere in the world as we work to be God’s hands and feet and receive every child in His name. Lastly, please pray for my grandmother who was in the hospital this week because of seizures as a result of her strokes a few years ago. The seizures are under control and she will be moved to a recovery center soon but she is elderly and there are still some struggles ahead.

Maria Auxiliadora de los Christianos… Ruega por Nosotros!
San Juan Bosco… Ruega por Nosotros!
In Christ,

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

There are dogs and Mariachi singers in the church, 40 beautiful children, and a big reminder that one person can do something!

There are certain things that I have discovered here in Bolivia that are totally normal to most people but I am not used to. The churches in Bolivia usually have their doors open during the services and there are also a lot of stray dogs everywhere. One wouldn’t think that these two occurrences would be connected but my first mass in Montero Tom pointed to something and said look. I turned to see a stray dog wandering around inside the church. Since then I don’t think I have been to a single mass where there hasn’t been at least one dog that wanders in and out or comes in and stays the whole time. But, here that is normal and people aren’t usually easily distracted by it. Mass though is so beautiful and lively. This last weekend was Cochabamba day which included two marches/parades, two masses, party after party, and two days off of school. One of the girls invited me to go watch her and her senior classmates in the march with all of the schools around. I went with Hermana (Sister) Marlene and two of the senior girls to an area of Cochabamba near the airport. There were tons of people everywhere and just as many vendors trying to sell knickknacks and various types of food. Some would call it overwhelming but I just call it city life in Bolivia. Before the march began I stood with the girls, sisters, and some of the teachers. I started to feel like their mom there to cheer them on when two of the girls asked me to carry their stuff for them while they marched. I probably looked a little silly walking down the sidewalk with so many bags but being white I always stick out like a sore thumb anyway so I don’t mind. And if anyone asks I can just say “That’s what we do in America!” Haha I haven’t actually used that line but I know many other missioners who do in order to make the Bolivians think that they aren't as odd as they really are.Both of the masses that I attended at our beautiful church here in Itocta were filled with people and as an added bonus the music was played by a Mariachi band! In the past I have only thought of Mariachi bands playing at parties such as cincineras and holidays but was pleasantly surprised to see them in place of the choir at mass. I am really enjoying the Bolivian music that is played at mass which typically includes singing, guitars, and drums (even at the daily masses), even though I understand very little of what is being played. 

Two of the Salesian sisters here in Itocta. The one on the left is the cook for the community, really goofy, and adorable. This day was the one on the right's birthday so of course we celebrated and ate well. She is also funny, silly, and has taken to calling me Winnie the Pooh. 

I try to go to daily mass with the sisters every Tuesday and Thursday which consists of waiting outside at 6:30 with the sisters and a few of the girls from the Casa San Miguel (house for girls who used to be in the Hogar but are over 18 and are still being supported by donors) for Padre Pepe to pick us up in his red refurbished Bolivian van. Then he drives us to one of two nearby areas (Primera de Mayo or Pucharita) where there churches and other sisters from the same order. Living and working in the Hogar mass is a perfect and necessary opportunity for me to get away, spend some time with God in community with others, and remember my purpose and mission here. This week Monica and I went to town to work on my VISA paperwork and so I got to walk through part of the city to the terminal where there are many truffis/micros/taxis and even more people going every which way.  After about 10 minutes the 104 truffi finally showed up and I hopped in. By the time we were about half way home the truffi (which that size van in the U.S. would normally fit about 7 people) had at least 20 people including some who were standing. But anyway, I caught my truffi late so I was worried that I wouldn’t make it back in time to leave with the sisters for mass. As we arrived outside the Hogar I got out and started running hoping they were just on the other side of the church. I saw the red van with Padre standing outside the sliding door and shouted to him to ensure that he saw me. I was the last one in the van and we sped off to Pucharita on the bumpy dirt roads. Every time I am mass there is no doubt that I am with Salesians first because there is either a beautiful statue/image/wall painting of San Juan Bosco (St. John Bosco) and Maria Auxiliadora de los Cristianos (Mary Help of Christians) and secondly because every sister has at least one if not more children sitting next to her. The children love the sisters, look up to them, and want to be with them and learn from them.

Although I barely understood the readings at mass on Tuesday and had a hard time understanding the homily me and Monica read them in English later and prayed about them. The first reading which touched me the most was 1 Corinthians 12:12-26:

Brothers and sisters: As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one Body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit. Now the body is not a single part, but many. Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are Christ's Body, and individually parts of it.

Similarly while waiting to meet with someone about my VISA process at the archbishop’s office earlier in the day Monica had done Bible roulette and ended on Judith 1. This is the story of king Nebuchadnezzar sending his servants out to gather all of the people in his kingdom to create an army to fight in war against King Arphaxad. But, all of those people were afraid they wouldn’t win or didn’t want to join sides with him and refused to join resulting in their own eventual destruction. Both of these readings have a similar message and theme: each and every person can make a difference and does have an important role to fill/call to answer. Of course the call to be a Salesian Missioner is the part of the body of Christ and army for God that I am being asked to be at the moment. But more specifically working in an orphanage where it is sometimes one of me to 40 girls that one part seems so small but so necessary. Whether it is a sick little 8-year-old looking at me with tired eyes and very stuffy nose asking for tissue paper, another girl is needing homework help, someone else wants a book from the library, or many girls shouting that someone is at the door I often wish I could be in more place than one at once. Along with that I continually need to be patient with myself and my level of learning when it comes to Spanish because it’s hard when I find a girl crying or wanting something and can’t understand more than two or three words of their reasons why. These readings reminded me that although I am only one person I am part of such a huge mission to live and to love as Christ taught us. Like one person in an army I cannot do everything but it’s more important that I do something and do that something well. Although I may be just a hand I cannot deny everything that I am and everything I can do as a hand. Even when a little girl tells me “I don’t you’re your help” but is clearly struggling I know that I am essential to and part of the body of Christ. I need to take care of and be present to one girl at a time. I need to know that whether they are crying, screaming at me, laughing, jumping up and down, or struggling to read each and every word they are Christ on earth, Christ right in front of me yearning for love, acceptance, and healing. I need to remember that in all things I am only a vessel for Christ to work through and I can best be who I need to be when I let Him lead me and depend totally on Him. Sometimes this means giving piggy back rides and good night hugs and kisses, other times this means sitting next to a girl and step by step working through the homework that she really doesn’t want to do, and sometimes this even means disciplining a girl when she needs to learn that hitting another person or stealing is not loving or appropriate behavior. This opportunity to do my part and answer my call is what gets me out of bed in the morning every day, pushes me harder than I ever thought I could handle, and brings me so much peace, joy, laughter, and empathy throughout the day. I have the best job that I could have ever asked for and it is more than a job, it is my vocation, it is my call, it is my way to be one person God’s army, one hand or foot or even toe in the body of Christ that without it wouldn’t be the same.  

San Juan Bosco ... Ruega Por Nosotros (Pray for Us)
Maria Auxiliadora de los Cristianos ... Ruega Por Nosotros