I will forever be grateful for my experiences to Nicaragua…even though the visits are emotionally, physically, and mentally demanding, especially when you are in charge of your students in a foreign country, I am grateful to accompany students on these encounters with Christ.
Today, I was reminded of how much beauty there is on these trips! Really challenging, but looking back, my heart is full of gratitude.
Please keep us in our prayers, as our Nicaragua trip is coming up as well!
Here’s a video from one of my first experiences with organization, Amigos for Christ:
I had a wonderful Lyft driver this evening. He was pretty cool. First off, he was a safe driver. That’s a win already!
Second, the conversation went pretty well as soon as we got in the car. We ask him how his day was going (the usual chit chat that happens in these Lyft experiences), and he shares how his friend just moved here from Italy and how he is having difficulty adjusting to the culture here. From the obsession with cell phones, and taking pictures of food (guilty), to not operating with a collectivist mindset, to being merely preoccupied with one’s self…there are many differences that I can imagine one would face, upon finding a new “home” in the US. We then started talking about the Philippines, and our Filipino heritage.
He shared how he worked with some Filipinas in his old workplace and while they were nice, these three ladies just ran the place. He elaborated to say, “They were very friendly, but if they needed something done, we knew we had to get it done!” Typical! I asked him if they at least fed him well, and he said, “Oh yeah! Italians and Filipinos. They are very good at food!” We laughed.
We started getting close to our destination, but I asked him if he knew where Codogno, Italy is. Did I know? Not really. But I hear Italy, and I think Mother Cabrini (obviously). I then shared with him how “My favorite saint is St. Francis Xavier Cabrini. She’s the patronness saint of immigrants.” He then said, “Oh yes, Mother Cabrini! She’s great! She got things done all over Chicago!” He continued, “When I used to hang out with my friends in Chicago, and if someone was all trying to get people to do things, we would say, “Who do you think you are? Mother Cabrini?”
Immediately, I knew he was for real! We then talked about immigration and how Mother Cabrini’s intercession could be used right about….NOW. I don’t doubt for one second that she has ever left though. Which is a good thing. Not in a creepy way, but in a…Mother Cabrini is always ever-present kinda way.
Anything immigration related (i.e. passports, visas, travel..parking spots <– Mother Cabrini, Mother Cabrini, don’t be a meanie. Help me find a parking spot for my machiney!), Mother Cabrini is your girl.
One of the days in West Virginia, my work crew and I spent the morning/afternoon at The Mission in Clarksburg. The Mission is a facility that provides food, clothing, various services (psychological, spiritual, social, etc.), and shelter. Upon learning more about the mission of The Mission, I became certain that this was a truly blessed place.
When we first arrived, we met members of The Mission community in the cafeteria. Pastor Chris was speaking about knocking on the door and Christ greeting us, and he challenged us to ask ourselves, “Would Christ know who you were if you knocked on the door?” Or would he say, “I don’t know you?” He challenged us to be open to Christ in our lives and to seek to know Him better too. The ten minute sermon that Pastor Chris gave to the community was enough to make the people say, AMEN. The passion and message that Pastor Chris gave was powerful. Some of the students said to me, “Why can’t Catholic Church be like this?”
We then went on a tour of The Mission, and I was in complete awe the entire time. He led us from the food pantry, which acts like a pseud0-distributor of resources to other organizations in need, then to the donation center which collects different hygiene products, clothes, and other items that others may be in need of. Here, he told us something very powerful, “Our goal here, is to not have to say “no” to anyone. Some people come in and they ask for some cans of food or hygiene items, and before we could even say anything, they say, but I don’t have ID. Is that OK?” He continued to say, “The way we see it here at The Mission is that it doesn’t matter. ID or not, we’ll try to help you out. Jesus’ Kingdom does not work with IDs, and if we’re going to do His work, we have to be open to anyone and everyone at the same time.” Sometimes people come to The Mission asking for help paying their electricity bill. If The Mission isn’t able to help, sometimes they will post these needs on Facebook, and sure enough, help comes along.
WHAT?!?! It was pretty amazing.
Afterwards, he led us to the Computer Lab room where different meetings happen and this is a place for people to come in and look for job opportunities and do research for other needs that they may have. Later, he took us downstairs to the clothing distribution center, which was a HUGE warehouse that packed 1100 lbs of used clothing into these firm stacks, and they would ship them off to be sold to developing countries, and all proceeds go right back to The Mission. The Mission also has a thrift shop too, to continue its self-sustainable efforts. Pretty cool!
Before we were led to the warehouse of packed clothing, Pastor Chris took us downstairs. I didn’t quite know where we were going, but before I knew it, we were in a huge room with 36 bunk beds, and this, we were later told, was the shelter for men who needed a place to stay. Some stay in the Welcome Room for days, weeks, months, sometimes years. When there is another vacancy, another person is welcomed to take his spot. There was also a room set aside for females too.
This place just blew my mind. Everywhere we went, Pastor Chris truly reflected the face of Christ. He knew people’s names, he addressed them by name, even those who were suffering with schizophrenia on the streets, gave them time, and attended to them, even while he was taking us on a tour. In a way, it reminded me of Father Greg Boyle and how he reminds us about kinship. Pastor Chris knew kinship. He reflected that, and it was beautiful to witness.
That day at The Mission, I saw a different side of the West Virginia region that I otherwise would not have been able to imagine. Grateful to have been invited to share in the lives of the people I met at The Mission that beautiful Thursday.
There is something very liberating and freeing about not knowing what time it is, not having access to technology, not staring at a computer or iPad screen for days, not having to be distracted by things that would otherwise tug at us while we are home. But the ironic thing is, is that in a way, we were home.
Home for my students and I over Spring Break, was at Nazareth Farm, nestled in good ole’ Doddridge County, West Virginia. I had visited Naz Farm last year over Spring Break too, and I was very much looking forward to returning. Not knowing how a trip is going to turn out, including whether or not students will be open to the experience, or illnesses that I may have to deal with during the trip, are all part of the package. Thank you baby Jesus for a sweet experience!
One of the mottos at Nazareth Farm is “Welcome Home.” Upon driving to the Farm, the staff members ran out to us at 8pm and gave us hugs while greeting us, “Welcome Home.” The spirit behind this is that this special place, this community, is home. Whether we return next week or in a few months or years, this is still home. The staff is “aggressively hospitable,” and they stay true to their word. A warm bed and homemade food is always available. So nice! Whenever we drove back from a work site and returned to Naz Farm in the afternoon, we were still greeted with hugs and hospitality, and we are welcomed home, yet again. Day after day, the hugs, warmth of friendship and love was apparent.
Of course, some things were difficult to get used to: water used at the Farm is pumped through a well and smells like sulfur (yea, egg smells), not flushing the toilets unless you go #2, not having access to technology, bucket showers, not knowing what time it is…but there’s a reason to all this.
Though the water was treated with sulfur, it was all still clean and drinkable (if you air it out, it’s no problem!) and the way of obtaining water was what was of importance. Do you know how much water is wasted every time we flush toilets? How about when we take showers? Having the luxury of a taking a warm bucket shower under the stars (when it is not lightning and thunderstorming) was a gift in itself. The last night, I took a bucket shower under the stars, and while that takes some getting to used to (you usually feel superrrr exposed, even though you’re hidden!), it was pretty cool to hear all of the students singing their alma maters and other pop sons in the far off distance. Needless to say, they got pretty creative with their non-technologically based activities. 🙂
What do students do when they’re not staring at instagram, taking snapchats, and catching up on social media? Contrary to popular belief, there are alternatives. They play card games, they play ninja, they have conversations about their educational goals, they talk with one another, and they laugh – a LOT.
Each day, we started off with prayer, followed by chores, breakfast, then onto our worksites. Everyday brought about new stories and reasons to laugh, and other reasons to take a step back and take in the fresh air of West Virginia, while reflecting on the day’s work.
I was so encouraged by all of the students who were open to receiving whatever the experience had to offer them. There were friendships formed and foundations for deep relationships. I remember one student sharing, “Even though I just met these people a couple of days ago, I feel like I know them more than my friends at home. I just feel closer to them.”
If mission is about relationships, Nazareth Farm brought mission to life this past week. And the staff at Naz Farm do it over and over again as they host high schools, colleges, families, and individuals. One of the sojourners this past week told me, “This place is just magical.” And I believe it. In some ways, there’s no other way to describe it, but what ends up happening on this beautiful mountain is Christ’s love presented in the form of people coming together to learn from one another, laugh, and support each other.
I suppose there is nothing more beautiful than feeling free and liberated, and that was only a taste of what I feel God desires for each one of us. I am incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to witness joy for each of the students and chaperones on the trip. It was refreshing, authentic, and the coolest part was recognizing God’s hand in it all.
Walking through Philly the other day, I came across this statue of Jesus (see above): Jesus holding bread. Broke the bread, and in an open palm gesture, the bread was offered for all. ALL. Nothing profound here, only that this statue had me reflecting on Jesus’ care and love for anyone and everyone that came his way. When he wanted to retreat, he was interrupted, and he went to the people, instead. When others despised him for spending time with the marginalized persons in society, he did it anyway. When he had his Last Supper, knowing that his friends would betray him, he still knelt down, and washed their feet. To me, this statue reiterated the heart of Jesus – for everyone. If only humans could open their doors just a little bit more, and open their palms and hearts out to others, just a little bit more.
I then came across this image today (above) by Fritz Eichenberg, an artist who worked with Dorothy Day (founder of the Catholic Worker) on theCatholic Worker movement. Providing homes of hospitality for those who needed a place to rest their head, food for their tummies, and services to help them get back on their feet, the Catholic Worker movement is one that is still very much alive today – not only shared by Catholics, but participated in by all. Eichenberg has provided an array of powerful art pieces that call us to be mindful of the poor and oppressed, and I urge you to check them out. They’re good ones.
Here’s another one:
Now, go, and create your own art with others. And smile doing it 🙂 There are people waiting.