I'll be returning to Boston from September 18 to the 28th, then going on a retreat for almost a week. Afterwards, I'll be visiting another location in Ecuador, El Chontal, for several days where the church is built in memory of my Mom. So, here is the last update before I come back for a bit: Day of Recollection in Mindo
At the end of last month, I was able to visit Mindo, which is about and hour and a half by bus from Puerto Quito. There is a place there for retreats, a spiritual getaway with a chapel and cabins. Once a month I like to get away from everyone and everything and be alone with God, for a day of recollection, and this was a good place. "Come away by yourselves to a lonely place, and rest a while." (Mk 6:31)
The English groups
We started doing themes in the parish language group. One person made a little slideshow to show in powerpoint of her family, and we covered the words for family members, all the different relations. I learned the Spanish parts better too. This groups seems to be a good place for all of us to learn language, because we can ask a lot of questions that go both ways. That's what I was hoping and expecting. Out of all the things where I learn language here, which is a lot of various ways and experiences, this is the most effective. Last week another person did a powerpoint presentation on the vocabulary for things around house and home. Again, it was helpful for me too. I was able to share short videos of my childhood house that I had made a few years ago, and use the words. A central theme I had in mind for starting this group was the Lord's words: "Give and it will be given to you." (Lk 6:38) We've become friends through all the meetings.
The English group at the school is going along, and we're working on getting a facebook group together. The students have songs in English they've picked to sing as part of a version of Santiago Apostol's Got Talent. It was supposed to happen this week, but then I found out they had class elections, and it didn't materialize. So we'll try again next week. One of the things I'm hoping for is that the students can help out students that are struggling in English. We'll see ...
School weeks of sports
The school also had a week of sports. It turned into a few weeks, getting spread out more with class days. Each grade was split in two, boys and girls, and were able to have sort of professional-type uniforms. They asked me to referee some basketball games, so I spent a few days doing that. The basketball isn't real basketball, it's Ecuadorian style basketball, which has elements of soccer and volleyball - the two most popular sports around here - integrated in. The quality is mostly a chaotic pace that ends in something like "throw it up and hope for the best" as Padre Martin put it one time. I think the girls play a better type than the boys, and it's more popular with girls. The soccer I think is very good here, I don't know too much about it or the quality, but the kids play it all the time. They're far better than I am, having only played several times in my life. It was fun to play a little pickup basketball with some of the kids.
One of the disappointments I had with it all was, well, two things. First, the kids don't shake hands after the games at all. There doesn't seem to be much for sportsmanship. That's not a foreign thing here in Ecuador, they do do that like in other places like the States. But not at this school, at least not yet. So, I began to shake the hands of all the players on both teams and congratulate them after the games I refereed - just doing it myself and leave others free to follow, who knows what happens? "I urge you then, be imitators of me." (1 Cor 4:16) …. Another disappointment was that the sports was just, well, just for themselves. There wasn't any sort of effort or act of generosity or charity outside the school. It was like it's own little bubble. This bothered me because the school was founded and funded by missionary efforts, which are rooted in faith and generosity toward others. Maybe in time. I had proposed at the beginning of the year that we could do a type of fundraising (which is not uncommon here) with the sports. Kind of like you might have a benefit walk or golf tournament in the States. Then, the sports has a tangible context that unites in charity - it doesn't end in "us vs them" among each other, but a united "us for them". Well anyway, to me, that type of sports is really divisive. But my suggestion was ignored I guess. Maybe it's too much to organize. But with my limited language ability, I have limited participation, and it's hard to really be actively involved at the school. …. And there was something else. They had kids playing against kids not only from an older grade, but 2 grades difference. I thought that was unfair and inappropriate, but that reflects some of the latent mentality here in a developing place. There is a custom of domination, and that sense of fairness and equality isn't as strong as it is in the States. I would have made double the teams and made a 3-on-3 tournament, or mixed the grades a bit on teams, or something. So, though I'm happy that kids get to play and to have some nice things, I did find it to be a spoiled atmosphere. Getting expensive, professional-style custom uniforms for free, not shaking hands, beating other kids 2 years younger, not reaching out to the outer community?
Though in the midst of it all there was inspiration. I had the ball ready to start one game, and I looked around at the two teams, both girls. One was a team of what looked like 15 year olds, sort of bored and yawning, checking out their nails. The other was a team of really, really short girls that looked like they were 11 years old at best. They all looked almost exactly alike, and their uniforms were literally cheerleader uniforms. The ringleader has the name "gatita" on her back - "kitty". Not the type that instills any fear at all in the opposition. At all. And they were all looking at me and wondering out loud what they were going to do against the older girls. So the game begins, and all these little girls in cheerleader uniforms are running around like swarming bees or ants, swarming the other team. Lightning-quick and aggressive. Offense, defense, it was surreal, I couldn't stop laughing at the little cheerleaders outplaying and outhustling the older girls. It was like something out of a movie. They lost the game, but only by a basket. But I was impressed and inspired! They won my respect. He has cast down the mighty from their thrones He has shown the strength of his arm; he has scattered the proud in their conceit. He has cast down the mighty from their thrones and has lifted up the lowly. (Lk 1:51-52)
Amigos del Arca
In the project Amigos del Arca, we've been going at times to the river beach nearby. It's not much for swimming, maybe a little wading. But it makes for a social outing and a different environment for everyone to share. One day on our way back, we encountered this snake in a nearby tree. One of the workers got it down for a closer look. It's not poisonous, it has no fangs. But there are plenty of snakes here, and it seems to me that the people are very afraid of them. It's probably because there are plenty of stories of snakebites and even deaths from snakes.
Here's a picture of Carmita after we dropped her off at her home. She has Down's Syndrome, and her family life leaves her unkept and in many ways uncared for. But this is life and home for her. Out of all those who come for the services, to me she has the toughest life. Please pray for Carmita and all those who live here with their disabilities and their poverty.
Last week, we had our monthly Friday gathering where we celebrate the birthdays of the month. I offered this time to cook on the grille, if someone wanted to set it up for me. Here, there isn't the gas grille, you pretty much make your own grille with cinder blocks and some metal grilling, and you buy some "carbon", which is like carbonized, petrified wood. So, one of the neighbors, Marta, who is accomplished with her husband in their own business and farm, met me in the city of Santo Domingo about 1.5 hours away, and I did some shopping. Hot dogs, sausages, buns, all the condiments with lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, relish, onions, and whatnot. I had burger meat in the house already, I just had to grind it by hand, so I did that the day before, and made some burgers by hand. (As it turned out, I put way too much spice in them, so they were a little tough on the palate.) We got chickens from the farm to cook, too. I also bought baked beans from the supermarket in Santo Domingo, so we could do it Boston-style! So the morning of Friday I spent prepping and then cooking on the grille for about 35 people. I got help from Marta, Patricia, and another woman (I forget her name), and Freddy put the tarp up over my head as cover for the sun.
When it was done, I set everything up in the kitchen, laid everything out for the burgers, the hotdogs and sausages, the chicken, the baked beans. Now, for many, hot dogs and sausage were a new experience. No one had tasted relish before, and neither the pickles. The folks here usually stick to chicken and beef, maybe some pork, with some simple sauces. So it was like a condiment explosion - very American! They said they liked it, but I think they're just being polite. I think they'll stick to what they ordinarily eat. Afterwards, we had a birthday cake that someone from the group had made, to celebrate the one birthday of the month.
So it cost me quite a few bucks for the day, a lot of time and energy to prepare and to cook and you can be sure that no one's going to be reciprocating on that. But that's not what I was looking for. I feel blessed to be able to share who I am and what I have with them, and that they do likewise. And in the time for spiritual reflection, I got to share some of my mother's story in her care for my sister, Lisa.
“When you hold a lunch or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or your wealthy neighbors, in case they may invite you back and you have repayment. Rather, when you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (Lk 14:12-14)
The Church Locked
The church got broken into last month and someone tried unsuccessfully to pick the lock of the tabernacle of all things. I was asleep and I heard someone opening the gate to the courtyard at about 4am. People come and go from here at a lot of different times (I'm always the last to know what's going on), so I didn't think too much about it, but it must have been the robbers. But the next morning when we tried to open the tabernacle in the Mass, we found it jammed. Later on, the tip of a knife was found in the lock. So, now the church is locked at night, and for much of the day. It's sad, but when it was open, the church was not being used much for prayer outside of Mass. I guess that's even sadder.
We're still visiting the little village of Santa Cecilia for celebrations of the Word and for catechesis for First Communion. We have a dynamic class each time, in one form or another. Here are some pictures of what the kids did with the help of Sr Josefina's ingenuity:
We have the gatherings at the home of one of the elder members of the community. That particular day, we had a visitor from nearby, this turkey. The turkey, according to the owner, thinks he's a dog, and follows the owner everywhere. He spends his time with the dogs, establishing the "pecking order". He bristles up his feathers and chases the dogs around. I call him the jive turkey. It was great. What was also amazing is how the kids have no hesitation with the animals, picking up the jive turkey, chasing him around. I got a good laugh!
This particular meeting we also had someone arrive by horse, and the chickens with their chicks would cut through every once in a while. Dogs, chickens, horses, turkeys, pigs and cows. Such is the campo!
In our last meeting, we had more activities with the kids cutting out pictures from magazines and old calendars pictures of God's creation and making a diorama. It's not often that these kids will ever get to see something like a National Geographic magazine or a calendar with beautiful photos of Scotland. It was a joy just for them to be able to see all the pictures and imagine with their minds!
At one of the most recent gatherings, we had about 40 people it seemed to me, including three young women who are hoping to be baptized. For the meditation on the Gospel of entering the narrow gate, we got everyone to line up and do the limbo, with the bar lowering and lowering. Of course the kids won. You have to be little to enter the narrow gate. They think I'm crazy. And rightly so. But every once in a while, I'm in the town center of Puerto Quito, and I hear my name being called out. It's one of the kids from Santa Cecilia.
After this gathering, I thought of the first meetings we had next to the schoolhouse, where we practically sat on the ground outside with 2 or 3 adults and 4 or 5 children, and we did the first part of the Mass with a pig running around. We didn't know what was going to happen. But it was around then that I began to preach and all the birds gathered together, and that gave me confirmation to keep preaching. And not long after, Sr Josefina began the catechesis. It is a privilege to witness God at work in His mercy and love, to be with Him as a little companion in His work.
"For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and prosper in the thing for which I sent it. For you shall go out in joy, and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall be to the LORD for a memorial, for an everlasting sign which shall not be cut off." (Is 55:10-13)
Padre David Leaves
One sad note from the month is that my friend and housemate Padre David has left. He was reassigned by the bishop to be pastor at another, much smaller parish. He was a deacon here for 6 months, and then was assigned here as a priest, but that only lasted about a month because of some changes in the diocese. It's too bad to see him go. Now I'm mostly living alone here in the parish house ….
Another Visit to Mindo
On a day off, I made another visit to the town of Mindo. It's somewhat of a tourist town with all the birds and nature. Once I got there, I decided to take a sideroad and walk for a while, sort of like a hike.
On the road I met up with a nice couple spending the morning together. They didn't have much to say, but they let me take their picture:
The woman was flattered that I wanted a solo shot of her, so she struck a pose:
The female had come right up to me after I stopped, and I was able to pet her for a while. She sniffed my hand, and maybe finding there was no food, she walked away...
I crossed a few bridges, and then noticed a narrow pathway on my right that headed downhill. I decided to take it. After winding through a narrow footpath for about 20 minutes, I finally reached the edge of a river, with a little footbridge, and then a few yards down there was a hidden little entrance to a river beach. There was a big rock there, and I climbed up onto it and lay down, it was like a perfect fit. It was a great rest for me, because the environment of immersion in Spanish is a constant work, even when I'm not explicitly working. To have a chance to be alone and with God was special. My God is my rock, in whom I take refuge. (Ps 18:2)
On Saturdays and Sundays, I participate in the catechesis program here in the parish. Since I help out Sr Josefina with the catechesis of the kids in Santa Cecilia, I participate in the group meeting for those catechists for the kids preparing for first communion. On Sundays, I lead a group meeting of parents in the catechesis program. With the language difficulty (my Spanish level is working proficiency), this can be tough. For the same reason I declined to teach in the school, it's difficult. It's often hard to understand the people, with different tones and volumes, and with all the other nearby disturbances around (the classes are open air, there is music practice and other classes going on nearby.) It's hard to participate in any discussion, so I have to let the folks discuss among themselves more. But we are doing something special, something special is unfolding, we'll see ….
Visiting Agnus Dei
I made another trip to the community Agnus Dei for a monthly day of recollection. It usually includes a lot of time before the Blessed Sacrament and a holy hour in the middle of the night. It's a great time to get away and be with God. But Jesus withdrew to a deserted place and prayed. (Lk 5:16)
Visiting the Sick in Bosque de Oro
We've continued with celebrations of the Word in another village, Bosque de Oro, which means Forest of Gold. It has been consistent with the choir and the lectors that we have, and Don Daniel has been leading all parts of the celebration. It has taken some time to train the other leader, Santos, but I'm hoping he can start to do some of the leading as well. When Daniel does the leading, he still asks me to do the reflection, the "homily". I'm hoping he can do more of his own too.
Before the celebration this time, one of the families asked me if I could come by and visit a sick mother-in-law in the home to bring her communion. She has been mostly sedentary for months now, and she also has a problem with her arm. On top of that, she had also fallen, so that her shoulder was hurt. But it was a privilege to bring the Lord in communion to her, and to share what I've received of the Lord's love.
Afterwards, the family asked me if I wanted a little rice, so I said OK. Their home is made of sort of shack-like wood, typical in the campo, elevated from the bottom floor which is basically the earth for the animals. They gave me a big bowl of rice with a piece of chicken and something to drink. I found out that they have lived there for 6 years now, and that they left their previous town because people had threatened to kill them. They are very poor, and there are some days that they subsist on a little yuka and eggs from the chickens they have. But the woman told me that the land is better here than in their old place. It's a great testimony of how God has His ways of bringing us into a better situation through trials and darkness. When I was done eating, the mother whispered something to the daughter. She went into the other room and brought back a little plastic bag with 5 eggs in it. I was very moved, because this is a lot to them.
It makes me think of when Mary brought Jesus to the Temple for His presentation. The first-born male in every Israelite family had to be redeemed because of what happened in their deliverance from Egypt. The first-born of the Egyptians were killed but the first-born of the Israelites were spared with the sacrifice of a lamb. So Israelites always offered the sacrifice of a lamb to redeem their first-born son, participating in and proliferating the same deliverance event, sharing in the covenant. But if someone couldn't afford a lamb, you could offer two pigeons or turtledoves. Joseph and Mary offered the two pigeons. Jesus was bought for 2 pigeons. That's how humble He is. And that's what I think of here. Jesus was bought for 5 eggs. He loves that. He loves to show how humble He is, who He really is.
And no one can show the humility of Jesus better than those who are poor.
"Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God." (Lk 6:20)