Look at the Birds

Hello! I’m going to try to write an update with the internet access and time that I do have. Se, here goes ….

Quito

I arrived in Quito fine, and stayed with friends, the Franciscan Missionaries of St Joseph, in Quito. They are moving out after 30 years of presence there in a parish. Since Sr. Meir died earlier this year, there has only been one sister there, and so she is moving out to Puerto Quito (where I spent a year in 2013, and where I met the sisters). Amazingly, I was leaving for Chontal on the very day she was moving out, so I was around for some sending off. She was teaching some English as well to children, and I had joined in from time to time over the past few years whenever I was staying there. So, there was a big goodbye from the kids and their families. (Click here for the photos and videos.) Another local man is going to try to pick up the classes. Some of the other ministries are going to continue in the parish, and some sisters from another congregation are buying the property to move in and minister in the parish. But it’s a big change, as they’ve had many memories. I, too, have had many memories in the house with the sisters and the local people, from the last 3 years or so. But, it’s time for next steps.

In Quito, I also visited my friend Rosa, who owns a Spanish school that receives students from all over the world. She is from Chontal, and many of her family is still there. It was good to catch up.

Chontal

Here in Chontal, I have been in the stages of listening, as I always do at the beginning. I wrote a reflection on it here. I take time in the church to pray, and at times have adoration, either in the morning or at night after everything’s done.

Kids

The kids always look forward to my coming, and in the first days I was out playing on the main field in the center of the pueblo with them. This is always a prophetic message to the people:

Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.
— Mt 18:3

The idea of being prophetic isn’t just speaking something with one’s voice, or saying religious words about God. It’s in speaking something with all of one’s actions, and especially in public actions.

Speaking of that, the area around the house where I’m staying is always populated with the neighbor’s chickens. I think of Jesus’ words:

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how many times I yearned to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her young under her wings, but you were unwilling!
— Mt 23:37

Just because it’s proclaimed, doesn’t mean that it’s accepted or listened to. It’s up to the Holy Spirit and people’s own free will to determined whether the message is actually accepted.

In any case, the children are always a treasure and of course always enjoy playing. But they like to pray too. Here’s a reflection on that.

I’ve also been involved with the religious education classes a bit. I’m hoping after the Christmas season to start meetings for the teachers, to create a space for sharing and communion building. The first step is to allow each to share their experiences and whatever teaching tools they have in their “belts” with each other. After that, there are things that I can teach from my own experience. This is a great them for Advent, as the theme for Advent is really from the Scripture: prepare the way of the Lord. In Luke’s Gospel, John the Baptist reveals what that means: “Whoever has two tunics should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise.” (LK 3:11) Leveling up, making mountains low and valleys filled in, is always the way to prepare for the coming of God. We first have to share with others what we already have, in order for us to be able to receive the new gift that God wants to give.

The priest is having a Mass on Christmas day in the center village of Magdalena, and all the kids in religious ed and their parents are invited to come. There will be the Christmas procession in characters, and then the folks from each village will make a short performance - either sing a song or dance, or do a small dramatization, things like that. It means more work this year, as the normal Christmas novena will still occur from Dec 16-24, but the next day everyone will basically need to trek over to the center village. But I’ve been working with the religious ed teachers to put something simple together.

Some of the youth have also gathered with me to re-decorate the pastoral room, above where I live, for Christmas. One of the things I’ve put up on the walls are places for the kids in religious ed to put up their own works of art. It’s ongoing, and there’s talk as well of re-starting the youth group from before. We will see, as that will depend on people making commitments, always a problem here…

  “Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they? ... But seek first the kingdom [of God] and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.”  (Mt 6:26,33)

“Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they? ... But seek first the kingdom [of God] and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.” (Mt 6:26,33)

The last time I was here, I had put a poster up on the wall. It is a poster of the birds in the area - there’s an amazing variety. It includes parrots, toucans, hawks, Gallo de la Peña (a rare, red-headed bird that is local to this area), a quetzal (another rare bird to the area), a lot of tangaras, hummingbirds, a woodpecker, and others. I also put above a passage from the Gospel where Jesus talks about the birds, how God provides everything. it’s a great image of the kingdom of God and His justice that Jesus talks about in that passage. Well, when the kids come by, I always ask them, which bird are you? And they all have a favorite. The idea is that each person is unique and valuable, each has a beautiful splendor like the birds, each has a unique place under God’s care, in the church. That is the justice in God’s kingdom.

Laundry

I recorded a little video of myself washing some clothes. I don’t have a lot of pairs of shorts or socks for sports, so when I’m exercising a lot, I like to wash those clothes by hand. (A neighbor does my laundry (machine wash and hang dry), and I pay her $5 a load.) So, what I thought would be a fairly short video of doing laundry so you could see, turned into a visit from some of the kids, as well as the priest stopping by. Enjoy! Here is the video.

Plans for Advent

I’m in the process of listening, and laying out some ideas for advent. Some ideas include evenings of prayer, preaching, and healing, focusing on the healing stories of Jesus from the Gospels, although I prefer to do that outside the Christmas season; a celebration for Our Lady of Guadalupe; gathering youth for augmenting the Christmas celebration; and generally making visits to a lot of the homes, especially of people without resources. Other ideas include initiating a Bible group and sharing how to listen to God in the 4 Gospels. I’ve also been tutoring a few kids here in Math, and have thought of expanding that to other subjects and students, but it may make more sense to do that after Christmas season.

Thanksgiving

I had a calm Thanksgiving here, and though I had no turkey or pumpkin pie, I did eat well. Here are photos of the food as well as the bananas that I was given as well - that really helped.

On Black Friday, I didn’t make any purchases. Last year, my Black Friday purchase was a bar of laundry soap. This year, there was a minga on the church property. A minga is a community activity to do work on property, and this one was by the parents of the kids in the religious ed program. They worked all morning, and because they were working, there was no one to make lunch (the men are off in the farms working, typically). So, I took them out for lunch nearby, it was a good time. (And only cost about $28 for 8 people in total.) After eating, I was later visiting another family, and they gave me some watermelon. I took some of the seeds, and one of the folks involved in the minga helped me plant the seeds along the back of the church. Hopefully in a few months, the seeds will grow into watermelon plants and we’ll have watermelons to share! Check out the photos here.

Internet Solution

The church house has internet because the antenna for the pueblo is on the church property. There are still some homes who afford it, and others who don’t. Furthermore, some of the school teachers assign homework from the internet, leaving some kids searching. Also, some people with internet charge other people to use their internet regularly. Here, only a few people would have computers or laptops, and I haven’t seen a tablet. Cellphones are the preferred way of accessing the internet, which then becomes simply a means to use Facebook, Messenger, Youtube, or WhatsApp, all on the cellphone. Sharing the church’s internet is problematic for many reasons, including the protections and limitations that would need to be included for children’s access, the control over bandwidth use that would be needed so that the network isn’t overwhelmed (a likely scenario without precautions), a scheduling mechanism so that people are not spending lots of time hanging around the church just for internet, and a separate guest network operation so that the church network and devices would be separate from the public devices. This has meant buying a new router and a lot of research time on all of this! I’ve found a router in Quito that I believe could do all of this (though one is never sure because different versions of the same model number can have different capabilities). I’m thinking of buying it for about $45. The idea would be for students to have free internet wifi for one hour each day after coming out of classes. There wouldn’t be access to Youtube or Facebook, just the messenging apps and the general internet. And there would be filtering and protection from inappropriate content. (Most students aren’t from the pueblo, but rather from other villages up in the mountains, and have much more limited internet access there, if at all.) Later in the day, there would be the same type of access for the pueblo here for an hour, in the hours after the kids have gone and adults have come back from the day’s work. That’s what I’m tentatively thinking for now, as a way to share internet in a way that is constructive by giving people access to be able to make important communications and investigations, and doesn’t promote the addiction and abuse that easily happens.

You may know that I brought with me a Raspberry Pi computer, to see if there could be a use for the community here. I’m finding that the major cost would be for the monitor and connecting cable. So far, the total cost is $70, including the computer, a new keyboard, and a new mouse. If I could find a used monitor & cable being sold / given away, then I could move forward. But right now that is on pause.

Creatures

I’ve had a few creatures here, as usual.

Bats

There are two gigantic bats that come every night to the church property at exactly 6:15 and fly around a tree for about 10 or fifteen minutes - then they leave. Every single night that has happened - I first started to notice it a few years ago. Check out the video here, you’ll need to watch the tree closely and look for the moving shadows around the upper branches.

Wandering Spider

When I first moved into the pastoral house this time, I got up the next morning and went to shower. I opened the shower curtain, and felt something land on my left foot. I looked down and saw a wandering spider run across the shower floor and climb the opposite wall. You can check out the video I recorded here of my narrating it. Here are the pictures I took of him, including after he was killed.

I showered with him there, keeping an eye on him. Afterward I got dressed, I came back with a broom, thinking I’d try to move him out of the house. With what I had in the house, I couldn’t find any other way to trap him and bring him somewhere else. In trying to get him out of the house I was well aware that it was likely that I’d kill him, but it had to be done. Anyway, as I reached the broom towards him on the wall, he dropped down to the floor quickly on a thread of spider silk, like a superhero! Then, I tried to kind of sweep him across the floor to the other side, and I was kind of successful. But he wouldn’t climb over the threshold to the shower. At one point, he had enough, and spun around to face off with the broom. I knew he was ready to bite, then. I just kept trying to force over the threshold the best I could, but it killed him. I eventually put him outside, where you can see him in the last photo.

I like having spiders, as they kill other creatures here. But these particular wandering spiders can bite like a bee sting, or even potentially cause hospitalization with their bites. I sent a photo to a spider expert in Australia that I’ve developed a relationship with over my time in Ecuador. He’s in this species of spider, although what this explorer expresses in this video isn’t fully correct and is a bit made for television.

Conga

However, that explorer guy made another video about the Conga, or bullet ant. And they are nothing to mess around with. The Conga is a 1-inch long black ant that supposedly has the most painful sting of any insect in the world, and the pain lasts for about 24 hours. I don’t want to experience it. You can Google “bullet ant” for any more curiosities. Anyway, everyone here knows what a conga is. Some Colombians even wrote a song about being stung by the Conga, here, Lol. And it’s conga season, as they are out now - and some have wings and fly and can potentially land on you! Lol. One evening I had left my door open while in the church, and when i returned I looked around to make sure nothing was hanging out inside. I found this guy in the corner, about 10 ft from my bedroom. Needless to say, I killed him on sight. I will say, that I was a little “antsy” (pun intended) while sleeping that night, but I haven’t seen one since.

HAVING shared all that about the creatures here, I can say that I’ve never witnessed or even heard of anyone get bitten or stung by anything in all of my time here in Ecuador. Most adults do have a story of being bitten or stung by something maybe once or twice in their lives, and maybe more frequent times if they’re working in the farms. But it’s really not that common occurrence here in the pueblo, even if life puts people in close contact with nature.

Visa

I am waiting on contact with the local priest about my visa possibility. I am a little concerned about the timing at this point. The bishop from before has left the diocese to return to Italy and be close to his ailing parents. That has left a temporary bishop in place for now, who I don’t know. So, whereas I could have gone right away to the old bishop (we already had dialogue about my returning, before I left), I need to begin that dialogue again through the local priest: he has to speak with bishop and give his approval, and then likely I set up an appointment with the bishop. At that point, he gives me a letter, and I can then start the process in Quito with the woman who handles all the documentation process. But all that takes time, and I need to leave for Peru in mid January. It’s been over two weeks and I'll find out this weekend if the priest has spoken to the bishop yet. If not, it really needs to get sped up. So, we’ll see.

Rest

I do get away from Chontal once a week, and I get away alone about once every two weeks for prayer and reflection. I have friends in Mindo that I visit, and there are places to pray that are nearby.

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It’s also about time for my usual sickness that kicks in during my first month in the transition. Some effects are starting to show, like tiredness, dizziness, and the stomach problems. It usually passes after a week or two, and I just have to be aware of my need for rest and fluids ….


OK, that’s all for now, I’ll keep posting updates. I hope you are well wherever you find yourself these days. Feel free to drop a note at any time, you can reach me on the contact page.

-Jerome