Thursday, December 10, 2009

El Espiritu Navideño...otherwise known as ¨Christmas Spirit¨!

Peace of Christ and Advent Greetings to all! I pray that each day your hearts are being prepared for the birth of the Christ Child…filled with the spirit of true joy and peace. Sometimes we get lost in the holiday hustle and bustle and forget to relish the simple things… like catching a snowflake on your tongue, sipping hot chocolate by the fireplace, a slice of pumpkin pie fresh from the oven, the mittened hand of a child´s in yours, the way your boots ´crunch´ in the snow and the laughter of your family while singing Christmas carols in the car. These are just some of things I´m missing this year, as it´s my second Christmas away from home. But we have been preparing for Christmas nonetheless, ´Ecuadorian style´. On the first Sunday of Advent, we decorated the Internado house with the teenage girls…putting up a little Christmas tree, and colorful ribbons to adorn the walls. Each girl made an ornament for the tree and has a little felt stocking adorned with her name hanging on the front door. They especially love the Christmas lights we conjured up…one strand even plays Christmas carols! Seeing the girls delight in these little things brings joy to my heart and I know that Christmas will find us wherever we are in the world…if we remember what CHRISTmas is really about.

Decorating the Christmas Tree with the girls!

Perhaps this note finds some of you feeling stressed about trying to find the ´perfect´ gift for the person who always says they ¨don´t need anything.¨ What if I were to tell you that I have a solution? Why not give this person an invaluable present that cannot be tossed aside, tucked away in the closet or ‘re-gifted.’ In the name of your loved one, I invite you to give the gift of education to a child or teenager here at the Santuario. You can let them know via a simple Christmas card that you have made this thoughtful and generous donation on their behalf.
You see, one of the foundation’s major benefactors can no longer provide the $18 monthly stipend fee previously allotted for 70 children. If this stipend goes unpaid, the students are not permitted to take their exams, and they fail the school year. Students who “fail” the school year because they cannot afford the fees often do not return the following year, because why study for several months out of the year, only to be left unable to complete it for financial reasons beyond their control? With only four months left, it would be an immense shame if these students were to lose all the hard work they’d invested. Additionally, when a student cannot pay their stipend, their teachers go unpaid. If teachers go unpaid, their families suffer as well.

Thus, I pray that in the joy of this upcoming holiday season, God would inspire your heart to be an angel of HOPE for these children and teenagers, and even teachers. By giving these students an education, you give them an opportunity to have a future and realize their dreams. This gift is an investment in the well-being of not just one person, but in many, because you’ll empower these children to be the ones who can help their families who suffer in poverty.

Some of the high school students who benefit from scholarships,
in the recent exposition of ´table settings´ - This is the Christmas table!

Time is of the essence, because as mentioned above, without this pension, students are not permitted to take their exams, and teachers will not be paid. The most efficient way to help would be to make a one-time donation to cover the 4 months of education for one child: a total cost of $72. If you should choose to sponsor a child, eventually I would be able to send you a name and photo of the student whom you are giving this precious gift. If you cannot provide a full scholarship, please consider making whatever size donation you can.

Please don’t hesitate to email me at if you are interested or have any questions. Checks may be written in my name and mailed or given to my parents (Greg or Kathy Moch). In this way, I’ll be able to receive your donations here in Ecuador via my bank account without each of you having to pay immense transfer fees.
Johanna Moch c/o Greg & Kathy Moch
P.O. Box 264
Gypsum, CO 81637

Should you need to communicate with my parents, who are generously coordinating this project State-side, please feel free to call them at 524-7262.

We think of Christmas as a time for miracles, yet it is not because of Santa Clause and the pitter-patter of reindeer’s hooves…but rather because we celebrate with awe and wonder the mystery in which God become man; and in this innocent babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, we know that with Him ALL things are possible. Be the miracle for these children…whether it be through a donation, or through your prayers. They are waiting…

Our little manger scene in the internado...we´re waiting for the true Christmas miracle! JESUS!
Thank you from the bottom of all our hearts, and may God bless you and your families abundantly during this Christmas season…until next time.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

A Little Message...

“Saludos” or “Greetings” and the peace of Christ from Ecuador! For those of you who didn’t know, I had returned to the States for a month to partake in two beautiful weddings…and also to get my health back on track after being sick here in Ecuador. Although I wouldn’t say I’m 100% better, I felt called to come back and at least finish my mission year (until November), although I’m exploring the possibility of staying until January so I could finish the school year with the girls. Time will reveal God’s will…for now I am just taking in each moment, each day as the gift that it truly is.

Upon arriving in Ecuador, I was asked to be a part of the ‘Equipo Tecnico” or the ‘Technical Team’, which is comprised of myself, a social worker and Jenny, who also studies psychology. Essentially, we’re in charge of the psychological, social and legal care of the teens. As proper documentation has been lacking for some time now, I’ve been going through old archives and making a database of all the kids and teenagers we’ve cared for. Additionally, I was asked to assume responsibility for the psychological care of not just the Internas (my teen girls) but of the entire Santuario. It’s quite the daunting task, but the previous psychologist had done some intakes with the teen boys, so that gives me something to work from. As of now, I’m continuing to conduct some basic intakes to evaluate which cases are more severe and require subsequent sessions.

One of the teenage girls doing a journaling activity in my office. They really love the pink walls and checkered curtains! ;)

I’ve found that group therapy works particularly well as an introductory session for those who haven’t come to the office yet. In this way the teens aren’t so intimidated to come to the office and they have a pleasant first experience of therapy, surrounded by the comfort of their friends. I’ve also been utilizing art therapy, and have found this to be highly effective in bridging cultural/language gaps. The art truly serves as an avenue for the teens to tangibly express what they’re feeling before they have to put it into words. Most importantly, it helps build the trust that is so important between client and therapist.

An art project the girls did to express their emotions. They journaled about the 5 emotions they had felt most profoundly in their lives. They then chose colors to represent each emotion...making a colorful collage as a final result.

My other favorite ‘tool’ for cross-cultural therapy: a little bundle of fur named Cappuchino! A while back I was doing some shopping in Libertad and ran across a man selling rabbits. He quickly conned me into buying one, putting it in no more than a gift bag and off I went with a new pet. The girls absolutely love Cappuchino, and I often bring him with me to the office when I’m doing therapy. I’ve found that being able to hold/pet Cappuchino helps the girls to relax and open up more easily. Cappuchino has already grown quite large, but stuns us every day with his intelligence. He knows where the food is kept, comes when he is ‘called’, and runs circles around our feet when he’s excited to see us. I never thought I’d end up having a pet rabbit in Ecuador, but then again, every day presents me with surprises!

Fafi, Cappuchino and I

Speaking of the surprises of each day, I ran across a quote recently that has remained on my heart,

“Perfection of life is the perfection of love. For love is the life of the
soul.” St Francis de Sales.

While for right now the Lord has called me to serve Him in Ecuador, it doesn’t make the work I do here any more important than the missions that God has given each of you in the States. We all have been entrusted the same mission: to strive for the perfection of life which can only be achieved through selfless love. When our every action is motivated by love, we find a fulfillment that truly does breathe life into our veins. When we carry our tasks with love, no burden can be too great…and even the most tedious task can surprisingly bring us joy and make us feel ‘alive’…whether it be washing dishes, writing a paper, changing a diaper or attending a meeting. May we be united in this mission of seeking perfection in love, that we may encounter the abundant life that Christ has promised us. You all remain in the heart of my prayers…please keep me in yours. Until next time…

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

How the time does fly!

Peace of Christ to all my faithful readers…from your not-so-faithful writer of this blog. My profound apologies for not posting within the last few months, as technology is rather slow here and not always available, my “computer time” has been nearly eliminated from my routine.

So what have I been up to? If any of you had read my post about ‘Internada Mama’, the short answer is that I’ve assumed that role full-time. The longer answer is that in March, I was asked to help out the missionary who cares for the 20 younger teenager girls, ages 11-14. In my past post, I had mentioned this new program for teenagers at the Santuario and how I would be doing therapy sessions with the girls. While indeed, I have been able to progress with intakes and evaluations of the different cases, it has been the time spent with the girls in their every day lives that has been of the greatest therapeutic value. Allow me to explain…

In these past few months, I’ve come to a deeper understanding of the Incarnation – what it meant for God to become man, for God to assume our human flesh, to humble himself and become one of us. We all know that teenagers are not the easiest age group in the world to manage, let alone in a foreign culture. Thus, there has been all the more need to assume their same lifestyle, to become one of them in the joys and difficulties of their fragile little lives. This has meant waking up at 5am, doing chores with them, giving them a kiss and sending them off to school, letting them serve me up a plate with more food for one meal than I could eat in an entire day, bringing the light of Christ into their lives through talks and programs, making sure they all take their medicine (even the nasty tasting ones), letting loose in latino dancing lessons, consoling hearts that boys have broken, skipping to the beach and frolicking in the waves, homework till 11pm with weary eyes, laughing till we almost cry and repeat.

Nothing like a day on the beach with my girls!

In sharing with the girls in their every day moments, I’ve gained their trust, despite the fact that I’m a foreigner and still can’t speak the language perfectly. (Though, I will say, in the beginning, one of the girls thought I was Ecuadorian with a speech disability. Haha. Yesterday, I was helping a girl with her English homework and she asked me how long I’d known how to speak English/when I learned the language. So I guess I’m improving. Haha.) This trust is hard to earn from teenagers, and as any of my friends in the field of psychology know, trust is the primary foundation of the client- counselor relationship. While APA ethics have taught us that you shouldn’t have contact or other relationships with your clients outside of sessions, I’ve found that in order for therapy to be effective here, it is quite necessary to have a pre-existing relationship with the girls. When you are a foreigner and don’t speak a language proficiently, it is nearly impossible to have therapeutic success based solely on office interactions. We all know the general attitude of teenagers: “No one understands me.” How much more would an Ecuadorian teenager assert this attitude to a foreign counselor if the foundation of trust had not first been laid? Thus, this is my theory on counseling as a missionary…one must first demonstrate a full cultural immersion, and the only way to do that is to completely assimilate the life which the people live…to the point where they see you as one of them, and not as the ‘other.’ This is when one’s work as a therapist will bear the most fruit…when your work is motivated by love to the point that it is transformed and becomes incarnational, just as it God’s profound love is what transformed Him to be one of us, to share in our humanity.

The littlest one of all...Darlina!

It was a great joy to have my mom and brother come visit two weeks ago and have them share in the mission that I love so much. They happened to come at the same time as the Franciscan University Summer Mission, which was such a blessing to have such Christ-filled, joyful hearts from my alma mater here in the Santuario. The group was able to minister to the teens and also provide catechesis in the towns. We were able to put on a one-day womanhood and manhood retreat for the teens…as many of you know womanhood ministries are my passion, so I absolutely loved seeing the girls’ reactions as they embraced the concepts of femininity, dignity, purity, modesty and more.

My mom, my brother and I enjoying the lovely view of Quito

My brother Sawyer was able to help the group out with translating in their retreats and town ministries with his superb Spanish speaking skills. My mom took up a sewing project and made each of the girls their own pillow for our ‘sala’, or TV room. The girls still remember the English phrases she would say to them, especially “Come on, girls!” which my mom would say when they wanted to stay in the road talking to the boys after Mass at night. I admire my mom so much for how she assumed an attitude of joy and thrust herself into the mission, even though she only speaks a few phrases in Spanish. My brother, Sawyer, was a big hit with my teenage girls (naturally, with his blue eyes and fair skin…these girls were swooning…) He received a number of letters from ‘secret admirers’, but we’re pretty sure the majority were from my littlest interna, Darlina, who’s 11 years old. Sawyer helped her a lot with her homework and the two quickly became buddies. I think the affection Darlina felt for him was more as a big brother, or even as a father figure since she comes from an intensely abusive family. Sawyer continually amazed me at how he sought out ways he could help here at the Santuario, how he joined in with the FUS group...and went beyond his own comfort zone to serve. For the last few days, we jouneyed to Quito along with my dear friend Maria Bruschi, so my family could see where I lived the first summer I was here in Ecuador. They met my Ecuadorian host family, rode the gondola up into the mountains to see the beautiful view of the city, went to the ‘Middle of the World’, climbed the church bell towers of the Basilica, went to the artesian market and more. All and all, it was a blessed few weeks with the mission group from FUS and my family.

Lastly, I ask for your prayers...I´ve been sick with an intestinal infection that I can´t seem to kick for the past month. Some days it´s worse than others...but it reminds me that good health is a gift from God and that it´s not something to take for granted. When I am weak, I am reminded that my strength comes from Him alone...not from my own physical efforts. May you all find your source of peace, comfort and strength in Christ as well. Until next time...

Thursday, March 5, 2009

This Lenten Journey

"Therefore, behold, I will allure her;
I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her.¨
Hosea 2:14
Peace of Christ to you all as we have embarked on this Lenten Journey 2009. I’ll admit, as a child I always thought Lent was forty days of ‘gloom and doom’, but as I have grown in the faith, I’ve come to recognize it as a call to intimacy with the Lord…as a beckoning towards His heart. This, of course, requires a candid evaluation of what keeps us from answering this call. And if we are truly honest with ourselves, we recognize that the very things we are most attached to are those that we must give up - not because chocolate, TV, and coffee are in and of themselves evil - but because somehow along the way, we´ve let these things give us more satisfication than the Lord. Thus we are challenged to give up these things for a time, to truly empty ourselves, so as to gain He who is everything, He who is all-satisfying. We find ourselves asking, “Really, Lord, I have to give up ____?” and then we see his nail-pierced hands, his head crowned with thorns, and his bleeding heart and we are shamed. Shamed that He gave his entire body and soul for us, and we find ourselves unwilling to offer up just one TRUE attachment (not just the ´easiest´ one to give up). We are too often unwilling to make one true sacrifice…even if for only these forty days.

Here in Ecuador, I can sometimes pridefully believe that I have already sacrificed so much in abandoning the comforts of an American life, like warm water and nutritious meals. Yet, I find that my heart is still in need of purification, of sacrifice and of an exodus back to my Creator. And thus I´m making ammends to my Lenten resolutions as I write this, determined to be more honest with myself and my own attachments. May we all respond to the grace that is offered to us in these forty days, that we may arrive at the celebration of His Resurrection having been resurrected and renewed ourselves.

An Ecuadorian Sunset to remind us that after every sunset comes the dawning of a new day...resurrection!

As for daily life at the Santuario, we are getting geared up for a new school year, which will begin in April. We are starting a new program with the Santuario which could be likened unto a boarding school. In the past few weeks, I’ve accompanied the educational psychologist to invite youth of the surrounding towns to come live and study at the Santuario, as the daily commute would be too great, or even impossible during the rainy season. Most of these kids would have no other opportunity to continue their education, as their families are extremely poor and with little recourse. A handful of these teens just arrived yesterday to take a preparatory class for the upcoming three weeks, so that they are caught up to speed for the next school year. Most of them are 12 and 13 years old, wide-eyed and innocent, timid and uncertain…and absolutely precious. Surely, for the majority of them, it is their first time away from their families…and that must be quite unnerving.

Thus, if all goes as planned, it looks as though I’ll be doing an intake session with each of them to collect their complete history. From there, I’ll have a minimum of three individual counseling sessions with each teen, so as to help them acclimate to life at the Santuario. Lately, I’ve been translating a lot of counseling forms from English to Spanish, and collecting resources (thanks to Rose and Dr. Milburn) as I couldn’t bring a lot of my own books and notes from the U.S. This week, I’m hoping to arrange and decorate my office space; to create an inviting atmosphere for the teens so they won’t dread coming to see me! haha. I think I’ll be needing a candy jar! I’m also hoping to collaborate with the nearby towns to offer counseling sessions free of charge to adults and teens who don’t attend school at the Santuario. It is a slow process to establish such projects in the mental health field down here, but there’s a lot of promise on the near horizon.I am learning patience like never before, as a year-long mission is quite different than a 1-week, or even 1-month mission. I’ve realized that, unlike short-term missions when you arrive and every second of your day is already planned for you, a long-term mission involves planning, waiting, and watching the development and unraveling of projects in which you’re involved. In many ways, it is a more active share in the reality of the people and mission in which you serve, yet there are those days when you feel like you’re getting absolutely nowhere! It is then that I have to celebrate the little victories and truly seek to do small things with great love. Someone once said that you must be patient with yourself and persistent with God. And so I attempt to emulate the spirit of Mother Teresa, who confidently said,

“God can use you to accomplish great things, on the condition that you believe more in His love than in your own weakness. Only then can He count onyou.”

Oh, that in this season of Lent, we would look more towards His Heart and believe that it is through His love that we find hope to become the best version of ourselves. Prayers and blessings to you all…until next time

Monday, February 16, 2009

Viajes, Venidas, y Despedidas…Trips, Arrivals, & Farewells (Sounds cooler in Spanish, doesn’t it?)

Peace of Christ to all of you! Much has happened since I last wrote…here in Ecuador we are in the midst of what we would call the school year ‘summer vacation’, which will last until the beginning of April. Thus, I was recently able to make the 12-hour journey to Quito to visit some friends and my Ecuadorian host family from two summers ago. Although Quito is a city of over 2 million people, it doesn’t feel as such. Nestled in a valley surround by snow capped mountain peaks, my heart sighs in reminiscence of my Colorado home. Much to my surprise, Mami, Papi and one of my Ecuadorian brothers, Roby, even came to visit me here at the Santuario last weekend! Together we all basked in the simple blessings of life…laughter, fresh seafood, coconut milk, more laughter, sunsets and swimming in a lovely little ocean cove called Ayangue.

My Ecuadorian familia...Mami, Papi, Roby and the delicious seafood restaurant in Libertad Bolivar

In other breaking news, we now have SIX beautiful North American missionaries living here at the Santuario. (Ahem, any male missionaries interested in coming? The teenage boys could really use some strong masculine role models, and as for us, we could use some good dancing partners for all the salsa, merengue and bachata we’ve come to love!) Susan and Ellen arrived at the end of January, and are holding English classes and a basketball camp each day in the neighboring town of Olon. Laura, who’s a fellow FUS alum, arrived about a week ago and will be working as a nurse alongside my dear friend Mariya, who recently arrived back at her Ecuadorian home. Mariya had been here for 6 months in the past year, but returned to the States to pursue medical school. She has been accepted (woohoo!) and will begin her med school journey this August. Thus, she was able to come back to Ecuador for the next four months…and it is an immense blessing to have her at my side once again. Add our veteran nurse volunteer of one year, Miss Sara Ogrodnick, to the mix, plus myself and we’ve got quite the Gringa community! All the more love and laughter to share!

Despite the joyful ‘venidas’/arrivals of our new missionaries, this past month has also been a season of ‘despedidas’/farewells. For one, we would be 7 gringas in total, but Grace just returned back to the states last week. She had been my dear companion in this Ecuadorian journey since my arrival in November…and I suppose she could almost be considered like a living diary or chronicle of those first three months, as we had shared the ordinary moments of every day together. I feel as though there’s an emptiness in my heart and I miss her dearly…even in the midst of such a wonderful community of women. I suppose it is a testament to the undeniable fact that no one is replaceable. We each play a necessary role in the lives of those around us in helping them advance toward heaven, that someone else cannot fill. And thus we feel a void in our lives when such a beautiful friend cannot share in the voyage in the same way as before…and we must learn how to continue the journey towards sanctity as friends from a distance.

My dear amiga Grace and I...

Aside from Grace leaving, the school year recently came to a close, which also meant that one by one, all the kids who lived here at the Sanutario were dispersed back to their homes or other locations for vacation. Unlike previous years, however, the kids will not be returning to live at the Santuario, as their legal representative will be transferring them to a new foundation. While my heart carries great hope to visit these children at this new foundation, the reality remains that there are many of them whom I may never see again. I have always been one to relish a concrete farewell, clinging to that last embrace and tearfully watching my dear ones drive off into the horizon. However, to have this kind of farewell with 79 children proved to be absolutely impossible…not to mention that during this time, I was caring for the teenage girls of the Internada (from my last post) and was often otherwise occupied with them. Thus, in the time span of three days, the children gradually disappeared from the Santuario without a trace. With the realization of every child’s departure, my heart cried a little in knowing that I couldn’t hold each of them in my arms just once more. Yet I was brought back to the wisdom that my dear Mariya once shared with me two years ago, as she and many of our dear friends from Franciscan University had graduated and were being sent forth to every corner of the world. While I had been preoccupied about saying goodbye to each friend, with much peace and tranquility, Mariya simply said, “I’ve lived the way I’d want to say goodbye.” I’ve carried this little pearl of wisdom with me ever since, and it has always consoled me when for whatever reason, I am unable to have that concrete farewell my heart craves. To LIVE the way you’d want to say goodbye…that every moment of your ordinary interactions would be marked by the same immense love and tenderness that a final embrace would hold…so that if that final embrace never comes, one would know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they were loved by you.

Thus in the midst of my pondering, a smile crossed my lips as I realized that I had indeed lived the way I would have wanted to say goodbye to all my little ones. Memories began to dance upon my mind, moments of singing sleepy-eyed boys to sleep with a few lullabies, one of which *always* had to be ‘Titanic –My Heart Will Go On’, followed by a lullaby prayer in Spanish that I wrote especially for them…moments of intercepting hugs and kisses planted with such uncontainable excitement that I nearly had my breath knocked out of me on several occasions, despite the fact that their little bodies are half my size…moments of whispering prayers into little ears as we kneeled together during the Holy Mass. Then there were moments of reading stories, playing cards and being presented with hand-drawn pictures that still hang upon my wall with “I love you” scribbled on every corner….moments of tickle wars and laughing till we cried, dancing merengue till our feet couldn’t carry us another step further, and jumping over waves in the ocean with squeals of delight….yes, I must believe that the sum of all these moments, which at first glance perhaps appear as nothing in particular, must add up to an unfathomable amount of untainted love and abundant joy…more than one goodbye could ever hold.

Some of the boys from the Jato Mayor and I...

Many of you remember how I had to fight ardently so as to obtain permission for a November departure to Ecuador, as opposed to a later date in January. In hindsight, every battle was worth it, because the victory bought me two months of time to LIVE all of the above, and more. Some of you may wonder, objectively, what I was able to do for those kids in two months…how I was really able to make a difference in their lives for such a short time. I wonder that, too. But then I think back to a prayer I wrote years ago when I first began immersing myself in mission work: “Lord, grant that I may be forgotten, so long as You and your Divine Love are remembered.” In the end, the goal is not that the children remember this ‘gringa’ with curly hair and green eyes…but that the essence of Christ’s love, *true*, unconditional love, has been imprinted upon their hearts. This love cannot be forgotten because it is the realization of that reason for which they exist: to know and love He who has created them for a purpose beyond the suffering they have encountered thus far in their little lives. This nostalgia of heaven dwells within every heart, a yearning for something more than this world has to offer…a yearning for Christ’s love. This is what I hope to have imparted to these precious children… a love that is not of my own accord, but of His sweet heart. And if I have done that, then that alone is more than enough. Mission accomplished.

May this same mission of love be realized in each of your hearts, may you carry Christ to those who are in most need of His love this day…and may you each be infinitely blessed. Much love and prayers…until next time!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Internada Mama... ;)

Peace of Christ to you all! I apologize for the irregularity of my posts…hopefully I’ll be able to get back on track with a weekly post soon! Until then, bear with me in patience…and trust that all is well here in Ecuador.

This past week, I had the blessing of being in charge of the Internada Menor, which is the house for teenage girls. Jenny, the missionary who usually cares for them needed to go to Quito for several days…so Grace and I offered to care for the girls. Let me tell you, it was quite the shock to suddenly find myself the ‘mama’ of 13 adolescent girls, and to be honest, I didn’t even know all of their names! As a further complication, school just got out for ‘summer vacation’ and every day someone’s mom or uncle was arranging to fetch them…so over the course of 5 days, we went from 13 girls to just 4.

Algunos de Mis Chicas, Mis Hijas (Some of My Girls, My Daughters!) :)
L-R, Josselin, Alexandra, Alejandra, Nayeli

As I’ve written before, through these experiences, I’ve come to catch a glimpse of the beauty and sacrifice that lies hidden within the vocation of motherhood. Your life is no longer your own, from daylight’s first moments when you must first rouse yourself, turn on the lights and gently bid them good morning…until you’ve planted a goodnight kiss upon each dark head of curls. Yes, we spent practically every waking moment with the girls, and I stayed the night in their house to make sure that all was well. And I think that’s what meant the most to them…that we consistently remained at their sides, whether it was watching a movie, taking them to the beach or eating a meal. I got the impression that when Jenny is gone on a trip, they’re more accustomed to being locked up and left alone to do their own thing. So to have someone just sit and be with them…that appeared as a novel concept.

Sadly, it is not a novel concept of love, but rather one that has nearly been lost in this modern-day world: the concept of presence, of ‘being’ at the side of another person. Rather, we think upon what we must be ‘doing’ to show someone that we love them...we think of how we can win a heart with exterior novelties and activities. Yet, in looking at the deepest desires of the human heart, we long for communion with another…we long to be known, treasured and protected. Our deepest fear is not that we will be bored…but that we will be alone, that we will be abandoned. In the hearts of these teenage girls, these fears are all too familiar. Their longing for acceptance and fear of not finding it is worn on their sleeves, within hesitant eyes and behind a wary smile. Yet perhaps, in the time period of only a few days, these teenage girls received a message of profound truth: that if it is possible for someone to love them enough to stay by their sides through the most mundane moments of daily life... maybe, just maybe…they are not so unlovable as they had imagined.

There is one memory in particular that remains vividly in my heart…I had walked into the television room and the girls were watching a movie, while working around a large sack of beans that all needed to be taken out of their pods. Without even thinking about it, I sat down on the bed and reached for a handful of beans. Immediately, I felt their eyes upon me, and then saw them exchange unbelieving glances with each other. It was then that I realized how unfathomable it was for them to see an adult, someone who was ‘in charge’ of them, sitting alongside them, voluntarily choosing to do chores.

Upon further reflection, I realized that this simple act, done without even thinking, is what John Paul II referred to often as ‘solidarity’…to unite oneself to those who you are serving, by taking their yoke upon your shoulders…by living life with them, not just watching from the sidelines. Yet, the concept of solidarity is not reserved for missionaries in foreign countries, it is for all of us…with our families, at our workplaces, schools, etc. Solidarity is to put compassion into action…and it is when we can learn to live in solidarity with one another as human beings that we will have a greater awareness of the significance of life…because we not only recognize Christ in our neighbor, but we embrace Him.

May you each seek to live the spirit of solidarity with those whom you encounter each day…that you would revolutionize the ordinary moments into extraordinary ones through Christ’s transforming love. Until next time…

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

New Christmas Carols and a New Year, Too!

Peace of Christ and Happy New Year to everyone! I pray that all of you enjoyed a beautiful Christmas, surrounded by your families and enveloped in the true spirit of the holidays: the presence of God, who in humility descended from the heavens and took the form of a tiny babe…that we may know love and be re-united to sublime love in God himself.

While I missed my “Colorado Christmas” and the comfort of family and friends, Christmas here in the Santuario was a beautiful experience. In the nine days leading up to Christmas, all the kids and missionaries participated in a novena to prepare our hearts for the coming of Our Lord. Each day included a beautiful theatrical presentation of one part of the Christmas story, and a “proposition” for how to tangibly ready our souls. For example, one was “Today I will console someone who is lonely or sad.” The kids would pin the paper ‘proposition’ on their shirts and at the end of the day, they’d share how they completed it. When it was our turn as U.S. volunteers to present the theatrical portion of the novena, we didn’t think we could pull off a serious theatrical performance given our limited Spanish. So we used some Nativity hand puppets that someone from St. Mary’s donated…and let me tell you, they were a huge hit! We acted out the Presentation in the Temple, but since we didn’t have a Simeon puppet, we transformed the Lamb puppet into Simeon by taping his ears back and adding a cotton beard! All went well until the baby Jesus puppet who was swaddled in toilet paper started to come unraveled! Nonetheless, everyone loved it and the puppets returned to dance for the closing song: Mi Burrito Sabenero. It’s a Christmas Carol they have here about the donkey that carried Mary to Bethlehem and it absolute cracks me up because of how it’d translate in English: “With my donkey (who knows the way), I am in route to Bethlehem, if they see me, if they see me…(tell them) I’m in route to Bethlehem. Clipity-clipity clipity, CLIPITY, clipity, clipity, clipity CLOP!” The donkey puppet busted out some great moves for this song, including the ‘worm’, which the Virgin Mary puppet the proceeded to attempt. Granger, you would be proud! haha. The ‘gringas’ are always known for having, um..interesting performances. Needless to say, we’re still living up to that reputation!

And of course, I must tell the St. Mary’s community that the children absolutely LOVED their presents! Each child was especially in awe that they had a gift specifically addressed to them…and they loved the letters and pictures of your family that some of you included. Watching them open their presents was like watching pirates find the loot on Treasure Island. The boys look so handsome in their new swim trunks, and the girls have been coloring up a storm and playing with their new dolls and stuffed animals. Once the kids go on their ‘summer vacation’ in two weeks, I am hoping to get all of the pictures uploaded to my shutterfly photo page. The internet connection is so slow here that it will take a while, but keep checking. :) Thank you SO much to all who helped with this project; you truly made Christmas here at the Santuario unforgettable!

Little Carmen opening her present!

Danny lovin´ his new swim trunks!

Some of the girls with their new stuffed animals and their letters from you! L-R...Leonela, Shirley, Me, Wilma

We rang in the New Year at the Santuario with a friendly game-show type of competition between all the guests who had joined us…included long-time friend of the Santuario, Jim Campell. Our team was the ‘barco’ – the boat, since we were representing those who live at the Santuario. Other groups included the ‘velas’ (candles), “arboles” (trees), etc. We had to present a ‘rhyme’ to introduce our team, so we took a popular reggaton song and changed the lyrics to say “somos del barco” – “We’re from the boat!...Jesus is our captain!...etc…” With choreography and even a break-dancing interlude by one of teen boys, we took first place in this category!

Tomas and his sidekick Gustavo, (notice the anchor around his neck, symbolizing the BARCO team!)

Each team proceeded to send representatives to participate in different categories on the stage…such as a fashion show with the most absurd costumes, a scavenger hunt, musical chairs…and then there was the dance competition. Each team sent a couple up on stage, and we had tried to send up two of the younger kids so they could participate. The music began to play…Jonathan from the Jato Mayor (about 12 or 13 yrs old) was a natural…but poor Jessenia from the Jata (about the same age) looked petrified, like a deer in headlights. Without thinking, I jumped up on the stage to try and get Jessenia to loosen up and start dancing. The next thing I knew, Jessenia jumped down from the stage and I was left up there to REPRESENT the barco with Jonathan! The music was an eclectic mix, changing to a new song every minute or so….there was salsa, merengue, reggaton, even a tango (which we danced to very dramatically), …surprisingly, we held our own amidst the more experienced latino adults. But then came “Footloose” and a few American songs….and there was no turning back! This time, Jonathan followed my lead and we were cuttin’ up a rug. Dad, you would have been proud - I utilized all of your craziest dance moves. When all was said and done, we took 2nd place in the dance competition. Not bad for a mismatched ecua-gringa couple of age and height! For the scavenger hunt, one of the teenage guys ran all the way to Montanita and back to obtain a little flag…note: Montanita is about a 20 min. walk away! Yes, the barco team definitely had the spirit…ganas a ganar…the desire to win! haha. But in the end, the Vela team had 100 points…so we thought it was over…until they announced that the BARCO team had 110 POINTS!!! We still laugh today because we didn’t even get a prize, but the satisfaction and thrill of winning was more than enough.

A Happy New Year with Alejandro and Gregorio!

After the competition, we proceeded to ring in the new Year with a midnight Mass up in the barco chapel…offering this next year of our lives to God, from whom all goodness and blessings flow. With fireworks bursting over the ocean amidst the embraces of Ecuadorian children and missionaries, I was overcome by an immense feeling of peace and gratitude. After the Mass, we proceeded to dance with the children and the misioneras until 4:30am! To sum it up: a friendly competition, midnight Mass, dancing on the beach, and taking a swim in the ocean to ring in the New Year - “Can life get any better than this? I submit that it cannot!”

One of the other volunteers, (and my household sister), Sara and I, at New Year´s

Well, as this has become quite the lengthy post, I’ll sign off! Please continue to keep the Santuario in your prayers as we await to see what this next year will hold…taking each day as it comes. God bless you all…take care!