Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Grace like a waterfall

Two weeks ago, 10 wonderful students, a campus minister, and a religious studies professor from Cabrini College had the courage to come live in Durán for a week, and i was blessed enough to be their retreat leader. We spent time with several neighbors in AJS and in Arbolito, and visited some of RdC´s partner foundations. As it turns out, my Spanish is good enough to translate day in and day out for a group of gringos like myself. I learned so much about my neighbors, because the group asked them questions i hadn´t thought to ask yet, and maybe never would have. I watched the group struggle with disconnects between their expectations and what they saw and heard, with the joyful challenge of living simply and in community, and with what this all means for them and their lives. My eyes were opened to seeing Durán, its people, and my year here in a new light. And, (allow me to stereotype for a minute), campus ministers and religious studies professors are generally my favorite people ever, and it was thrilling to be able to think and talk about faith, religion, and life here with brilliant people (who had the humility to want to learn from me, believe it or about empowering others!). I loved the role of Cabrini´s volunteer retreat leader so much that i´m sort of thinking maybe God is telling me something here? (One thing being that i´m definitly going to grad school someday). To Kristie, Laura G, Laura H, Leah, Chelsie, Andrew, Rizito, Katrina, Shannon, Julie, Christa, and Nick/Ruddy, thank you for opening your hearts and minds to Durán and Rostro de Cristo. Love you all.

I also had a really great birthday while they were here. The kids at Manos Abiertas made me signs and birthday cards covered in painted handprints of their manos abiertas [thank you Kasia for starting this]. I actually cried after the charla in front of all the kids and my retreatants. It was so sweet. And the Fairfield U Eucharistic Ministers´ tradition of writing Christmas cards to alums doing service brought me extra birthday joy. Thanks everyone!

Christmas in Ecuador was really beautiful. As a community, we went caroling on the 21st to our neighbors, complete with homemade Christmas cookies, wearing Christmas socks (thanks Mrs. Amy´s mom!). That Monday night we had a Christmas party with all of us and all Rostro staff and their families. We cooked and ate and danced and played games and testified to the faces of Christ that filled that room. It was a true sign that we really do have family here in Durán.

Since Christmas Eve is the big deal here, not Christmas Day, the 24th was a busy night. For Nochebuena we (the AJS girls) had dinner #1 with Elizabeth, the wife of our guard Omar, who cooked us an amazing meal and filled us with stories about her life as a 23 year old Ecuadorian wife and mother. It was such a blessing to be able to be with her, otherwise she would have been alone Christmas Eve (Omar was working). From there we went to 9pm mass, which shockingly started on time and was packed. After that, we went to dinner #2 around 11:30pm at Wellington and Soraya´s house, another guard-and-wife household, and somehow fit more food in our stomachs than we ever should have. Despite the discomfort that comes with overeating for 5 hours, we had a really wonderful Christmas Eve. On the 25th we went caroling at Damien House and sung to patients living with Hansen´s Disease. We (the whole Rostro gang) had a delicious italian dinner that night at the home of Sr. Annie, a Brooklyn B.V.M, who founded Damien House. There was just more love and hospitality than i ever thought possible this holiday.
Gracias a Dios, we´ve had time off from work since Christmas day. To get out of town, relax, and conocer other parts of Ecuador, Tracy, Melissa, and I packed up our backpacks and headed to Puyo, a small city on the edge of the Amazon. We spent a day in the city meeting honest-to-goodness the nicest and funniest people in this country who are endlessly willing to help a gringa missionara out. On the morning of the 27th we piled into a pickup truck of a jungle tour agency and headed into the Amazonian rainforest. We slept in grass huts, hiked through the forest, got muddy and bitten by bugs, swam in waterfalls, swung from vines, got jungle-facials from ceramic-like mud from riverbeds, snorted juice made out of tree bark that is an effective jungle remedy for nasal congestion, wove headbands out of palm leaves, rode down a river in a canoe, and had a hilariously fun time befriending our tour guide Angel, the only 24 year old Ecuadorian man i´ve met that is not scummy, sleazy, sketchy, or any other word you could use to describe the machismo men in Ecuador. After 3 days in the rainforest, we headed up to Baños, a small, newly touristy city nestled in the spectacular Andean mountains. There, we watched lava spit out of an active volcano, rented mountain bikes and rode 22 kilometers along a highway through the mountains, crawled through tunnels to stand behind an incredibly powerful waterfall, went to mass, had a goodcup of coffee and a delicious pizza-and-pasta dinner, and met up with Angel again to check out the local nightlife. I took maybe around 450 pictures and i´m pretty obsessed with them. I´m posting a few now. Beauty beyond words. Ecuador is a stunningly gorgeous country that God just poured his grace on like a waterfall. I had a really, really great time traveling and being adventurous and whatnot. It was so refreshing to see green again, to be in a beautiful landscape and to not have to be on guard 24/7 around an Ecua male. Though now I´m stuck in an emotion of not being excited to be back in Durán; after seeing what else Ecuador holds, and that Ecuadorians, even the men, are even nicer and more welcoming elsewhere, I´m starting to see that Durán really is the armpit of Ecuador, if you will. I am happy to be back with the neighbors, to converse with them and ring in the new year tonight, but man this town is uuuugly.

Ringing in the New Year with Elizabeth, Walter and Jesús, and the AJS girls.
Don´t drink and drive.

(c) 2008 EJR.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Sure not dreaming of a white Christmas...

Felíz Navidad everyone. Especially to Cabrini College--praying for you all, that you might share the joy of loving hospitality and simplicity with your families. Enjoy the snow!

Christmas plans: Dinner with Omar and Elizabeth (one of our guards and his wife) this evening. 9pm mass. Dinner #2 with Wellington and Soraya (another guard and his wife) after mass, probably till 2 or 3am. Christmas morning brunch with the community. Caroling at Damien House (hospital/home for patients living with Hansens Disease). Christmas dinner at Sr. Annie´s (founder of Damien House), with Pat and Sonya joining us (more phenomenal people, founders of Nuevo Mundo). From there, heading to Puyo with Melissa and Tracy to explore the Amazon rainforest for a few days, then to Baños where we´ll bike around waterfalls and enjoy the Andean scenery. Back on the 31st to join in Ecua New Years traditions such as blowing up añoviejo dolls and dancing all night long.

Wishing all of you a beautiful, joyful Christmas. May we follow Mary´s example and open our hearts to God´s amazing grace so that we too might give birth to an incarnate Christ through our lives.

When will i ever get a chance to actually share with you blog-readers what this year is like?

Saturday, December 13, 2008


I´m not sure where I´ve left off in terms of my roles at my worksites. lo and behold, i´m now and English teacher to the módulo 3 girls at Santiago. It´s been quite an adventure trying to gain some sort of authority and command their attention, nevermind planning lessons and trying actually teach things. I gave my first quiz on Wednesday morning (parts of the body, parts of the face, and clothing) and I believe they all failed. One girl was very clearly copying off her neighbor´s quiz so I told her I was taking off one point (out of 20) for cheating and she looked at me with a face that said ¨how dare you even threaten such a thing!¨ and she in turn ripped up her quiz and tossed it in the garbage. Oops, too bad, now you have a zero. It turns out I´m not a softie when it comes to giving grades. Still can´t believe I´m a teacher. I´m learning that teaching calls for such intentionality and love and thought and man, its just a tricky role. I´m also seeing my own educational past in a new light and appreciating in a new way the teachers and professors in my life that are living a vocation that is so powerful. Thanks folks.

*While I´m talking about education, I have to add that ¨Pedagogy of the Oppressed¨ is an absolutely essential read for anyone even remotely involved in the field of education, and also for all of those that give a damn about the shape of the world we live in and the one human family of which we are a part. Lately people have been asking me what they can do to support me, or help the kids I work with. Answer: read this book and think about all the ways in which you are both an oppressor and are oppressed by others. And then strive to bring about justice, that is, right relationships, in your life. You´re not giving things to financially poor kids in some far off place, but rather engaging in the liberation of humanity, which is what Rostro de Cristo is really about anyway.*

Thursday at Santiago was lovely though. The girls greeted me with hugs (funny, because 24 hrs earlier they hated me for giving a quiz that they knew about well in advance) and I was in their Ciencias Naturales class while their teacher Elizabeth taught about water, why it´s vital to living beings, a global water crisis, etc. When the girls heard that there may be wars fought over water they were appalled, in a 12-yr-old sort of way, that anyone would take from someone that which is necessary for life. I found this interesting given that their own water situation is less than ideal. drinkable water is bought in large blue jugs for around $1.25 whenever the truck passes by your house. Water for other use is bought from large tanks that fill the metal barrel outside your house for 70 cents. Running water? Nah.

Manos is a joy as always. Except for this Wednesday (overall a rough day). Right after the program ended, after giving out bread and banana and water to all the kids, a fight broke out right outside the school. The conflict started on the soccer field during recess when one girl blamed another for their team´s loss, and she responded with an insult of some kind. They decided to settle it outside and there was a lot of insulting and kicking of the girl´s bike and almost all the kids at Manos that day were antagonizing and encouraging the fight. Ohh, children. Aide (our ecuadorian manos/rostro employee, 19 yrs old) gave them a good talking to on Thursday about what we strive to teach them at Manos, how their behavior after Manos completely burns that, and that we are there to help them resolve conflicts in nonviolent ways. As a consequence, we cancelled Manos on friday (after much thought about the pros and cons of this) and told them to take the afternoon to think about their behavior. That was neither easy nor fun to do, but we think it was the best choice.

This year is about way more than worksites. I don´t like that that is what i tend to write about. Boo to me. Community life has had its ups and downs. Kasia, the community mate that I live and worked with at both sites, went back home to the States last friday due to a variety of health problems that had escalated above what we as a community could minister to and beyond attempts to get her healthy here. So now I´m the only volunteer at Santiago, which is certainly an opportunity for new growth and flourishing, we are down a volunteer at Manos which is challenging but still very do-able, and our community is transforming. Such is the rhythm of international service.

My first retreat group arrives tonight!! Recall that I came to Ecuador in January with Fairfield U as a winter break service-immersion trip (a very inappropriate title for it, if you ask me). A big chunk of Rostro de Cristo´s mission here is providing educational opportunities to U.S. youth by hosting groups of students from high schools and universities as they engage in the reality of life in Duran for around 10 days. They visit our afterschool programs, worksites, and partner programs in hopes of continuing a process of personal and spiritual transformation that will lead to a greater commitment to service and justice. Anyway, Cabrini College lands at 10:30pm tonight and I will be their volunteer leader for the next 10 days. I´m giddily excited and really hoping that this week flips their world upside down and moves them spiritually.

Because of this upcoming week, I should get back home to squeeze in a nap before the late-night airport run.

Ohh but before I post this, final news: I´m now raising chickens with my community as well! I´ve been spearheading this adventure for about 5 weeks now. The original plan was to raise 3 chickens to slaughter and turn into a delicious meal (with the help of some neighbors) when my parents are here visiting in february, but apparently it takes 3 months for chickens to grow, and due to the community situations that have been going on, the process was delayed and now they may just be a delicious meal in march. (dear mom and dad: sorry i hadn´t mentioned that delay yet. thanks for supporting me in all my stupid ideas, but i dont think you´ll get to kill and eat the chickens with us.) I bought the little chicks today and we build a coop for them mounted against the wall in the most ridiculous fashion, coordinated by Abrahan, our head of security, and Maximo, one of our guards. I think it will be a memorable and smelly experience.


Thursday, December 11, 2008

Proof that I´m in Ecuador and loving it :)

At Manos Abiertas
left: conflict resolution between christopher (l) and oliver (r)

below: chatting our way through a picture book with jordy (my favorite), moises, and briggitte (also favorites)

At Santiago Apóstol
below, left: briggitte, one of my students at Santiago
below, right: with kasia and 5 other módulo 3 students and our teacher Elizabeth (who totally rocks)

Monday, November 24, 2008


Funny things happen here a lot. Some of those things are really only funny in the context of life in Ecuador. For example...

For most of my life whenever I say that my last name is Raby, I occasionally hear some kind of joke along the lines of ¨oooh, do you have rabies?!¨ ha, funny. Not. Anyway. One of the teachers at Santiago, Junior, asked me my last name last week, and i said Raby, with a Spanish accent (rolling the R, short ´a´ as in apple). And he said, ¨ah, como conejo!¨, which means ¨oh, like rabbit!¨ To him, Raby sounds just like rabbit. So intead of ¨ooh, do you have rabies?¨ now the joke is ¨ah, como conejo!¨ No, not like a rabbit. He was the second Ecuadorian to have that response. The first was a woman at the medical dispensario, when i dropped off a poop sample to test for parasites. Which leads to the next funny thing...

Most of us volunteers are almost always afflicted with parasites of some kind. Most of them aren´t too serious, and if they aren´t causing side affects, why bother treating them? We´ll inevitably get reinfected, and being on antibiotics every other week ain´t too good either. We´re used to mild diarrhea by now. We can drop off fecal samples at the dispensario for $1 and later that afternoon can pick up the results, which are usually some combination of worms, Ghiardia, amoebas, fungus, and e. coli. Yes, e. coli. It really isn´t a big deal, definitely not what American parents make it out to be. It´s one of those things that we´ll live with for a while and wipe out with some hefty antibiotics later on when we have more serious illnesses to worry about. Here´s the funny part. Every morning, Karen and I work on the daily crossword puzzle, left by former volunteers. One of the clues recently was ¨Serious bacteria.¨ Answer? E. coli. Haha. We´ve had that! *

Last funny thing. Our kitchen sink is broken. Yesterday morning Abrahan, our head security guard slash handy dandy superhero, and our guard Wellington, spent an hour or so taking apart the pipes under the sink and unclogging the septic tank outside. (Note: to take apart the pipes, they used the gas stove to light a newspaper on fire, which they used to melt the tar / glue off the pipes to take them apart....all while still watching the oh-so-important soccer game on tv....and then put the burning newspaper in the sink, which we couldn´t turn on to douse the flames because duh, there are no more pipes connected to it and the water will just go all over the floor...) Our sink is still out of commission while the new layers of tar dry, so we´re stuck doing dishes in the shower now. Spent about half an hour last night in a bathing suit in the shower washing pasta sauce off lots of plates. Alas, it is still a huge blessing to have running water here at all.

¡Viva Ecuador!

* Don´t worry, we´re actually taking significant measures to take good care of our health. We boil bottled water, clean our food well, soak it in bacteria-killing stuff, etc. Parasites are pretty much just part of the daily grind.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

My Heart Will Go On

So, reviewing and reflecting on the last few weeks...

At Santiago
Who knew that my mild obsession with Celine Dion would come in handy in Ecuador, of all places? My class of 9 girls has music class usually once a week, and they´ve been working on the beginning do-re-mi steps (ah yes, The Sound of Music obsession comes in handy as well...) of playing the piano (keyboard, really). Not that exciting, right? Of course not, thats why most of them would spend the class listening to the pre-set song ¨My Heart Will Go On¨ (Titanic is popular here). So in a sudden burst of inspiration, I realized I could easily learn how to play the song and teach them.* All of a sudden I´m the coolest teacher everrrrr and in high demand during music class. The girls love it and its really great to get them excited to learn something. I´m even taking this to the next level and will be showing the Las Vegas concert performance of the song on dvd in the next class, and doing a little English lesson with it too.** ¡Qué chévere!

A few weeks ago I had a nice meeting with our boss Alexandra about the girls in my class--I asked what their home lives are like, where they come from. Turns out most live with domestic abuse from either their mother, father, or sisters; theres a aunt-neice pair in my class (2yrs apart i think) that live with an alcoholic mother-grandmother; one of the 16yr olds spent a few years living with a boyfriend and ¨has seen more life than anyone at her age should¨. Some only live with one parent, some with stepparents, its all over the place. Anything but stable home lives, really. Living in cane houses in the swampy barrios of Guayaquil, 47 out of the 50-something students in the school live in extreme poverty, and a good chunk are malnourished. Lately I like to talk to them about what they want to be when the grow up--a doctor, an engineer (followed by the question ´whats an engineer?´´), a teacher, a model, a singer. Today while waiting for their teacher to come Wendy was drawing me whatever I asked her to draw. She drew herself as a plain stick figure. She drew Jesus with really big ears (´for listening´, she said), and with a stick in his hand (´for teaching´).

Starting next week, Kasia and I will be full-blown English teachers. We´ll be taking the Module 2 and Module 3 girls English classes to reduce the workload of the current teacher, teaching 4 times a week. Hmm. Good thing we´re flexible and quick learners. I´m excited and intimidated. Vamos a ver.

At Manos Abiertas
Just absolutely beautiful every day, and sometimes heartbreaking. Jordy has won my heart. He just turned 5--he told us his birthday was yesterday, but his older brother Bryan just shrugged and said he didn´t know if its his birthday or not because their mom didn´t say anything to him. Too cute. He loves paper airplanes and his favorite color is yellow, but still has a hard time distinguishing colors. In the last month he´s definitly made progress in counting to 10, but doesn´t always recognize the numbers. I´ve basically never worked with kids before coming here, so can someone tell me at what age in the States kids normally can count to 10 and know colors? He has the tiniest hands, small enough to reach into the prison of the human heart and unlock it.***

We had our first paseo (field trip) three weeks ago. We took 22 of our kids to a park in the center of Durán. This day held one of my favorite ecua-moments so far. Taking the bus out to 28 de Agosto to pick the kids up, we saw the kids waiting for us on the side of the road where we usually get off. When they saw the bus they started jumping up and down and waving, and they ran up to us once we got off, shouting ¨paseo! paseo¨ They were dressed up in their nicest clothes and freshly bathed; the boys had their hair wet and slicked to the side and the girls were just adorable in color-coordinated outfits. Seeing the excitement on their faces as the bus pulled up was just incredible, and I felt so so so blessed to be a part of something so much greater than myself that allows these kids the opportunity to learn, live, and love in new ways. It was an amazing afternoon, hot as hell, but great. We brought a disposable camera with us, and I took pictures of the prints, so I´ll post them on my flickr account ya mismo.

I´m starting to figure out what loving discipline is. I witnessed domestic abuse last night while visiting a neighbor. Yep, a mom whipped her son for not eating dinner. Today at Manos, I was with the homework kids, and Joice (12 maybe) shut down and began to cry because she didn´t want to do her homework. Her cousin Julisa (7) told me that she was crying because if she didn´t do her homework, her dad would beat her. So if nothing else, if I do nothing this year other than be someone that does not beat these kids when they misbehave, I´ll be alright with that. Of course, the goal is to bring a little bit of justice to their lives by loving them in the fullest sense of the word. There´s no more that I could do than that.

In faith
God speaks Spanish. Duh, right? Well i don´t. Actually, i´m getting there... Anyway. I´m starting to find a lot of spiritual nourishment in certain prayers, songs, conversations with priests and nuns....all in Spanish, this funny language that i started learning only 6 months ago. But come on, eeeeveryone here speaks Spanish aaaaaaall the time and sometimes it just exhausts me, and now God is speaking to me in Spanish too? Can´t I get a break? But really, the language is capable of expressing certain sentiments and provoking certain thoughts or imagery that i´ve just never encountered in English before. It´s awesome.

Regarding the nuns...
Kasia and i met some seriously awesome nuns through Santiago. Their order, Servants of the Plan of God, is part of the Christian Life Movement (also seriously awesome). 4 of them showed up at Santiago one day to give a small concert. Yea, they´re musically talented and in their 20s and 30s and really, I´ve never met more gracious, generous, loving people in my life. Hermana Claudia is now something of my Spiritual Director, and what an adventure it is to try to express the depths of your soul to a Colombian lady you´ve known for 2 weeks in a foreign language. Yet she really, really gets it.

I´m late for dinner. Coming soon...

-more on faith
-a few words on community
-a reflection on motherhood in Ecuador
-the joy of being unnecessary
-why you should read Pedagogy of the Oppressed (don´t wait for the blog, start reading it now.)


*Thanks mom for forcing me to take piano lessons as a kid.
**Thanks Carolyn!
***All credit to Jean Vanier, author of Community and Growth for this imagery. Speaking of the book, READ IT, especially if you are currently living in community. Soooooo good. Hey, since when did I start using contextual footnotes in a blog?

Friday, November 7, 2008

Ya mismo...

´ya mismo´ is a spanish phrase that, in a dictionary, means ´right now´. here in Ecuador, when people say ´ya mismo´, they generally use it to mean ¨sometime in the future....maybe in 5 minutes, maybe in a few days...who really knows? it´ll happen sometime...¨

So in the true spirit of Ecuador, i´ll be blogging again (with substance) ya mismo...

All is well, i´m still alive and still in Ecuador, just with limited time on my hands.

Sunday, October 12, 2008


Life looks like...

children in school uniforms; beat up and ripped soccer balls; brightly painted canchas (paved soccer fields) and schools; acres of cane houses strewn among swampy standing water and dirt roads; cattle, chickens, and mangled stray dogs; smoke rising from piles of burning trash; dark skinned, dark eyed Ecuadorian faces; kids running toward you with open arms about to hug you; sunsets that set the world on fire; Manos kids walking down the dirt roads back to their cane homes at 5pm with the glow of the pre-setting sun sanctifying them; broken crayons and eraser-less pencils; cursive handwriting; unsuccessful attempts at copying letters by kids who unjustly have been given up on by Ecua-education; students in blue polo shirts at Santiago; pregnant girls and women; very small babies being help by their mothers; people of all ages selling things on buses and on the streets; constant dust in the house blown in from the streets; torn, misfitted clothing; cheap jewelry and tacky tight shirts; tiny black sandals with rainbow straps worn nearly every kid; blue cane church in 28 de Agosto; graph paper; multiplication table on the back of notebooks

Life feels like...

small hands holding mine; tiny underweight children hanging onto you wanting to be carried and held; bumpy bus rides and metal seats; cold showers; never really feeling clean; the unique stomachache and intestinal problems that can only be caused by parasites and worms dying inside of you; scorching heat and sweating all over; sitting in tiny kid chairs at Manos; getting hit in the face with a soccer ball; people leaning against you on the morning busride to work; dirty hands and dirty ankles; breeze from a ceiling fan; hugs from community mates; kiss on the cheek to greet people; plastic chairs; the lack of softness of clothes that are hung to dry

Life smells like...

burning trash; amazing cooking; unbathed children; bleach and dish soap; banana bread in the oven; laundry detergent; gasoline and exhaust; lunch preparations at Santiago; port-a-potty smell on the street corner of Santiago

Life sounds like...

kids laughter; 30 seconds of silence at Manos; rolled r´s and Spanish everything; constant latin music flowing through the streets; ¡mano! during soccer games; buses and cars passing; ¡hola niña!¿cómo estás?; my own stumbling through Spanish; in dept conversations about the pillars and mission of RdC; awkward silences when visiting neighbors; ¡elisa!; señoriiiiita, ayudameeeee; a constant whiny tone of voice that is a cultural norm yet still vaguely annoying; young adults singing and playing guitar at mass; the horrendous Barney song in Spanish played by ice cream trucks passing by

Life tastes like...

room temperature water; rice & beans; fried plantains; juicy, fresh pineapple; lentils; green peppers, tomatos, and onions; lime; hot, sweet, fresh bread; lemon lime popsicles for 5 cents in 28 de Agosto; listerine; bananas; instant coffee; honey tea; cinnamon and brown sugar in oatmeal

Because I´m a visual learner

So since i may not have an opportunity to photograph 28 de Agosto for a while, yet i´d still like to share what it looks like, i´m uploading these images. the first two are an ecuadorian artist´s renditions of an invasion community in rainy season (paintings purchased by a former volunteer); the third is my own sketch of 28 that i did on a busride to Manos. Hope i´m not violating any copyrights here. Wish these could portray the entire sensual experience of 28.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Ecua-Church, Ecua-Politics

So i´m living in Ecuador, right. And part of life in Ecuador inevitably involves politics. And in Ecuador, politics inevitably involves the Church. And on what issue do politics and the Church inevitably, and perpetually, argue? Why, abortion, of course! What interests me is the Church part, not the politics part, so with a dictionary in hand, i put the Religious Studies major part of my brain to work recently to try to untangle whats going on down here. [Side note #1: keep in mind that my attempts at understanding all of this is through a foreign language, in a foreign culture, within a corrupt government, and with the help of other Rostro volunteers and staff.]

Here´s the deal: This past Sunday, Ecuador voted on a new Constitution that was written by President Correa. You either vote SI or NO, to the entire thing, and all literate citizens of Ecuador are required to vote. The Consitution passed, SI won. Except in Guayaquil, where NO had a majority. But lets back up a bit and get to the churchy stuff. [side note #2: as a framework for my church-related thoughts, i´ve been referring to my religious studies professor´s blog, where she´s analyzed the chatter surrounding abortion and the church in the political happenings in the States.]

The Catholic Church, at least in the Archdiocese of Guayaquil, has been pushing the NO vote very, very strongly, with their reasons being primarily the issue of abortion, but also including marriage and family, and education. The Church has been quite vocal about the whole thing.

Lets keep in mind that abortion is currently illegal in Ecuador. And the new Constitution does not directly legalize it.

In the Archdiocese of Guayaquil, the cover of every Sunday church bulletin has a short letter written by the Archbishop to the churchgoers. Since i arrived here in Ecualand, the topic of every one of these letters was about the Consititution. Back in August, the Archbishop wrote three paragraphs entitled ¨The Judgement of the Church¨, where he first stated that Church doctrine declares that it is not in the authority of the Church to define civil and temporal matters, which belong to political authorities, nor is it the Church´s responsibility to ensure the well-being and prosperity of the nation. Sort of lays out a separation of church and state thing. He goes on to say that in reality, bishops in Ecuador have no ambition to attain political power or exercise it (we´ll chuckle at this later). They simply make an effort to announce the Gospel, and bring the faith respectfully to society, independent from politics and economics. Yet it is in their pastoral mission, according to the Second Vatican Council, to give judgement regarding the reality of public life when they find that human rights and the salvation of souls are at stake. Thats all fine and dandy i suppose, but here´s what gets me. He concludes by saying ¨in judging the christian quality of the Consitution on which we will vote, the Bishops Conference is not doing politics, nor is tying up freedom. It is illuminating the conscience of Catholics and men of good will, to the light of faith and intelligence.¨ Ouch. That just seems a little insulting.

Anyway, the following Sunday bulletin continued by discussing the science behind the ¨life begins at conception¨ thing (would i be biased if i called that a fact?). [side note #3: i´m not sure if Augustine or Aquinas was quoted here, since i lost this bulletin, but i´ll search for it and see what i can find.] Then, all through September we were given, to illuminate our consciences, a series of bulletins with the heading ¨Pastoral Guidance Regarding the New 2008 Constitution¨. They are set up in two columns, with ¨What the Constitution says¨ on the left, and ¨What the Church says¨, on the right, with a highlighted box at the end titled ¨So that you might think and decide¨ (which really means, ´the church´s judgement calls on all of this, and why you should agree.´) Hmm.

Issue I: Life.

Article 45 of Constitution 2008 recognizes and guarantees life, including the care and protection of life since conception. So whyyyyy is the Church up in arms about the abortion issue??

Oh wait, here´s why. Article 66 guarantees the right to make free, informed, voluntary, and responsible decisions regarding your sexuality, your life, and your sexual orientation. The state will promote access to necessary means to make these decisions in safe conditions. Also, it guarantees the right to make free, informed, voluntary, and responsible decisions about your health and reproductive life, and to decide when and how many children to have. The same article guarantees people the inviolable right to life; it will not allow the death penalty. Article 43 guarantees priority protection to pregnant women during their pregnancy. The Church sees this as opening several little doors for abortion to be legal. Yea, i see that too. Will abortion be an option since women have the right to decide when and how many children to have? Or in an effort to give highest protection to the woman during the pregnancy? Or in the name of making free and voluntary decisions about your reproductive life?

Its a very ambiguous Constitution, and the Church has been very critical of the gray areas. And the Catholic response has been to plaster bumper stickers saying ¨NO AL ABORTO¨ everywhere you look, host a march for peace and life (thinly disguised political protest?) in Duran and Guayaquil, and have priests give out prayer cards and ´informational handouts´ (for lack of a better word) that include bloody, graphic images of abortion (including a sketch of a knife being held above a newborn). Hmm.

Issue II: Marriage and Family. Here, the Constitution says that marriage is between a man and a woman, and it also recognizes the family in its diverse forms. The state will protect it as the fundamental nucleus of society. Also, the stable and monogamous union between two free, unmarried people that form a home will have the same rights and obligations as married families. Adoption only corresponds to hetersexual couples. In the ¨So that you might think and decide¨ box on the bulletin, the Archbishop writes ¨a homosexual couple is neither a family nor a home.¨ Ouch. That one seems a little insulting too.

Issue III: Education. This one wasn´t nearly as exciting to read, and it was much trickier to understand, so forgive me for just skipping over this topic for now.

Here´s whats more interesting after all of this. In talking with Aidé, a 19-yr-old Ecuadorian university student that works for Rostro de Cristo, and works with us at Manos Abiertas, it seems that the Archbishop of Guayaquil has been in cahoots with the mayor of Guayaquil. Dun dun dun... [side note #4: Aidé was in favor of the SI vote.] Apparently, this Constitution would reduce the autonomy and power of cities, and this Guayaquileño mayor happens to have quite a bit of power, money, and autonomy. Said mayor also happens to be buddies with señor Archbishop, and according to Aidé, señor mayor asked señor Archbishop to encourage a NO vote for him, in order that he can retain his power and autonomy. ¨NO AL ABORTO¨ is an effective tool to use here.

Ain´t that interesting. A corrupt government, and a corrupt bishop too? This is kind of discouraging. I wonder what the abortion-Constitution conversation would have been like without that piece. Not that i can even know for sure that this is what happened, but hey this is Ecuador, the government is corrupt and inefficient, everyone knows that.

So thats what i´ve gathered about all of this. In reflecting on all of this, i´ve centered on one statement coming from my professor´s blog: ¨...while people have a variety of responses to the issue of abortion, the issue itself is not a question of religious truth; the question about the legal status of abortion is a public question about an issue of justice. The Catholic Church´s position on this is not based on faith, to oppose the legalization of abortion is not a question of the improper imposition of religion.¨ Now i´ve been mulling over this for a week now and i just can´t figure out if that same statement would hold true in this Ecua-context. Would the Archbishop of Guayaquil say the same thing? Well, one would expect him to, right? Seeing as we are one universal Church? Hmm. Is the language of justice, rather than articles of faith, used in these bulletins? I see ¨life is an inviolable right, primary and fundamental to all human rights...´God is the only Lord of life´ (quote from Exodus 20:23)...abortion used as means or an end is a crime...human life should be respected and protected in every manner from the moment of conception until natural death...It is the obligation of the State to protect life, but it [Constitution] does not express clearly that it prohibits all forms of violations of the right to life.¨

So i just can´t really come to an answer about this. I feel like i´m trying to write a final paper for RS something-or-other and just can´t figure out what my thesis is (that happened a lot). My gut feeling is that most Catholics here take the issue of abortion to be a question of religious truth, but i dont know why i have that gut feeling. I also have a gut feeling that i don´t really love the way the Catholic Church went about being against the Constitution. Again, this is Ecuador, not the U S of A. Here, abortion is illegal. Back home, its legal. This is a big difference in the way the issue would be approached. Also, I believe 85% of the country is Catholic. I´m not sure what the separation of church and state is like here. I don´t speak the language very well, i don´t understand the nuances of the culture, i don´t know how things are run here. I´m positive i´m missing a lot of information i´d need to really answer my own questions. I have no conclusions. But at least i put in a good deal of effort to try to think critically and intellectually about these things, right?. Cheers for Jesuit-inspired lifelong learning.

Sunday, September 21, 2008


so folks, i just set up a flickr account because that seems to be the most practical way to share photos from ecualand. i think this link will work. bookmark it. i posted a few today, as many as i could get up before my camera battery died.

NB: having a very expensive camera out and about in Duran is not always a smart thing to do--for safety, simplicity, or intentionality. therefore, real photos of what Duran is really like, photos that you´d really care to see, wont be taken for a while. a few months at least. i certainly wont have a camera out in 28 de agosto for a looong time. but someday.

Sunday, September 14, 2008


Vicente is 5 years old. He is small for his age, as most kids here are, with sweet expressive eyes. He isn´t very talkative but is energetic and always engaged in activities, whether it be coloring or soccer. He lives behind the school, right where our bus drops us off, in a cane house with his brother Ricardo, 9, sister Julissa, 7, and a baby less than a year old. Sweetest kids. Their mother died of cancer just a few months ago, and their father is a drug addict, pretty much mentally checked out.

Last week, on Tuesday, during recess at Manos Abiertas, Vicente fell off, or was pushed off, or got caught in, the swing. We´re not sure. All we knew was that he was on the ground crying and wailing in pain. Kasia held him for a few minutes and he just kept screaming in agony. He´d broken his arm. Danny tried to call our director, Kasia brought him back to his house with a few advil and extra bread and bananas, and I wrapped up the program for the day.

What to do? We had no emergency plan in place yet. Is it our responsibility to get him medical attention? What is our role here? Rostro de Cristo is not a medical clinic. We don´t want Manos to become a medical clinic. We don´t want to build up dependencies between the 28 de Agosto community and RdC. If we take him to the hospital, will the community begin to expect us, rely on us, to provide this type of care for every need? Will they be disempowered? Is there a way in which we can empower this family to provide for themselves? Will the drugged out father be of any help to him? On the other hand, if we don´t take him to a hospital and get him in a cast, he will be disabled in his right arm for the rest of his life.

When things are broken in Ecuador, they usually don´t get fixed. Institutions, families, buildings, or bones.

Wednesday, Vicente was back at Manos, drained of energy, with his arm limp at his side. I spent the afternoon trying to do the normal routine while playing bodyguard to prevent any further injury. Kasia talked to his father that afternoon, who was rather indifferent to the whole situation. ´Can you take him to the hospital?´ ´No, I have to stay here with the baby. ´ Would you be ok with us taking to him to the hospital tomorrow morning?´ ´Sure, whatever.´

After talking to our director, Kasia missed work to take Vicente to a medical clinic in Duran Thursday morning, with another RdC volunteer Melissa who works there. After weaving their way through the inefficient Ecuadorian health care system, much thanks to RdC´s relationship with the clinic, and paying out of her own stipend, they were able to take x-rays of Vicente´s arm. Fracture on the elbow. From there they were sent to a private children´s hospital in Guayaquil, after sitting in a traumatic emergency room for far too long, they put a soft temporary cast on Vicente´s arm, again thanks to RdC connections there. They couldn´t do a hard cast that day. No time. Would have to come back tomorrow. When they made it to Manos that afternoon, i literally jumped with joy when i saw even the soft cast on his arm. Someone did something. He got some sort of medical attention...probably more than he´d ever had in his life until this point. Resurrection.

Monday, we visited the family before Manos began to see how Vicente was doing. The whole family has pink eye. All of the kids, and the father. More brokenness that will most likely go untreated. We couldn´t let the kids come to the program for a few days because we didn´t want all of the kids to end up with pink eye. Try telling three children with no mother, druggie father, and a broken arm that they can´t come to Manos Abiertas until their eyes get better, knowing all too well that the situation is entirely out of their open hands.

This past Wednesday, over a week after the accident, Kasia was able to take Vicente to a specialist at the medical dispensario in our neighborhood. The specialist said he could make a cast for him, but they didn´t have any supplies there. The closest pharmacy that sells them is a 15 minute busride away. Kasia would have to leave Vicente at the clinic and go buy the necessary items to make a cast...but she´d have to hurry, the doctor will be leaving soon.

Gracias a Dios, Vicente has a hard cast now, and we´ve been letting other kids at Manos sign it. He thinks that´s really cool.


This event led to some reflection on the brokenness of our own lives and our own hearts, the brokenness of the institutions that govern life here, and the ways in which Christ is present through, and works through, our brokenness (road to Emmaus, anyone?). Luckily, we were able to fix this break , through many sacrifices. Given the malnutrition that the children in 28 de Agosto suffer, and the lack of availability to what is a crappy healthcare system anyway, this will probably happen again, in some capacity, to someone we know. We can´t fix everything. We need God to be in the brokenness.


Coming soon...
Early observations on the Catholic Church and the Body of Christ in Duran.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

¨Gracias a Dios, trabajando...¨

Walking to catch the bus earlier this week, i passed by Gabriel´s house and shouted hola to him. He was in his home making leather products, which is what he does for a living. He came outside and we chatted for a few. He asked how i´m doing and how things are going for me. Muy bien. I asked how he´s doing, and he replied, ¨Gracias a Dios, trabajando...¨. Thanks to God, i´m working. So with gratitude that i am working while many people around me aren´t as fortunate, i´ll share with y´all what work has been like.

Monday-Thursday mornings i´m out of the house by 7:30 and hop on a yellow bus 2 blocks away to head into Guayaquil with my community-mate Kasia. For 25 cents (USD), a 40 minute busride takes us out of Duran, across 2 bridges, and into Guayaquil. We run across a total of 16 lanes of ecua-traffic (far more chaos than you´ll ever see in the states) and down a block to the school we work at, Centro Educativo Santiago Apostol. We start out by ´tutoring´ streetkids who have scholarships to other schools they attend in the afternoons. This really means that we sit down in the cafeteria and ask them what homework they have, if its english we try to help, and if not we just ask questions about what they´re doing. From 8:40 on Kasia and i help out in separate classes until 12:10 when we leave. i´m with 12-15yr old girls that have been working on the streets and are behind in education. They´re fiesty and aggressive and loud and shout ¨senorita, ayudameeeeee¨ in whiny spanish that the ecuadorian teachers struggle to understand, forget me understanding it. They´re used to playing by their own rules. They remind me of what most middle school girls were like back when i was that age. They paint their nails with white-out, want to know if i have a boyfriend, ask how much my earrings cost, play with hula hoops during recess.

I´m a teachers assistant which means i´m supposed to be another teacher to them, another authority figure, but they see me as a new friend, somene new that they can walk all over, especially since my spanish is iffy and theirs is incomprehensible. The teacher i work with, Elizabeth, is really great and knows that the girls cheat on quizzes when she leaves the room and is really making an effort to have them see me as an authority figure / teacher that they have to listen to and respect. I also work with another teacher Naty who didn´t show up for class once, might be younger than me, and has only been working there a few months. Classroom control? Whats that? But lets remember this is Ecuador, not the USA, and things are run very differently here. Time is very fluid, which is a nice way of saying that schedules arent really followed and things dont start ¨on time¨ as a US American would expect ¨on time¨ to mean. Homework often means copying verbatim pages from textbooks, even if you can´t read and dont understand what you´re copying. But this is their system, and i am not here to change it or ´improve´ it. I´m here to serve as best i can and as authentically as i can, within this system.

Its hard. How do I serve these kids? What do they need from me? What do i need to learn from them? I wear a polo shirt that says Rostro de Cristo on it. How do i be the face of Christ here? How on earth do i gain their respect? Will they ever see me as a teacher? Do i even see myself as a teacher? [Note: i know that several teachers/professors/student teachers are reading this blog. i welcome any and all advice regarding how to actually be a teacher.]

Its hard. They´re studying social studies. But this is Ecua-social studies, duh. So Maria Fernanda asked me what natural resources come from La Sierra (region in Ecuador). And i have to say ¨i don´t know. did you pay attention in class this morning? i know the teacher taught this to you.¨ So here i am trying to gain some sort of authority and validity in my position yet have to say ´i dont know´ when the girls ask me a question. Nor do i know how to explain the difference, in spanish remember, between arachnids and crustaceans when the time for Natural Sciences rolls around.

Its hard and the system is frustrating but i dont feel frustrated and i dont feel depleted. Its a fruitful challenge and i get more and more confident in it as time goes on. I think the girls are warming up to me.

So thats my morning. I cross 16 lanes of traffic again and take the yellow bus back to the house in AJS, have a quick something for lunch, and by 1:40 i´m back on a bus heading to 28 de Agosto, an invasion community in Duran located in a former trash dump. Another 40 minutes on a bus, this time looking out the window at acres and acres of cane houses, muddy swamps, burning trash, laundry hanging outside to dry, small children running around and playing in dirt with chickens and stray dogs alongside them.

Monday-Friday, Kasia, Danny and I open Manos Abiertas at 2:30. We´re located in a small school building (classrooms have roofs, but its mostly uncovered) on a residental dirt road. The kids see us get off the bus and either yell our names or ¨las gringas! las gringas!¨ to let the other kids know we´ve arrived. At 2:30, we let in kids that have homework and one of us helps them in a quiet room. They ask us for red and blue pens because they need to copy their textbooks in these colors, or erasers when it needs to be done in pencil. Kids that dont have homework stay outside and play with a soccerball that often gets kicked into a gutter area of trash/standing water. They sit on our laps and talk to us and argue with each other and they´re just kids. At 3:00 we struggle to get them to lineup at the door and greet each of us as they enter with a handshake and a promise to be well-behaved (easier said than done.) We start with the Our Father and split up the little kids from the big kids to do educational activities that will reinforce what they learn in school and also improve their critical thinking skills (which are nearly non-existant). At 4:00 they have recess, which means a high-energy soccer game with kids of all sizes and ages, or begging me to make them paper airplanes, or constantly reminding them that only 4 kids are allowed on the swingset at one time. At 4:45 we gather them together and have a talk or skit about the theme of the week! We spend one week talking to the kids about 7 themes: Respect, Responsibility, Trustworthiness, Kindness, Spirituality, Citizenship, and Justice. We do our best to make it pertinent to their lives and accessible and understandable to kids ages 3-13. Yea, thats tough. At 5:00 we pray again and each kid gets a piece of bread, a banana, and a glass of uncontaminated water before they head home to....who knows. Violence? Domestic abuse? Hunger? Nothing?

Its hard and exhausting and so energizing and so life giving. The kids are so great and so sweet and so affectionate and so loving, and also so easily set off and so fragile and sooooooo not wanting to follow the rules. But we do what we can. We try to give them structure, a safe place to have fun, a quiet place to do their homework, and three hearts to love them as best we can. The days are long and tiring and i smell like sweat and trash and dirty children at the end of every day and i love it.

Gracias a Dios, trabajando.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Walking Home

I´m in Ecuador. How on earth did i get here?

Two days ago i came to this cyber cafe (internet access for 50c/hr), did the email thing for an hour, and decided it was time to head home (just 2 blocks away) to start preparing dinner. I left the cyber realizing that this was the first time i was outside of the gates of our Rostro de Cristo home alone - big deal! I´m officially one of those frighteningly cool international volunteers that knows her way around a remote, unheard-of impoverished city. As i walked down the road i saw Gabriel ahead--one of our neighbors, a 70something man who makes gorgeous leather products in his cement home and loves talking to volunteers and retreatants about international news and the dynamics of love. He spotted me too and shouted ¨¡hola chica! ¿como estas?¨ I stopped, did the kiss on the cheek thing, and chatted with him for a moment (yes, in Spanish!). He was on his way to do some shopping (presumably buying just enough food for dinner at the store on the corner) and commented on the beautiful weather. We said ciao and I continued down the road thinking ¨wow, i´m in Ecuador, outside the gates by myself, and i walk down the road and i know someone...and we stopped to chat... damn...thats pretty cool...¨

Then i see a group of kids ahead, some sitting on the sidewalk and others playing soccer in the middle of the road, as all Ecuakids do, and they saw me and started shouting ¨¡Elisa! ¡Elisa!¨ I went over and did the kiss on the cheek thing again and said hello to all of them, patted them on the head, got in the way of the soccer game, and continued on my way, again thinking ¨wow, not only do I know an old man walking down the street in Ecuador, a group of kids eagerly shouts my name and wants to say hi...thats really cool...¨

I turn the corner and arrive back at the house and the guard Omar opens the gate for me and asks if i was at the cyber, and i said yes, writing to my parents and my friends. I had it in my mind that i was going to go upstairs and see what was up for dinner and veg out, but i realized no, here in Ecuador you obviously stop and converse frequently with neighbors, as i just learned. He asked me what i studied in school, so after warning Omar that i studied French for 10 years and my Spanish is no good, we spent like 15 minutes talking about how interesting it is that Ecuadorians follow many religions (relatively speaking. the country is about 85% Roman Catholic by name, the rest is mosly Evangelical), but in Pakistan, everyone follows Islam! Omar thinks this is fascinating. From here the conversation turned to issues of women in Islam, headcoverings, etc. I think he finds it oppressive but in my extremely limited Spanish i said something like ´but also some women choose because for security and faith and prayer´. Who wouldda thought that i´d be referencing my Islam in America class in the urban slums of Ecuador. I obviously couldn´t do justice to my thoughts about the subject in Spanish, but I tried. We also talked about peace and meditation in Buddhism, and finally Omar´s favorite celebrity biographies. This was my very first successful conversation in Spanish. How unsurprising that it was about world religions. I was elated.

I´m in Ecuador. I know a leatherworker walking down the road on his way to do some shopping. I know children who attend the neighborhood after-school program called Valdivia. They shout my name and want me to play with them. I talk to the guard about my passions.

As a community bonding activity last week, the 12 volunteers made each other name tags for our bedroom doors. Amy made mine, and on it she drew a litte hill with a seed planted and a flower growing up from it. I decided that i´m going to keep it growing. Every time I feel that i had a significant growth moment or experience, i´ll draw a little more of the plant growing up from the seed. I wonder how big it will get. This day was the first new growth on the plant.

I start work Monday. We finally chose our work sites yesterday. In the mornings i´ll be a tutor / teacher´s assistant in a program called Centro de Solidaridad de Santiago Apostol. It gives an education streetkids who are seriously behind in their schooling because they dropped out to work to help their families. Founded by the Christian Life Movement (mainly in Latin America but also present in the US) , it takes a Catholic and holistic approach to ending child labor. The school even makes Mass and Reconciliation available in the building regularly. Love it. I´ll be working in the girls program. Who would have ever thought i´d end up here? Me? In an educational setting? No way. I have no idea what i´m getting into, i have no idea why i think i´ll be of any good service here, i have no idea what skills and talents lay buried inside me that might be of use to these kids, i have no idea what i´m doing. But i´m thrilled and excited and trusting.

In the afternoons i´ll be co-running an after-school program called Manos Abiertas (Open Hands) with two other RdC volunteers. It´s in a section of the city called 28 de Agosto, and its a ¨former¨ trash dump (many people/companies still dump there). People are living in cane houses along dirt roads with no running water and extremely difficult access to healthcare. Out of all three after-school programs run by RdC, these kids have the most discipline challenges, least formal education, and generally the shittiest situations overall. But they´re beautiful and energetic and i´ll be blessed to work with them. Once i start working i´ll have more to share about this. Again, i have no idea why anyone would think i´ll be any good at this, but i´m thrilled.

I´m in Ecuador. And i love it.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Thoughts from Orientation

Orientation at John Carroll Univ. in Cleveland has been....overwhelming and empowering mostly. Days began at 7:30am with morning prayer, are filled with sessions, workshops, presentations, and the like, and end around 9:30pm with evening prayer. The days have been long and grueling but i can't imagine heading to Ecuador without this background. We've been given information/wisdom on things like ignatian spirituality, teaching techniques, counseling techniques, self-care, mental health, conscientization (great word), reality of developing countries, social justice, intentional christian community, self-awareness, and my favorite, theological reflection. It's been a loooot to process and reflect on and work through, but its been so wonderful to begin these conversations with my Rostro community and all the Jesuit Volunteers International, with whom we've had our orientation.

During orientation, the Rostro de Cristo staff (Patrick Rombalski: executive director, former Fairfield U res life employee; Helen Rombalski: program director, former Fairfield U grad student; Dan Kiers: assistant director, former RdC volunteer) helped us get in the groove of the volunteer experience. Through several presentations and intense conversations, we came to a deeper understanding of the RdC mission and vision ( . We're not going to solve problems. We cannot fix anything. That's not our role. We're there to listen and to learn, to share ourselves and embrace others. We will absolutely not give out any money or resources to individuals, because this begins to build a dependency between the people and the program. And the point is to empower them, so that someday they will not need RdC to be in their community. We will direct them to social workers, to other services that can meet any immediate or emergency needs. And equally importantly, we host 27 retreat/immersion groups from the US to experience the lives of the poor, and in turn work to transform those 300+ students every year so that they might form the rest of their lives to upholding social justice, to asking why things are like this, to ask the big questions. It's too much to explain now, but as the year goes on these values will become more and more clear on this blog, i hope.
I'll be living in Antonio Jose de Sucre, which you can learn about on Rostro's website. This is my community: Lauren (from PA), Kasia (from OR), Karen ( of those Midwestern states), and Melissa (from Minnesota, and...engaged!). They're all really great girls, our personalities mesh well and things have been smooth so far. We're all still trying to get to know each other better, but once we move into our house I'm sure things will start to get more adventurous. The other 7 volunteers will be living in el Arbolito. They are Gina (from OH), Tracy (from OH), Danny (from WI), Andrew (from Fairfield, CT!), Carolyn (from Philly), Amy (from MA), and Colie (from WI). They're all great too and its been really fun bonding as a large community.

Now for some more exciting news...One of my favorite reflective moments during this orientation was about the Eucharist as a model for this year of service, insofar as being present to community, to myself, and to those i serve. We talk about the Real Presence. Anytime you go to a Catholic church, God is always Really Present in the tabernacle. Drop on by at any time and God is there to listen. What a great model for being really present to life in Ecuador. These reflective thoughts were sparked by Howard Gray, S.J., also known as the most incredible Jesuit around, who is a JCU professor/administrator. He accompanied us on a 3-day silent retreat that took place earlier this week, which was also a peaceful and fruitful journey of solitude and self-awareness. Anyway, Fr. Gray served as a spiritual director so i took the opportunity to pick his brain about the resurrection of the body, which has been very interesting to me lately. And in the 30 minutes that he poured out wisdom and genius that i just drooled over, he said something to the effect that after death the totality of the reality of ourselves will be in union with the totality of the reality of God (love the language here). And what a beautiful thing that the totality of the reality of Jesus is already present to us in the Real Presence.

There have been many other fruitful conversations, prayers, and presentations, but i can't possibly share it all.

Ecuador monday.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

touching base

hello to anyone that happens to read this,
orientation is wonderful, inspiring, overwhelming, phenomenal, amazing, etc. with all the fantastic presentations we've been given, nuggets of wisdom to reflect on, and community building to be done, its hard to find time to sum it up in a profound yet authentic way in a blog post. so, i really have no news for anyone now. but i will soon. really.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Shared Fruit

"I believe intensely in the essential union of theological study and a life of praise." -Yves Congar

Today is the feast of St. Bonaventure, a Franciscan theologian who believed that 'the purely intellectual element, though never absent, is of inferior interest when compared with the living power of the affections or the heart.'

Bon aventure. French for good journey.

And so i begin blogging about my good journey in Ecuador, an attempt at getting closer to that union of theological study and a life of praise, and letting the living power of the affections and the heart guide me, along with intellect.

(Note: I'm still in the US of A. I head to orientation in Cleveland on Sunday, then ship out to Ecuador August 4.)

Today i had the really wonderful opportunity to meet up for coffee and conversation with a brilliant, inspiring woman and former professor. Along with our drinks she bought a cup of fruit, and as we shared thoughts about past, present, and future journeys, she shared with me this fruit. For some reason this unexpected gesture struck me as so simple, but so profound and so human. To share not only what you have, but who you are, with another. To share the fruits of your experiences with someone that might benefit from hearing them. To break down this subconscious 'mine' and 'yours' and instead give freely, building a more authentic (even Christ-like?) relationship with someone.

I also received today in the mail a Mass card, letter, and donation to Rostro de Cristo from a friend of my mom. The inside reads "Elyse Raby, as a member of the Altare Dei Society [i dont know what this is] will share in the fruits of 100 Masses during the next 12 months to be offered at Holy Family Passionist Monastery & Retreat Center". What a blessing.

So i've been thinking about shared fruit, literal and metaphorical. Fruits of the Holy Spirit, the fruit of the tree of life and tree of knowledge, 'blessed is the fruit of thy womb', the fruit of the vine, parables about fruit, i dont know, am i onto something here? Shared fruit, shared God. What it really makes me think about is that the support i've received from family, friends, acquaintences, and everyone in between has been overwhelmingly touching. I had no idea that the people in my life would do such thoughtful and heartwarming things for me before i set off on this year of service. Every single gift i've received, no matter how small, is so unexpected and has made me so so grateful for the support i have here. It's really amazing how this community of love has sprung up all around me and is sending me forth on this journey.

Rostro de Cristo means face of Christ in Spanish, and part of the mission of the program is to experience Christ with and among the poor in Duran, Ecuador. I've learned that i'm already experiencing God here, among the not-so-poor, through the tremendous generosity and love from so many people.

Thank you to everyone who is sharing with me the fruit of their lives. In return, i hope you can share in the fruits of my experiences in Ecuador, in who i am and what i have, through this blog.

A very special thank you to the parishioners of St. Thomas Church in Southington. Your generosity and prayerful support has been unbelievable.

[to my grammar-conscious friends: i'm intentionally not capitalizing the personal pronoun 'i' because i think it's stupid that english is the only language that feels the need to make the self that superior. i'm rebelling against the severe individualism embedded in our culture via language. sorry if it bothers you :-P ]

Sunday, June 8, 2008

first post?

just getting used to this and making sure it works.