Tuesday, June 30, 2009

a weekend well-lived

for the sake of time, emotional energy, and mental capacity, i am just posting a recent email to a close friend. that´s to say, get ready for nothing special or profound, or gramatically correct, in this blog.

friday night i started making a hammock with wellington. its burgundy and olive green and although i insist on doing the work, wellington is bored as our guard on the night shift and is doing most of the work on it . saturday morning i had encebollado (fish soup, heavy on cilantro) with wellington and soraya as their kids and neighbors kids ran around the house and swung on a hammock and watched weird japonese movies. then i went to visit gabriel and his wife teresa. he´s 78 and is a leather worker and is a character and storyteller and i laughed with them for an hour as i sipped a pepsi he gave me and we talked about this Padre Alberto priest sex scandal thing, the possibility of being a nun (i better not do it out of despair or without knowing what i´d be getting into , because then i´ll just end up like padre alberto) , retreat groups, if they see the face of christ in rostro de cristo, etc. then i hopped on two busses to guayaquil and had lunch with the nuns i know, at which point God was just screaming in my face through every word they said, and i was fed and nourished and had the most real experience of prayer with another person that i´ve ever had in my life. i spent 3 hours there then came home and cleaned the bathroom and we had our neighbors omar and elizabeth and their 4 yr old hyperactive son over for dinner; rice, fried meat, and beet salad, with a pumpkin cake we made for dessert, which was to die for. we chatted about them being robbed a week ago, and elizabeth being worried to ever try to make a cake (hardly anyone here has ovens). got up early the next morning and went to 7am mass with my community, then went to arbolito and spent an hour in intense personal prayer as they were at 9am mass. then amy and i went to pastora´s and spent 4 hours crocheting. i have 13 of 16 squares that will turn into a purse, if the blessed day ever comes when i finish the damn thing. watched the usa brasil soccer game while we crocheted, boo that usa biffed it and lost. then i was heading back to the arbolito house and ended up at jenny and oscars for 4.5 hours. i played soccer with their kids oscarito, luis, and niko, and quizzed them on english words. jenny and i flipped through a magazine from 1990-something and looked at delicious recipes, talked about love, community relationships, God, and she remembered that they forgot to say the rosary that day, as they do every sunday, so i said ok lets pray then, and we rounded up the family and said the rosary toether. then they invited me to stay for dinner and we had rice and chicken and a tomato and pepper salad and a maduro (ripe plantain). then at around 8 i went back to the arbolito house and we had a birthday party (ice cream and conversation) with aide, who is our rostro employee who works with retreat roups and with me at manos, she turned 19 on thursday. she annouced to us that the sociology census she´d been working on for universtiy about media and communications in guayauil is being published in the newspaper, because her data is more reliable than whats usually printed in the paper, which is why its a huge deal. then amy and i had a little meeting about the mission statement we´re writing for our afterschool programs, and we got so stuck on the vision, and realized that its so beyond us that we cant be in charge of writing it. our vision for these programs is that we will have sharp pencils with erasers for every kid to use every day. that we will be fully staffed and can check every kids homework. that we will have a day when no one hits anyone else. that is as big as our vision is. i slept in arbolito sunday night and went to work from there monday morning and gave the first english test of the year. one girl completely flat out copied off a previously given worksheet, but the rest did fairly decent. then i had the absolute joy of sitting in on their faith education class, taught by luis alberto. his lesson was about the time jesus spent on earth after his resurrection, but they interrupted about every 2 minutes iwth an obnoxious ¨espérate profe....¨ and then asked the questions that are important to them: if God sent us to earth like this, why do we wear makeup? is it bad to wear makeup? why do, what are they called, catholics, wear pants, but the evangelicals that live next door to me wear skirts? profe, did you always know all this stuff or did someone teach you too? i sat there cracking up and was fascinated that they have an authentic interest in a class (its the first i´ve seen of this in 11 months), that they are engaging with their catholic faith, and that they have no hesitations to challenge the teacher and completely derail his lesson plans. there is life and joy and challenge every day. there is life.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

ya mismo...

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Together we build our church

About three weeks ago I was invited to join in a staff meeting at Santiago with Toty, the director, and 4 other teachers (Junior, Daniel, Elizabeth, Olguita).

With the new school year starting mid-April, Toty began the meeting by reminding us all to welcome the 10-or-so new students exhuberantly into the family of Centro Educativo Santiago Apóstol. Then she continued by pointing out how very shortstaffed they currently are - in need of a new school psychologist, a new teacher, and a new community liason / social worker-- nevermind classroom space and supplies. Then, with a recent newspaper article in hand about social epidemics, she pointed out that just as the Apostles were small group of people that were able to do something so huge as spreading the Gospel and starting a Church, so too can they start a social epidemic as a small group of people. As teachers and mentors to 50-something former working children, they affect the lives of the kids, who affect the families, who affect the communities. But, what Toty really emphasized as the most important thing is that everything they do must be centered in the truth of Christ, crucified and resurrected. It wouldn´t matter if they had a beautiful building, all the school supplies they needed, and 10 more school psychologists and staff--it would be worth nothing if we didn´t have the love of God in our hearts. We need to trust God beyond all things, putting our faith not in our own efforts but in God working through us.

Toty spoke beautifully and eloquently on these themes for about an hour, then asked us what we think about all of this.

Junior spoke about his desire for a sense of fraternity amongst the staff; Daniel said something that i didn´t pay attention to at all because i was still so blown away by Toty. Then they all looked at me, and asked me what i thought.

First, i said i was without words because i was so moved by everything. Then for the first time in my 8 months working there, i shared myself with my ecua-coworkers, i spoke from my heart. I said that i was really touched by everything Toty said because it is so close to Rostro´s mission and so important to me in my own life. I told them that what Toty said about trusting not our efforts but God working through us is what allowed me to show up there every morning, because i´d never had experience working with kids before, never spoke spanish before, and never taught before--everything they needed me to do for them. I wrapped up my two cents by gushing about how much i love the Foundation and hope to have coworkers like them wherever i end up in the States.

Well they apparently had no idea that i came here with zero of the skills i have now, and they had no idea that i´m as obsessed with them as i am. What a great feeling, to be known. It was scary. I was vulnerable, and i was human.

Then to top it all off, Olguita allowed herself to be vulnerable too. Olguita is this tiny yet larger-than-life woman who has intimidated me for 8 months because of how strict she can seem, how in-control she is over everything (in a ¨i won´t ask anything important of you because you won´t do it exactly the way i want it¨ kind of way), but most of all, how she commands such respect and obedience of a group of pre-teen girls that won´t ever give me the time of day. In this meeting she was nearly in tears saying that she is so nervous for the new students to arrive--what would their challenges be? how would she respond to them? how would she teach them? The unknowns terrified her.

Imagine me sitting there, as this woman became human for the first time in my eyes. How on earth could she feel that way? She knows everything! I talked with her after the meeting and apparently she also had no idea that i thought this of her. And she denied being invincible.

I saw humanity in that meeting, and through that, saw divinity. This is the church. This is people called together. This is solidarity. This is people not working jobs, but working to participate in the building up of the Kingdom of God in Guayaquil. Since that day, i no longer show up every morning in timidness but in joy.

Hey--maybe solidarity really can change the world.

Please pray for the foundation as it struggles with finances and personnel to offer education, love, and reconciliation to Guayaquil´s streetkids.

If so moved, donations can be made to Centro Educativo Santiago Apòstol by donating to Rostro de Cristo and earmarking it for the school.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


Looking back...

As it turns out, we can´t stack the deck of our spiritual journey. We don´t really choose our path to Christ. I went into Lent thinking ¨this year will be more meaningful, this Lent will really move me. Fasting will take on new meaning amidst malnutrition. Sacrifice will mean more amidst poverty. I will learn about God through all these things. They will inspire my prayer and enrich my life here.¨

Sure, the hunger pains reminded me that the kids at Manos feel that every day. Yes, choosing not to fill silence and free time with tv, music, catching up on work, or unnecessary visits to the cyber helped me to understand how these luxuries should be used. But it was a personal relationship in the States that burned down that taught me how to love from the middle of the fire. And being able to share that with select neighbors here really put me in a slingshot to more authentic human relationships, a sharing of selves, with women that have been cheated on, unloved, abused, and humiliated in ways far too familiar for women here. And from the depths of their suffering and the lessons they´ve learned, they helped me resurrect.

Not really how I expected to enter into a deeper conversation with Christ, or experience solidarity with Ecuadorians, or learn a little bit about how to love from the cross, or get a glimpse of the glory of God in brokenness and forgiveness, or feel the hope that the resurrection means for us. But lucky for us, we don´t get to decide how God will be present to us.

I get a kick out of retreatants when they ask me ¨so, why are here?¨ Hell if I know. Why did I fill out the application and get on that plane in August, or why did God lead me here and what will it mean for the rest of my life? One I can sort of answer, the other, maybe I´ll never know. And I like it that way.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Allowing ourselves to be nourished

I´ve learned something about God´s love this past week. Mom and Dad were here visiting, and in their week here we received countless invitations from neighbors to share meals with them. So we accepted, and ate homemade ecuadorian meals until our sensitive american bellies were full, full, full. Mom and Dad offered to buy the food they´d cook, or to pay for the desserts they served us that they normally sell from their homes, and no one would ever accept any kind of payment or reimbursement. Mom´s [grateful] reaction to this hospitality was ¨how do you ever get back at these people? how do you ever get even with them if you can´t give them anything in return?¨

Well, the point isn´t to ´get back´, ´get even´, or try to match or even outdo their hospitality. It´s a lesson in humbly receiving. Our neighbors here have a beautiful gift of giving, wholly and selflessly. And sometimes we just aren´t so good at being on the receiving end of that. I´m finding that this year is a lesson in receiving the generosity and love that is poured out for us, in allowing ourselves to be humbled in a way that we are not used to and not always comfortable with. Sort of like God´s love, right? I mean, who among us thinks that we´ll eventually be able to ´get even´ with the love shown to us through the creation, redemption, and sanctification of humanity? The Incarnation, Crucifixion, and Resurrection? We can´t match that. But we can open our hearts to it, humbly receive it, let it take root within us, and reflect it to others in the way we live our lives. Jesus washed feet, but also had his own face wiped. And that Face of Christ is in the giving and receiving of love, which often takes place over a delicious ecuadorian meal. So maybe God´s love is like when you drop by a neighbor´s house and somehow end up with a heaping plate of rice, lentils and plantains in front of you when you didn´t even think you were hungry....but it´s so yummy that you eat it all anyway.

[thought: i wonder who brought the bread and wine to the Last Supper?]


Other recent happenings:

My community and I successfully raised, killed, and ate 3 chickens. We bought 3 little chicks in early December and loyally fed and cleaned them for 2 months until they got big and tasty, just in time for Mom and Dad´s visit. We ran into a problem a few days before the planned slaughterning...one of the chickens apparently fell ill. It wouldn´t eat, drink, open its eyes, or walk around. Two guards said it may be a little sick, or maybe it just got in a fight with the others, but either way should be killed immediately just to be sure (and, if it´s insides looked ok, it´d be fine to eat). One other guard and his wife swore it was the avian flu and would make us all horribly sick if we ate it. Jesús, my go-to woman for chicken questions, said it likely fell out of the hodgepodge coop we built, or got in a fight--it wasn´t sick, just sad, we didn´t need to kill it, it´s fine to eat! Alas, we killed it with Wellington (guard)and Soraya (his wife) and froze the meet until Jesús could inspect it for us. Typical Ecuador: everyone has differing, occasionally bizarre, opinions and suggestions. (in the end, we did not eat this one. Jesús cooked it and gave it to a very poor neighbor.)

As for the other two chickens, Jesús did the slaughtering and carving and I helped with the cleaning and carving. Dad took pictures, Mom said ´ewwww...´ a lot, but she did pull out 2 feathers (go mom!). One of the reasons of this adventure was to learn how to cook seco de pollo, a typical ecuadorian dish made by boiling down tomatos, peppers, onions, cumin, cilantro, and an ecuadorian fruit into a sauce in which the chicken is cooked. We had enough to feed Jesús´ family, the guards who helped us in this process, and ourselves. Vale la pena. Raise chickens: check!

Note to Andrew of Cabrini College: you asked me to mention in this blog if the chickens ever pecked through that ridiculous cardboard contraption we built for them.....they did´t! Although the screen/floor did eventually fall through, but Wellington resolved that problem by laying down a big piece of wood across the screen. The coop was a soggy busted mess by the time we killed the chickens, but it did hold out. :)

Exciting news fromManos Abiertas! Thanks to donations of childrens vitamins from generous folks in the States, the kids at Manos are now getting a vitamin at the end of the program every day! I did some math and with the amount of vitamins we currently have, Manos kids are set for at least 6 more months (through the rest of my time here), and our after-school programs in other neighborhoods may be able to begin giving vitamins as well. Thank you for helping us care for these kids.

Note: If you are reading this and are interested in sending down vitamins or shool supplies, please contact Helen Rombalski at hrombalski@aol.com. If you´d like to make a financial donation to Rostro de Cristo, visit http://rostrodecristo.org/Give/Give.html .
These are some of the beautiful little faces I see every day at Manos:

Jordy, age 5. Loves paper airplanes.

Playing Memory at recess.

Danny leading the big kids in Pictionary.

Yulisa, Ricardo, Anthony, and Juan Carlos receiving their vitamin.

Plucking the chickens!