17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’” 20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.” 21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. 23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?” 27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”
This morning I took a cooler shower… it was still relatively warm… and I was thinking about how much I have. I don’t know about you guys, but this last week I have struggled. Colleen asked us in Guatemala to reflect on what makes us uncomfortable.
I could honestly say down there that I wasn’t very uncomfortable, but rather it has been in the silence of our return that I have felt uneasy and I have even tried to avoid the silence. This gospel from Mark challenged me today to stop running. How simple, yet difficult, is Jesus’ call: Let go of everything and follow me. I have been thinking about Sheila’s answer to this call. I am ready to give two weeks, several months, or even several years to work such as Sheila’s, but am I willing to give everything? Sheila has given her entire life to God’s work. If God asked me to leave everything behind today, I don’t think I could. I often give to God from my “surplus” in my life, but rarely do I give to him from my necessity. The Guatemalans gave to us from their necessity. They fed us when they had little food, they gave up their seats at church for us, the pastoral youth devoted their Saturday evening to be with us, Diago took several days to make us those pens. They all gave us their very best. Jesus Christ is truly living in them and it is because of this generosity in their poverty (Jesus’ poverty), that we have become spiritually rich. If we follow the Guatemalan’s example, we may be able to answer the call, “Come, follow me.”
All of you are in my prayers and thoughts! Happy Memorial Day!
One of the first things that I noticed when we arrived, and something that continued to overwhelm me throughout the trip and even now, is the influence of the American culture on Guatemala. I often don’t consider our American ways to be an actual “culture,” and instead consider “culture” to be something we see in National Geographic and foreign countries. However, in Guatemala, the meshing of American culture and Guatemalan culture was so incredibly apparent. The people wore traditional dress – the handwoven skirts, blouses, blankets, belts – and were clearly an older culture in which women were subordinate to men, religion was a mixture of Biblical Christianity and traditional pagan beliefs, and the majority of people spend their lives working to ensure their families have food and education if they’re among the lucky few. The American culture permeated this lifestyle in strange ways. Salons with posters of white women were everywhere. Many of the kids wore shirts with pictures of American movie stars. The tourist areas were full of markets and salespeople pushing their “authentic handmade” products. The Guatemalans knew how to lure the Americans in with shops and shiny things. The food shops were overflowing with twinkies, soda, ramen, box mac and cheese, and all kinds of convenient junk food, while the wrappers and plastic containers covered the river beds and beautiful vegetation. It was so clear to me that our culture had invaded the Guatemalan culture – and that in most cases it was degrading their culture. Because they do not have a consistent method of waste disposal, they tossed their garbage in the streets. Twinkie wrappers and pop bottles littered the rivers and gulches. When it rained, the trash would flow down the streets with the water. Our culture of convenience has been welcomed and admired by the Guatemalans, but they do not have the resources to properly handle the consequences. We realized that the American culture of 20 years ago was now in Guatemala, and that they idolized us. I used to think that how I lived my life in little Helena, MT had absolutely no global effect, but I was so wrong. My recycling isn’t going to get rid of the trash problem in Guatemala. My healthy eating isn’t going to cure those kids of diabetes. But the way I live my life does set an example for them, and for the people around me. By eating healthy, recycling, discouraging inappropriate movies and music, dressing with modesty, not supporting the evil in our society, and striving to serve and glorify God in everything I do, I am setting a tiny little example that will hopefully grow and eventually become influential in the Guatemalan culture. They idolize us – it was so clear – and the way we participate in our culture and create our culture, will without a doubt eventually trickle down into Guatemala. This places a great responsibility on us. I have never felt more disgusted with the blatant vanity and depravity of our culture. I do not want to see another inappropriate American movie or hear another trashy song because I know this message is being sent all around the world. The United States is the most powerful country in the world, and other countries are modeling their own cultures after ours. What are we doing to ensure this culture is pure and good? Every time we point out the evil in our society and determine to take no part in it, we are setting an example for everyone else in the world. I have never felt the weight of this responsibility more heavily. It is a blessing to have this kind of influence and opportunity, but we must be accountable to God and to the people of the world who are looking to us as an example. They idolize who we idolize. How much adoration, then, should we be giving LeBron James, Taylor Swift and Justin Timberlake? Or should we be idolizing Jesus Christ and encouraging lives given to His service? This responsibility is real, and it is necessary right now. Only when we each determine to discard the bad and embrace the good in our culture will things change. We are each called to change the world, and we, as Americans, have the greatest opportunity to do so.
It was only yesterday that we left the hot, humid environment we had come to call home for the last nine days. As we were journing out of the depths Guatemala, I could not help but reflect on the solid glass and metal barrier that separated me from the everyday life of many Guatemalans. I was separated from the noisy, trash filled streets by a modern innovation, a machine that had been developed to improve the quality of life. At this point, though, I was having trouble understanding how this great piece of technology was really enhancing the everyday life of this third world country. I really felt like I was in a giant bubble, and this bubble was allowing me to run away from the reality I had barely began to understand.
I remember flying into Guatemala and being drawn back by the sprawling slums, and the many armed men who lined the streets to protect vaious businesses and people. I have to admit, even coming from Wyoming, that men with shotguns everywhere is a bit unnerving. As we drove on that first day, we past more poverty then I have ever seen in my life; poverty that rarely allowed the lush plants of nature to overshadow it. As we rolled into the clinic for the first time, completely exhausted by the previous night of travel, I felt the beginning of my vulneralbility to this environment: physically, mentally and spiritually.
Here in the United States, we live a comfortalbe life. Yes, we have struggles and challenges, but we also have a lot more ways to numb the pain caused by our suffering. From media and social networking to drugs and food and large houses and laywers, we live in an enviroment where people have the opportunity to avoid suffering if they so desire. In Guatemala this is not the case, many people learn to live with their suffering like those who come to the clinic for medical help. What is surprising and will always amaze me is even with this pain the people are joyful and passionate for living. They are willing to get up early each day and surrender their time and energy to provide for their family and friends. They are willing to sacrifice and give.
It would seem that Guatemalan’s are very far indeed from the U.S.; this is something we all reflected on and gave thought to. On one hand, they are physically miles away but on the other (like many countries throughout the world) they are following suit with the culture being poured out of the U.S. day after day. Music, movies, and the latestet fashions are being received by Guatemala as a whole, even the kids at the dioceasen run school have their own taste of the pie, whether good or bad. This became very apparent when they presented Gangnum Style (a recent Youtube craze) to us during a visit. It was an uncomfortalbe moment for me as I realized our day to day actions here in America directly effect others throughout the world. What I choose to support, even if it is just for fun, directly influences countless people. Am I okay with the ideas, motivations and morals, that the U.S. is transmitting to the world? Am I satisfied supporting music that has the power to degrade and dehumanize the beautiful witness to life the Guatemalans have given me?
One example of American influence is the throw away culture. We buy individually wrapped snacks and throw away the wrappers without worrying where they end up, or we purchase one time use products that are easily replaced. As I spent more and more time on the streets, I begun to hunger for an answer to the question of why we throw things away. Where was it ever stated that we had an ability to rid ourselves of our ‘stuff’. In Guatemala, with trash piled everywhere it is interesting to me to think that something can really be thrown away. Without an infrastructure to support a clean environment, a Guatemalan cares little for the piece of plastic he just released to the already trashed ground. And, if this is the attidute towards small pieces of plastic and paper, then what prevents this mentality from being applied to larger, more meaningful parts of life?
This trip, at least for me, is the beginning of a new understanding. In the days ahead, I will reflect much on this experience and the kindness and love given to me generously by people who have far less than I do. Their wealth is not so much physical, but it is overwhelmingly spiritual. This is the reality I had to face as we drove in our giant bubble, escaping, some would say, back to the place we call home.
I have always felt a calling towards service work ever since I was little and wanted to help everyone (dogs included) that I met. This calling was what initially attracted me to this trip. I assumed we would be traveling to Guatemala to do service work and help those in need. When I found out that this was not necessarily the purpose, I struggled to understand and explain to others why we were going. I became frustrated with the thought that we were investing quite the sum of money to go see a culture in need of that exact thing. I knew that this trip would be life changing, although I did not know to what extent the transformation would reach. When we first arrived on the clinic grounds in Santo Tomas, my narrow perspective began to broaden with the stories of the incredible women who work there. Sheila, Mary, and Anna showed me the real answers to poverty. Simply giving money directly to these people in need only relieves the pain of poverty until the donation runs out. In some cases, it even acts as a catalyst for the destruction of one’s dignity and empowerment. I realized this when we spent a morning digging a canal in Clinica Maxena’s garden. Sheila explained to us that showing the people how to supply their own means of food and work could allow them to provide for themselves, which in return results in self-respect and life satisfaction. The Guatemalan and Mayan people have an undeniable pride in their work. So taking this away from them by merely handing them money instead of supporting their abilities cripples their exceptional spirits and their futures.
“If you have come to help me you are wasting your time, but if you have come because your liberation is bound with mine let us work together”
Working in harmony with those in need encourages their efforts by creating a common goal and ultimately a connection for all of humanity: to enhance the quality and equality of life for all.
What I have also realized is that a great deal of prejudice also lied in that fact I assumed we would be the doing the majority of life improvement. To my great surprise, this could not be more on the contrary. The Guatemalan people have a bountiful, inspirational, and unfathomable faith that is incredibly contagious to those who witness it. Although they struggle to meet their basic needs, they will offer everything they have to the Lord and their guests or brothers and sisters in Christ. I was brought to tears many times by how gracious they were to us. I thought and continue to think, if only I could communicate that their faith and friendship was enough to satisfy what they have shown truly matters- the soul. These people may be poor in money and possessions, but their tremendous richness in spirit, generosity, faith, and love should be what us “privileged” admire and seek. These beautiful people display the true definition of poverty as being devoid of the Lord.
Ella Marie Goodwyn
So we (Nate and Jennesa) just arrived at the Salt Lake City International Airport and have been reflecting upon the differences we experienced in our few hours back in the states. The kindness and generosity of our brothers and sisters in Guatemala is one of the things that struck me (Jennesa) the most. I especially saw this in the women who cooked delicious meals for us and washed our clothing. They were so happy to do these things and serve us in this way. I was amazed by the way these women were so filled with joy in their giving, especially since we were strangers to them. Another instance of this generosity was when we were at la Asuncion School and I scraped my knee; when I was going to put a band-aid on it, several of the students said they were sorry to see that I got a scrape. I was touched by this, because they didn’t know me but still cared. Experiencing this heartfelt, genuine kindness in Guatemala has changed my perspective on how to treat others, especially those we don’t know.
Before arriving in Salt Lake, we landed in Los Angeles and had to go through customs and security. During these short experiences we were immediately reminded of the contrasts between our own culture and the one we had been immersed in for the past ten days. I (Nate) felt reverse culture shock. Witnessing my own culture after getting off the plane made me very uncomfortable. Seeing the high paced, stressful, intense, hurried Americans in LAX surprised me. I noticed the time oriented, materialistic, ‘done up,’ people around me and I didn’t like it one bit. What made me even more uncomfortable was how the people were treating one another. When I was in the security line, I saw a middle-aged, bleach blonde woman chew out a TSA worker. She made it through security, but came back to the metal detector machines to yell at him about how he handled her shoes. She ended her rant with a aggressive and mean exploitive. Jennesa saw a young family with a baby and a businessman getting in an unnecessary tiff about taking too long in line. The man asked why the family was taking so long and the father said the man could go ahead of them, then he asked if the businessman was in a hurry. The man replied in a huff that he wasn’t in a rush, so the father was irritated that he pushed them along and conveyed this through profane language. Their argument escalated further, until they went their separate ways.
There are many problems in Guatemala, but a positive aspect of their culture we witnessed was how they treated one another, particularly in the rural mountain communities. This inspired me (Nate) to make a little extra effort to converse with a woman who was checking my boarding pass at LAX. It wasn’t much, but I could tell it made a positive impact on her morning. The kindness I saw in the Guatemalans also inspired me (Jennesa) to a wish a barista at Starbucks a great day. We are just about to board our plane to Helena, so thanks for reading and see you soon…well, some of you!
Nate and Jennesa
Hello everyone! Kirsten and Hayley here, finding ourselves at the end of our journey, and we’d like to take some time to reflect on the differences we have noticed between our previous home of Santo Tomas and our current “vacation spot”, Panajchel.
In the villages, we felt like we were at home. We came to know the sisters, the clinic workers, and even began to recognize people in the streets of Santo Tomas. We felt introduced into the people’s lives and their culture, even though we were often greeted with blank stares. When we went into the rural churches or even the market at Santo Tomas, we were welcomed into their community.
On Sunday, the day we left Santo Tomas, we got to experience our first, full-blown, sensory-overloaded market. For example….think Pike’s Place Market in Seattle, WA. In the summer, single-file, shoulder-to-shoulder, feral dogs weaving their way through your legs, all while towering over everyone, because the whole culture runs much shorter than us in the U.S. A particular image will never leave our minds: the meat market in a back basement of some market building. If you would like a detailed description of this, please ask any one of us, as there is no way we can do it justice over this blog. The beautiful part of this market was that the people there smiled at us, wished us “buenos dias”, and sincerely helped us to pick out our purchases.
Later Sunday afternoon, we arrived in Panajchel and headed out to the market. Not only did we find ourselves in the midst of other foreigners, like ourselves, but we also immediately we felt overwhelmed and surrounded by street vendors. To give you another mental picture, this market is much more of a tourist attraction…bright colors, similar merchandise at every other stand, and annoying vendors. The first thing that happened to us was a Mayan vendor who tried to barter with us…in English. We didn’t know how to respond. The following are pretty standard lines from the vendors:
“You want bracelet? I make myself. Only 20 quetzales, only for you.”
“Hey. You like this? It look good on you! Or for your girlfriend? Or your boyfriend? I give you good price. What you want it for? Ciento quetzals? Just for you. Good price.”
These vendors followed us up and down the streets. If they ever saw us purchase anything, we became a magnet. Side note… Kay was particularly attractive to these vendors; we think that it’s because she’s a very kind-looking lady! Even worse these vendors are either middle-aged women or young kids. It was definitely a shock to our systems, considering how at home we felt at Santo Tomas. All day we’ve felt as if we’ve been taken advantage of, simply because the caring spirit isn’t communicated through the vendors here.
Ultimately, we have already started to recognize what a beauty and a blessing it was to be immersed in the Santo Tomas (and surrounding area) culture. In our last reflection, we talked about what we’ve seen in the last week or so that has impacted us and will stick with us. Some of these things were the joy of the Guatemalan and Mayan people, the beautiful but difficult paradoxes that we have encountered, and the rare experiences that we have gotten to have.
On a lighter note, you should all know that for a week, we shared a twin bed and have become closer than close… From sleep talking to sharing Pepto-Bismol, not only have we gotten closer as a group, but we’ve formed inseparable bonds with one another that we will never be able to share with anyone else, based on what we have experienced as a group. Soccer games and dinners of bean paste and tortillas are already being planned. As much as we’re excited to come home and see you all, it’s definitely a bittersweet feeling to leave this beautiful country.
Thank you for continuing to follow us the whole way! We’ll be seeing some of you in the coming days! Love you all!
Kirsten and Hayley
The warnings came true. I woke at 6 am on May 19th with an awful stomach ache and several side effects. I whined. I was angry. I wondered why it happened to me. Then I realized something as I lay in the extreme comfort of the Utz Jay hotel in Panajchel later that evening. Where have I been for the last week? What has the Lord shown me? I had antibiotics on my nightstand and a nurse just upstairs. Since when was I so infatuated with myself? I think that we Americans easily take our comforts for granted. When faced with all the comforts one could ever dream of and yet being angry about being sick, one asks himself if he is truly a Christian. I have seen people who sleep on floors, have tin roofs, and are at the mercy of a clinic that provides good medical help, but is financially strapped. That is the point of trips such as this. For men and women to truly become their full identity in Christ, and that means first seeing their selfishness then getting outside of themselves.
In 2012, I was able to see the beauty of the Catholic Church in Rome. What splendor! What awe! What truth! The Lord asked me to see that same beauty in Guatemala. This task is far more difficult. This task requires one to look through the filth, the garbage, and the stink to see that this is a part of our universal Church. The beauty and splendor of the Church encompasses all the world because the Lord God surrounds each beautiful heart and place in all the world. This means we are to attempt the same. We are to let the Lord bring us to the ends of the earth so that He may use us to bring his love. This is the change that I believe is happening in my heart. I am seeing the value of living outside of oneself, which is a microcosm of Christ’s selfless act on the cross. I have no doubt that every young Christian on this trip is transforming as well.
Today, May 20th, we were able to visit the place where Fr. Stanley Rother was killed. Shot by the Guatemalan government in the 80’s for standing up against genocide. It was a powerful moment as we all prayed and asked to give everything to the Lord, even our very lives.John 15:13 says, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” So to those reading this back home: can we Americans lay down our lives for our God, for those who are our brothers and sisters that our God loves fully and Church encompasses? Will you imitate your Christ for real this time and not hold back? As for me, there is much work to be done.
Yesterday was our last full day in Santo Tomas la’ Union. This week has been so good yet so difficult. I am thankful for all that has been good yet bothered by the poverty and suffering I see here. As this is my last Headlights trip I am leading at Carroll I don’t know if I will return here again. This week I have experience moments where I could see myself wanting to come back because of the relationships I have formed here (despite language differences) and the commitment of those who serve here but again moments where what I experience here is difficult and I do not feel a strong desire to return to Guatemala. This is the third group I have worked with to travel to Santo Tomas and probably in total about 55 Carroll students and several images formed in my mind.
Yesterday before we left the mission I asked the students to share what images they think will most strongly remain with them. The answers ranged from the beauty in the faces of the Mayan people and the beauty in the landscape of Guatemala to remembering how little people get by with here and the garbage that is on the streets. It is hard to know in just a week how this trip will continue to affect the way we all look at violence, poverty, hunger, immigration, health care and suffering in the world. My hope is that the images that stay with us form the choices we make, the prayers we offer for others, and the professions we commit our lives to.
As a group we have also spent time reflecting on the way we (as Americans) are viewed by the people we encounter. Traveling together as a group of 16 Americans it is hard to remain subtle in our movements through the villages and towns. I am thankful that overall we have been welcomed at each place we visited however a few students have talked about how when we are stared at it is a bit unsettling. We are not use to being a minority or being the outsiders. One image I will not forget is seeing an American flag hanging on a clothes line in a house near the coffee co op we visited. I want to believe that our country is appreciated for what is good however I also see what we have given to this country that is destructive. I am also bothered that we have been so welcomed here yet Guatemalans living in our own country are predominately undocumented and not protected by the freedoms America promises.
All of these images remind me of the complexity of life in Guatemala. When I leave here on Wednesday I will not forget the noise of the city of Santo Tomas, the sound of Mango’s falling from the tree onto the roof above me, the giant spider I shared a shower with for several days, the almost unbearable humidity, our friend Diego, the generosity and kindness of the people we encountered, the beggars who stopped by the mission to ask for money, sipping a Gallo’ on the patio, or the stoic nature of the people who live high up in the mountains.
I am also thankful for Guatemala for giving me more insight into where my own journey in life will lead. As I finish my time at Carroll and prepare to move to Kansas City to live and work with the Sisters of Charity I hope my experience here continues to remind me that what I need in life is not things but relationships with others and the courage to trust that my own life is on the path God has intended.
I will miss these students deeply but I am thankful for the time I have spent with them here and inspired by the way they have entered into this experience and embraced the complexity. Guatemala, for me, is a place where joy and laughter have met suffering and where simply coming and experiencing life here is not nearly enough. I pray that all of these images stay with me and that I continue to live my own life recognizing the complexity and desiring to work for change where I can.
It is Monday and we are in Panajchel. We got here late yesterday and enjoyed a little time for shopping and eating dinner. A couple of the guys tried a cheeseburger and what they found was they should have stuck with the local food. Still though, I appreciated their enthusiasm to hope for the best.
We will be here until sometime tomorrow and then go on to Guatemala city. I hope to post more reflections for the blog later today as our time here is more relaxed.
This morning, after a not so pleasant night of unsettling food from the mountain villages yesterday, we had the opportunity to look at and purchase weavings done by women who lived in some of the villages up in the mountains. These weavings are truly a piece of art. I was amazed to see how colorful and how much detail was put into each piece. After saying goodbye to my fellow Amigos and Amigas as they headed out to play another game of soccer, I was able to learn more about the individual pieces that I was buying for my family and friends back home. Ana, who is a Sister here at the mission, works with the women from some of the poorer villages and is able to set up what we would call individual savings accounts for each of the women, in case they need money for their children or other needs. She explained to me that one of the coin purses I had picked out was done by a thirteen-year old girl, who was the daughter of one of the woman who regularly does some of the weavings. Ana said that the coin purse I had picked out was the girl’s first piece that she had ever done. Putting that story to the coin purse instantly made it much more personal. Ana told me about another purse that I had picked out, which had been done by a woman who had fled from her village with her daughter. She did this in order to escape her husband, who would often abuse her with his machete. She left with almost no possessions and when she ran out of money, she stopped at a town where she was fortunate to meet a man who was associated with the Mission. This lead her to meeting Ana and the Mission was able to loan her money to get her started doing her own work. After hearing these stories and learning about the work Sister Ana does, I am not only excited to give these gifts to people back home, but also support something that truly benefits the women here.
Until next time ☺