Monday, December 14, 2009

Merry Christmas

Dear Family and Friends,

Greetings! I hope that, in the midst of this busy season, you are finding time to savor softly falling snow, rosy-cheeked children and glowing Christmas lights.

Once again, I've let a lot of news elapse between posts without reporting it. I will give a brief summary here.

At the end of September, I decided to try substitute teaching in Mesa County District 51 (Grand Junction and the surrounding area). My Uncle John and Aunt Madelyn generously offered me a place to stay in their beautiful home while I tried out the Grand Junction job market. I immediately got a two week position subbing for an ESL teacher in a Clifton elementary school. Mid-way through the second week, the principal from Orchard Avenue Elementary called asking me to interview for a fourth grade position that had opened up at their school. I interviewed, was offered the position and accepted all within a couple of days. Life hasn't been the same since!

Orchard Avenue Elementary is a wonderful learning and teaching community. I feel blessed to have such a great opportunity to grow professionally and work with such a supportive staff. I also sometimes feel overwhelmed by all that I have to learn and do to serve my learners well. Coming in mid school year and teaching fourth grade are new to me, and just getting back into the rigors of teaching in general is demanding. We have twenty-five learners in our class, sixteen boys and nine girls. We have a wonderful spectrum of personalities and talents. They teach me a lot.

In mid-October, I signed a lease on an apartment in downtown Grand Junction. It is the front part of an old house that has been divided into three units. The kitchen, living room and bathroom are on the first floor. There are two bedrooms upstairs. The house has character, and I enjoy living in downtown, and not far from the school. My brother, Chris, and my nephews Eric and Evan, made the trek over the mountains with me to pick up (most of) my stuff from storage in Lyons. My parents spent much of the following two days assembling furniture and unpacking my things while I worked at school. In times like these, I am especially grateful for my marvelous family.

For Thanksgivng, Chris and Melissa's family and I all gathered at our parents' house in Cedaredge. The posted photo was taken then. It was good to be together. For Christmas, we plan to all be together at my cousin Brian's house here in Grand Junction.

A few weeks ago, one of my bright-eyed, smiling, pigtailed fourth graders brought in something to share with the class. It was clipped from the previous day's Grand Junction Daily Sentinel: a photograph of a giant, glowing sliver of a crescent moon rising over the Grand Mesa. The caption began : "God's Thumbnail". After sharing time, we taped it to the white board, and it still hangs there in our classroom. It helps me remember that this world of heartbreak and confusion, isn't just spinning out of control. Someone's holding it.

Merry Christmas,


Sunday, September 13, 2009

Returning Home

Hello Everybody,

I hope that you are enjoying this time of harvest and the first hints of Autumn, as I am after two Septembers away from fresh peaches and falling leaves. Each season holds a unique beauty.

Again, so much has happened since I last wrote here, four months and a myriad of motion and emotion. In Merida, the Nueva Vida girls continued the school year after the nation-wide suspension of classes due to the flu. However, the number of flu cases in Yucatan rose and the school year was ended about two weeks ahead of schedule in an attempt to stem the spread of the virus. Three Nueva Vida girls graduated from elementary school (6th grade) and all of the girls passed their classes to continue in the next grade up next year. Cari and Marilyn returned from the States and we were happy to be able still take the girls to the beach the last weekend in June to celebrate the end of the school year.

On July 8, I departed from Merida for Grand Junction to visit for the summer. The day after my arrival, I departed for a quick trip to Teton and Yellowstone National Parks with my parents and with my brother's family. Wild, wonderful Wyoming was a great welcome back to the American West. What grandeur in the mountains and vast plains! After our return, I spent some time on Colorado's Western Slope, and then about ten days visiting family and friends on the Front Range. Fausto came to Colorado to visit for ten days in mid-August and we saw some beautiful places in Colorado and Utah.

Throughout the summer, I was contemplating possible next steps in my life. After much soul-searching, I've chosen to stay in Colorado for now. I think I need to collect myself at "home" after two tumultuous years away, to be near the family and friends who steady me and give me life. This was a difficult decision. Still, part of me yearns to return to mission, where my eyes have been opened to the great imbalances in the world, to the needs of others, and my own needs. And part of me yearns for long-term relationships and simple family life. I trust somehow God can unify all these pieces inside me, if I can keep my heart open.

Here are some thoughts drawn from the experiences of the last two years:

We need each other. No one can survive alone for long, let alone thrive.

Work, responsibility, routine, long-term relationships, the things that sometimes we resent, and can make feel like we're in a rut, are also things that give much meaning to our lives. Appreciate them.

No person sees the whole picture of our infinitely complex reality. Each one of us sees a part. If we open ourselves to understand another person's (a child's, a grandparent's, a businessman's, an immigrant's, an African's...) point of view, we have an opportunity to get a grasp on another piece of the puzzle, to see the truth more clearly.

Both want and excess make people sick, either physically or spiritually. We in the "North" of the world must be aware of how we impact the rest of the world. If we live simply, then others can simply live, and we will be better for it, too.

Thank you all for accompanying me from afar during these last two years. May God bless you in your own missions.


Thursday, April 30, 2009

Update and Cenotes

Dear Family and Friends,

Hello! In the midst of all the international press Mexico is getting these days, I wanted to let you know how things are going at the mission in Mérida.

Classes at all schools were suspended last Monday afternoon until next Wednesday, May 6, as a preventative measure against the spread of the flu virus. We sent the girls from the shelter home on Tuesday. As far as I know, there are reports of only one or two cases of flu in Yucatan. Most businesses are open and most people are going to work. Surgical mask are used by a few.

Today is Children's Day, which is usually very celebrated in Mexico. Unfortunately, all major events that would draw large groups of people have been canceled or postponed, so no big parties for the kids today. We were happy that we were able to celebrate Children's Day early (on Tuesday) before the girls went home. I'll post a picture of the party.

I'll also post a couple of pictures of our collection of plastic bottles for recycling. In half an hour, 15 girls and three adults collected 1004 plastic bottles in a four or five block radius of the shelter. I'm trying to emphasize the need to use returnable bottles, too. The girls have already asked when we can do another collection day, and they're bringing bottles from home.

The final picture is of one of the three cenotes I visited near the village of Cuzama. Cenotes are subterranean lakes, or sinkholes, and are very common on the Yucatan Peninsula since it is formed by a highly permeable limestone shelf that rainwater quickly seeps through. The water system is underground here, almost no lakes and rivers above ground. Some cenotes are more spectacular than others. I felt lucky to see and swim in the ones near Cuzama.

Please keep the people of Mexico in your prayers, for a quick end to the spread off the flu and for recovery of the economy which has been hard it by the decrease in regular business and tourism..



Monday, April 13, 2009

Happy Easter

I pray that you have a sense of hope and joy this Easter Season, and are enjoying the new life of spring.

I was glad to be able to participate in Holy Week and Easter liturgies, and the Stations of the Cross at one of the neighborhood parishes. My Easter gift showed up on the mission's back patio last Tuesday. The kitten pictured above has been keeping me company, along with a few other cats, since Cari and Marilyn's departure on Palm Sunday.

The Nueva Vida girls have a two week school break, so things have been very quiet for me. I've been doing some preparation for classes, some site-seeing around Merida and reading more than usual. I was happy to invited to the beach by Silvia, the director of the mission's child care center, for a family party on Easter Day.

Before Easter break, the Nueva Vida staff and I started to talk with the girls about environmental conservation, and to do projects related to the theme. When the girls return, we hope to continue by beginning a plastic bottle recycling project. I hope that this will further instill in us our responsibility as stewards of the environment. Posted above is a picture of the mural they created.

I am still trying to discern my path for the coming school year. Please keep me in your prayers.



Sunday, March 15, 2009

Saludos de Merida

Hello Everyone!

I send you many greetings from Merida, Yucatan, hoping that you are healthy and happy. I imagine Colorado is beginning to come alive with the arrival of Spring.

Merida is hot and green already, and we're in the midst of mango season. Every day we pick up dozens of them that have fallen from the tree in front of the mission house. Typically, it keeps getting hotter in April and May until the rains come in June. For the time being it's in the 90's during the day and it still cools off a bit at night.

I feel quite at home here already with the warm welcome that Cari, Marilyn and the rest of the mission staff have given me. Merida seems very modern, developed and close to home after having lived in Aru. They even have wireless internet service in some of their city parks now! Merida is the biggest city, and a regional center of commerce, though. The people in the villages and even those who live on the outskirts of Merida still are often without electricity and running water.

I spend my mornings working at the mission house doing translations for the sponsorship program or assisting Cari and Marilyn with other mission projects. In the afternoon, I go with Marilyn to the south part of Merida to work at the Nueva Vida, a home for elementary-school age girls whose family situations are difficult. They stay at the shelter Sunday nights through Friday afternoon (they attend a neighborhood school) and go home on the weekends. I give English and computer classes to small groups of girls, and work with the first grade girls on improving their reading skills. I'm really enjoying working with them. I'll post a few pictures.

I appreciate your prayers as I continue to discern my next steps. You remain in my thoughts and prayers,


Friday, February 13, 2009

Returning to my Mission Roots

Dear Family and Friends,

I hope that upon reading this post, you find yourselves in good health and high spirits.

I returned from Italy on February 9, grateful that I had the opportunity to go. Fausto and his family were very gracious hosts showing me the spectacular beauty of Northern Italy and the warmth particular to Italians. We saw Luca several times and did a mission presentation together at a middle school in Luca's home town. We also visited Rome to meet with Sr. Pat, the VOICA director. This time in Italy helped me bring closure to my mission experience in Congo.

I have still been keeping in touch with Liz in Aru, though. She said that they are building a new wall and rearranging the computer center to make room for the library books, so the people there will have access to both books and computers in the same place. She thinks that this will be up and running within about a month. I've asked her to send pictures so that we can see what it's like. Please keep Liz and Kyle and the Sisters in Aru in your prayers. They are faced with many challenges.

When I returned to Colorado from Congo, I was contacted by the directors of the Mission of Friendship (Merida, Yucatan, Mexico) where I served as a volunteer for a year and a half in 1995-1996. We have kept in touch over the years and I have returned to visit the mission several times. They invited me to return as a volunteer for a few months during this time of transition. After returning from Italy, I agreed to go to Merida. I plan to help out at the mission there from the beginning of March through the beginning of July. I think this will be a way for me to finish out my "mission commitment", sort out my life a bit and remember my Spanish. I am grateful for this opportunity and for the enduring faith and friendship of Cari and Marilyn, the mission directors.

I'll let you know how things are going in Merida. Thank you again for your prayers, concern and kindness.


Monday, January 5, 2009


Hello Everybody,

I hope that 2009 has begun well for you. I was happy to spend Christmas and begin the new year in the warmth of my welcoming family and friends.

I'm not sure what 2009 will hold for me. For now, I will not be returning to Congo. I went through several weeks of limbo, waiting for medical test results, talking with friends and family, waiting for news from Congo, wondering and praying about what path to take. Last week, I received an e-mail from Sr. Pat, who coordinates the VOICA program in Rome, saying that she agreed with Sr. Tina (in Congo) that it could be a serious health risk for me to return to serve in Aru, since there is no hospital to treat stroke patients nearby. No cause has been determined for my stroke (all the tests came back normal), but having one stroke is a risk factor for having another.

I am sad that I will not finish the school year with my students, and that Liz and Kyle are left "alone" since Fausto also returned home for health reasons. I also regret leaving the library project in its beginning stages. I hope that I can continue to support the development of the library from afar. I know there is a reason for my time in Congo, and for the events of the last few months, too, although those reasons aren't clear to me yet.

For now, I continue to discern what direction to take from here and my vocation in general. Serving in mission in another location is a possibility. Part of my discernment process will take place in Italy where I'll spend a few weeks (mid-January-beginning of February). I am also beginning the application process for schools on the Western Slope of Colorado for next school year. As you can see, I'm not sure what my future holds. Please keep me in your prayers, that I discern wisely where God is leading me. I also ask prayers for Fausto and Luca as they adjust from returning from mission, and for Liz and Kyle who courageously continue their work in Aru.

Thank you again for your overwhelming concern and support.