Six years ago, on June 13, I stepped into life here in southwestern Honduras as a volunteer with the Catholic diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán.
Why did I come here? to be of service to those in need.
When I was discerning whether to come, my spiritual director asked me why? My original answer was “to serve those most in need.”
I’ve changed it because serving means “I” do the serving, whereas “being of service” has the sense that the people here have something for me to do – or, better, to be.
I’ve done a variety of things, especially in the first two years: tried to do campus ministry at the local campus of the Catholic University of Honduras, helped found a lunch program for kids, helped in a literacy class in the prison run by a Spanish Franciscan sister who lives near me, helped in a kindergarten in a poor neighborhood here in Santa Rosa de Copán, visited the home for malnourished kids under 5 run by the Missionaries of Charity, began to help in the parish of Dulce Nombre de María. In January 2009 I began helping in the diocesan Caritas office.
I’m no longer doing a lot of what I did. The lunch program never reopened after the diocese got a new bishop; I moved on from campus ministry for a number of reasons. I still visit the kindergarten and the home for kids once in a while.
Much of my time is with Caritas and with the parish of Dulce Nombre, though I hope to move on to more involvement in the parish.
In the parish, I’m helping with formation of pastoral workers, preparation of materials, visiting communities, and serving as a bridge with several sister-parishes in Iowa.
But what give me life is being with the people, spending time with them, sharing with them about our lives. I ask the men, How are the crops? I ask young people, Are you studying in school? I ask about family members.
Today I asked a friend how his father was doing, widowed a few months ago after more than forty years of marriage. I also asked him about his son who had surgery last week to put a pin in his leg after a traffic accident.
The other day I asked a catechist how the situation was in her village, after someone had been killed there about two weeks ago.
I love working with groups, mostly of pastoral workers, in educational and formation workshops. What is most challenging and satisfying is struggling to find ways to help people learn in a manner that respects their dignity and knowledge, that helps them discover themselves and God. So often they have been talked at. For me teaching is a mutual process, where we learn together. Sometimes I see my role as helping them put a name on what they already know.
This entails a lot of accompanying the people.
In the past few months, I’ve often accompanied the new priest on his visits throughout the parish, partly to get to know him, partly to just get out to be with the people.
I’m hoping soon to begin looking for funding for a few agriculture projects in the parish, but these have to come from the capabilities and desires of the people. Projects just to have projects waste money and time.
But when I look back on my past six years, I am here to be here.
It’s a joy to be here.
Yes, there are difficulties: a car that usually works but that has needed more than $2,300 for repairs and new tires and battery this past year; occasional stomach and bowel maladies; blackouts of electricity.
And there are personal challenges: feelings of loneliness and inadequacy; lapses in understanding what someone is trying to tell me in Spanish; frustrations of various sorts.
But I am where I need to be.
And what more can I offer than my presence, sometimes just by holding a baby.
But, above all, it's a matter of washing feet - as the Master did.
And getting soaked on my birthday.