Some parting thoughts after witness the power of “small” giving
Some parting thoughts after witness the power of “small” giving
Here’s my latest newsletter. Should be in the mail by the beginning of next week. Should be stateside about 2 weeks after that.
“God is opening before the Church the horizons of a humanity more fully prepared for the sowing of the Gospel”
–Pope John Paul II in Mission of the Redeemer–
I’m sure some of you have noticed a slightly different format & layout to my newsletter, and there’s a good reason why. Me and one of my mission partners Mark did some research on how much it would cost for things like postage, envelopes, and paper. We figured out that it was just as cheap, if not cheaper, to send our letters from St. Lucia than to send them from the states. What a blessing! This gives us a chance to put our own sweat and labor into the printing and sending of our newsletters, and gives us a greater sense of ownership of our mission work. We also figured that benefactors would enjoy and be blessed by receiving mail directly from the mission field. Please remember though that payment for donations should still be remitted to FMC’s address in Louisiana, which is already printed on the return envelope included with this letter.
As mentioned in my last letter, our mission post is the country of St. Lucia. Me and my mission partners, The Eckstine Family, are in the capital city of Castries. The Corpus Christi Carmelites were gracious enough to let us inhabit the first floor of their convent which was already earmarked for missionaries and volunteers. We have plenty of space for all 13 of us, and I could not have imagined or asked for a better place to stay. Another blessing is that we pay no rent, and only pay our share of the utilities and pay for our own food as well. Included in our living quarters are a spacious kitchen, a washroom, dining room, living room, school room, and bathrooms in each individual room. Within the same compound, there’s a nursing home and a nursery school. They also have a chapel which affords us the TREMENDOUS blessing of daily access to Mass and The Holy Eucharist and Confession! Because we are within walking distance of the downtown area, anytime we need to make a trip to the city market, post office or some other destination, we have easy access. With the space and privacy that we have we’re also blessed to have a good daily rhythm and are able to accomplish all the things we need to do, including schoolwork, individual study time for the adults, and personal prayer time as well. Perhaps the best thing about our living quarters is that the compound is completely walled in and gated off, and is locked at night. As you can see we are very safe and secure & extremely blessed with what the Lord has provided for our living quarters.
The country of St. Lucia is quite an interesting place to live as well. The island itself is only 14 miles (east to west) by 27 miles (north to south). The population is approximately 170,000 which is less than the population of the Greater Lafayette area. A country that is smaller than my hometown. What a culture shock! J The weather year-round ranges from 70 to 90 degrees with a rainy season in the latter part of the year. Weather is also moderated by breeze from the Atlantic Ocean and Carribean Sea. Location-wise, St. Lucia is south of Martinique, west of Barbados, and northeast of St. Vincent and The Grenadines. English is the official language, but most people here speak Creole and for many of them it is their first language. 70% of the population is Catholic and the rest are for the most part affiliated with other Christian denominations. So as you can see the field of harvest to which the Lord has sent us has some quite favorable conditions! However, not all is perfect in paradise. One of the primary challenges in St. Lucia is the deplorable condition of family life, a fact that is even acknowledged by the media and government. Some 70% of children are born out of wedlock or have divorced parents. There is also a large portion of the youth that seem to struggle with chastity and purity. Lack of direction and focus among the youth are quite a problem too. Gang violence and violence in general are also problems here. We are advised to not go out after dark, and if necessary, only if we have someone give us a ride. Due to the size and nature of the island, there is very little industry here besides tourism. Therefore unemployment is very high. Any native industries that do exist (such as banana production) are only seasonal work and are still suffering setbacks from Hurricane Tomas in October 2010. The cost of living is also very high. Even with an exchange rate of 2.7 Eastern Carribean Dollars per every 1 U.S. Dollar, most everyday items in the grocery store are double the normal cost since almost everything has to be imported. Combined with the lack of employment this makes poverty an enormous problem in St. Lucia. I could give y’all quite a sizeable list of the problems that face the people here, but I think you get the idea. To put it succinctly, there are many challenges here that make life difficult.
There are lots of ministry opportunities as well. As previously mentioned, there is a nursing home here on the compound where we minister daily. We visit with the residents and pray with them. The Eckstine children like to assist the teachers at the nursery school as well. Trips into town usually prove themselves to be fruitful opportunities for evangelism as well. Just about every time we go in town for something, we inevitably run into someone who needs help. Each time, we give them some food and water (in ready-made baggies which we bring with us) and we visit and pray with them. We’ve also been blessed to share meals and fellowship with some people from the neighborhood here at our mission house. The opportunity to witness to them with our missionary lives as well as sharing our food is a great blessing and brings us great joy. These things have proved so fruitful that friendships are beginning to form and hopefully hearts are being changed too. Twice a month on Sundays, I go down to the cruise ship terminals with a large sign that informs vacationers about Mass times at the Cathedral downtown. Fellowship with other missionaries has also been abundant. For the past few weeks, there have been rotating groups of short-term missionaries that are with The Good News Project, based out of Wisconsin. They were working with the elderly here at the nursing home as well as providing medical care. We’ve also had the opportunity to meet with some other lay missionaries from The Diocese of Venice, FL. They were in Castries doing some preliminary groundwork for a Christian-themed sports camp that will be held in August. It looks like we might even be able to assist them! In our first week here, we met with Archbishop Robert Rivas and he informed us of the other ministries we would be involved with. Mark and Lora Eckstine (the husband/wife combo of the missionary family I’m paired with) are serving in Family and Life ministry both at the diocesan level and at our new home church parish, Sacred Heart in the Marchand neighborhood. The bishop has asked me to work with both the Youth Ministry & Vocations offices at the Archdiocesan level, assisting with planning & execution of various events. Mark and I also appreciate the fact that we have manual labor that we can assist with on a weekly basis. So far we have been doing a lot of clean up here on the compound of trees and branches that were felled during Hurricane Tomas in October 2010. It is evident that there are many other “projects” and ministries we can assist with. We just have to wait for God to let these opportunities unfold on his timeframe, not ours!
With opportunity comes challenge. One of our biggest challenges is a lack of enthusiasm. People already working in ministry here are wearied by the challenging social conditions of the people they serve. In general, there is a laissez-faire attitude, a sort of subtle indifference by some laypeople and clergy to the problems facing the Church and society as well as what it will take to address these problems. When thinking about all the challenges, from poverty to violence to unemployment and many others, it is easy to see this mission as an uphill battle. As mentioned earlier living expenses are a challenge as well. St. Lucia is a third-world country with a first-world cost of living. Another significant challenge is the slow and sometimes laborious process of getting to know the people and forming relationships. This is crucial for forming a bond of trust with both those we minister to and those we minister with.
However, in spite of the challenges I am still very optimistic. For as it says in St. Paul’s letter to the Romans chapter 5 verse 20, “….but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more”. That’s PROOF in Scripture that not all is lost, that there IS hope. I guarantee you that no matter how much hopelessness and indifference weigh down the lives of the people in St. Lucia, God’s grace can overcome it all. I’ve already begun to see people warm up to us and form relationships. I’ve seen the warm hospitality of the people here, which I believe is truly a gift from God. I’ve seen the Cathedral during a Thursday night praise and worship session, FULL of people praising the Lord and praying for conversions and miracles. Every smile we give is returned, every hello is echoed. Our co-workers in the vineyard here are also proof of God’s goodness. Their love and generosity has been a key ingredient to the success of our budding life of mission work here. Through benefactors both here and back home, God has provided for each and every one of our needs. We try our best to trust in God and have never been found wanting of the things that are necessary for our daily living. There is no hill that we cannot climb, no obstacle that cannot be overcome, and no soul that is outside of the reach of God’s graces. We are doing the Lord’s work, and “if God is for us then who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31).
I’d like to end by asking for your prayers and support. Without prayer, we cannot succeed as missionaries. Pray that we are faithful in prayer and that our ministries are fruitful. Please also let me know if you have any prayer intentions that you’d like me to add to my prayer list. And as always, please consider donating financially to my mission work. Your assistance here is also crucial to it’s success. As you can see, I have provided a “Specific Costs” box noting various expenses. Please prayerfully consider sponsoring one of them. Please also remember to email me if you need anything: email@example.com. Another great way to keep up-to-date on the mission work here is by visiting my missionary blog: https://cajunmissionary.wordpress.com. I can also write articles and talks that you can use in prayer groups, church parish bulletins, etc. Once again, thank you thank you THANK YOU for your generosity. Without you I would not be able to fulfill my call to the foreign missions.
In Christ’s Love,
SPECIFIC COSTS YOU CAN SPONSOR:
*Pilgrimage to World Youth Day 2011 in Madrid – $2000
*My bi-monthly missionary newsletters – $100 per 100 sent
*Plane ticket home during summer to visit family – $500
*Monthly bills (food, water, electricity, propane, toiletries, personal items, etc….) – $350
*Contributions to FMC general fund for salaries, maintenance, retreat ministry, youth ministry, almsgiving, etc.
Tuesday 6/22/10 – 8:30pm @ the chapel in the main house at Big Woods
What a time of blessing the past two days have been for me. Living out here @ FMC, living the daily routine of work, prayer, and recreation has been so uplifting for me. Before I even got here, I was blessed because I got to pick up two other come and see participants from the airport. Showed them around town (including the Cathedral), stopped for some seafood @ a local restaurant, and talked missions and faith life on our way out to Big Woods.
The first blessing was not having to go home at the end of the night. I got to feel what it’s like to live here. 🙂 I like it! Of course I also am getting to experience the daily routine of meals, prayer, fellowship, study, etc….. I’m starting to feel like I’m a part of FMC, and that I belong here. It’s gonna be hard goin back home on Thursday, but I know now what I get to look forward to for Intake in September. A huge blessing for me has been the witness of the Eckstine family, a family of 10 kids and Mark & Laura, the parents. Their prayer, unity, & working together, especially when considering how many of them there are, is mind-boggling. Also mind-boggling is how generous they are with their time and resources. They are not wealthy by any means, but you will find it very hard to out-do them in generosity. In particular, their children have been a blessing to me. It’s been so much fun talking and playing with the kids. They’re like the brothers and sisters I never had. The joy of children is awesome! If you wanna feel special and loved, then devote your time and love to a child and you will definitely be blessed 🙂
Another thing that has been on my mind is how much I want my family (especially certain family members) to receive the joy and blessings that I feel I have received. The reason this came to mind was because of a bible verse I stumbled upon yesterday, 1 Corinthians 7:14. It says “For the unbelieving husband is made holy through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy through the brother.” What I feel like God is telling me was that as I strive to follow the call to missions, he will bless my family with graces to draw closer to him. I now know that in my absence, God will heal and bless my family, and draw them into a closer relationship with him. So that means my family is in good hands. 🙂 Well, the night is here, and my eyelids are beginning to feel heavy, so I bid adieu. Amen! Alleluia! Glory!
I know at least one other person saw it cuz I heard somebody gasp slightly as he did it. Immediately I thought of the story in the Bible of the poor lady who put her two last coins as a tithe, and I knew right then and there that Omar had just made the Scriptures come to life for me. This man has NOTHING! And he still gave of himself and his blessings. Praise God for his witness! The last thing I remember about Omar was after Mass, we all gathered for a picture with him right outside the Cathedral After the picture, I brought some of his stuff down the stairs to the corner where he was sitting & waited for them to wheel him down the ramp on the opposite corner. As they were wheeling him down the sidewalk towards the corner where I was sitting at, I had another huge blessing. I got to see his beautiful smile, he beautiful face, and his wonderful laugh. It’s as if his whole face & laugh & expression was full of love & joy. Most definitely I felt like I was seeing Jesus face to face. So after another visit with him, joking around with him & he with us, we prayed with him & went on our way. Lest I forget, we also were able to get some medicine for him and some alms as well.
The next two things I’d like to mention is God’s timing & the power of prayer (especially in the Presence of Jesus’ Body in the Eucharist). Yesterday evening, after we got back from Saltillo, we had a few hours of free time. Towards the end of that free time, I was lying down in the courtyard looking up at the stars. After about 30 minutes, I decided to get up and walk around to see what others were doing.
1-24-10 Sunday / 10:30am @ Cathedral of St. John in Laffy
Last week when I met with my spiritual director (Deacon Randy Hyde) I told him a story that he told me to write down……. At the beginning of this month, I was starting to get some seasonal sickness. Included in that was some kind of sinus infection and post nasal drip. Not only was my head cavity in pain, but my throat was in pain from the swelling created by the post nasal drip. So, I’m at Mass on a Tuesday afternoon at Fatima and I think to myself, “God, I know you have much more important things to tend to, but I think I wanna pray for healing of this physical pain.” My head was also filled with thoughts of redemptive suffering and why it was good that I was afflicted.
Nonetheless, I firmly decided as I was going up in line to receive Jesus Body, that I was gonna pray for healing. I don’t know if it was instantaneous or not, but sure enough, when I received the Eucharist, I was healed. It brought me alot of joy not only b/c my physical pain was healed, but I could now personally witness to God’s ability to heal us not only spiritually but physically also. The next evening @ Mission Formation, Mr. Frank Summers told me, as I recounted the story and my hesitancy to “bother” God with my request for healing, to never be afraid to ask for healing. Have faith and trust in God, and let him decide whether or not to heal you. Alleluia!
11-29-09 (last installment)
I also feel like God blessed me with the Joy of the Lord. It’s like I’ve been embedded with this true and unshakeable joy and it’s such a blessing. I felt this joy the whole time I was on the mission trip and felt like I was at peace and at home. When we got back to Big Woods this morning, my car battery was dead, so I felt like that was God calling me to spend the night at Big Woods. I was in no rush to get home, and any chance to extend the trip further and be around FMC more was fine by me. 🙂
I slept till 11 and then I woke up to go find Joe Summers to help me jump my car battery. As I was walking to the main FMC house from the home where I slept, the weather was absolutely beautiful. And as I made my way over, this happy little thought popped into my head “Ahhh. This is the life! I could definitely see myself doing this”. I can’t lie, that thought brought a smile to my face. 🙂
So now as the day draws to a close, I face another week of going back to work. While I’m blessed to have a job, it’s so hard to go back to it when all I wanna do is go on missions. But I know that if God is calling me to missions with FMC (which I think he is), he’ll use this time to start preparing me and my loved ones. Part of that plan is my desire to be around FMC as much as possible and do as much as I can. Praise you Lord Jesus and thank you for blessing me so much this week. I pray that you would continue to help me grow and to nourish these needs of faith that you have planted in me this week. Amen, Alleluia, Glory!
When I look back at all the mission trips I’ve already been on, and how the Lord got me involved with FMC over the past few months, it amazes me. When I think about how much I was blessed on this mission trip, how much I felt at home, and how much joy I feel, it all makes perfect sense. I think it is God trying to open me up to missions. As I said earlier during the week, “God, I give you my Yes, I pray that you help me take care of the rest.” I could go on and on and fill up at least a few more pages in my journal, but I’ll stop here. 🙂
After we finished up our prayer and sharing time, we loaded up and left. Our drive back was another one of my favorite parts of the trip. We saw some amazing desert and mountain scenery and just marvelled at the beauty of God’s creation. We actually got stopped by the Mexican police in the town of Monclova, but luckily all they did was check our documents and allow us on our way. I’ve heard some interesting stories about missionaries having run-ins with Mexican police as well as border patrol on both sides. Thank goodness the Holy Spirit guided us through it without incident.
Of course it was quite a long drive, especially with all the bathroom breaks and other stops. We left at approximately 10am Saturday morning and didn’t get back to Big Woods until 6am this morning. But again, the car ride is half the fun. I really enjoyed the car ride back because of the missionaries I got to ride with; Johnathan Weiss, Bree (intake 09), and Kristin Istre. We talked, we sang, we laughed, we played games, and really enjoyed ourselves. I especially enjoyed having a captive audience of full-time missionaries whose brains I could pick at to learn more about missions.
I feel so blessed by their presence and prayers at all of the rancho visits and when they come to our medical clinic. I also had the blessing of being on the construction work team and helping a local friend of the Casa de Misiones to do some work on his house. I could see Christ in every one of their faces and fell his presence. It moved my heart so much and these people fascinated me so much that I just wanted to sit and watch them. And I know we went there to heal them and bring the Good News of Jesus, but I feel like their prayers and presence healed me way more than what little I was able to do for them.
The other thing that was a huge blessing for me was fellowship with the other missionaries. I had been frequenting FMC quite a bit this semester and get to know everyone who was @ Intake this year. Getting to fellowship and visit, and do ministry side-by-side with them was such a blessing and helped me to grow alot. I also enjoyed the fellowship with some of full-time missionaries that came on the trip with us. I am so in awe of their holiness and dedication and i deeply desire to do what they do………..
As far as what I would leave in Mexico, it was my fear/distrust that God would not take care of everything in my life & provide for me if I discerned a call to be a full-time lay Catholic missionary. God really rocked my world when he proved to me how he could provide the means for me to be able to go on this mission trip. It has inspired so much confidence in me to be able to trust in the Lord and more freely discern a calling to missions. And as if I hadn’t already given it away, what I take with me is a STRONG desire to be a full-time missionary.
Sunday 11-30-09 / 5:05pm @ Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist
Praise God for a fruitful mission trip and safe passage back home. After Desert Day on Friday, we came back to the mission house and basically wrapped up and started packing up. We had a time of prayer and sharing which I enjoyed very much. Just hearing how much God spoke to everyone during our time of prayer out in the desert was such a blessing. The rest of the evening was spent eating supper, packing up, and enjoying the fellowship of the other missionaries. As I wrapped up the night, I went into the chapel and Jesus blessed me so much with his presence. I felt so at peace and comfortable in that stillness of prayer in the presence of the Eucharist.
A nice little side-bonus was hearing all the girls giggling and laughing in their room. At the time, I wasn’t really sure why exactly they were so loud and happy. But it brought me joy to hear them being so happy. Saturday was wake up, pack the vehicles, eat breakfast, and prayer/sharing before we left. The time of prayer/sharing was very fruitful. It seemed like b/c we had a small group, we were able to bond more and have a more prayerful atmosphere during the mission. Everybody got to praise God through singing as well as prayers of petition and thanksgiving. In our sharing time, we had to say 1) What blessed us most during the mission, 2)What we were going to leave behind, and 3) What we were going to take with us. Without a doubt, it is the people we ministered to that blessed me the most. I can now see why Mother Theresa was in love with the poor; it’s b/c they are near and dear to God’s heart. (to be continued)