SSME-Ecuador: Who could have guessed…?

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Summer School of Missionary Evangelism (SSME) arrives!

Jonathan and I are so blessed to be able to share with you one of the greatest blessings to be bestowed on us since we arrived in Ecuador this past February.  On July 6, 2018, we received a call from the FMC missions coordinator informing us that the Summer School of Missionary Evangelism, which was to be held from July 12-August 6 in Haiti, needed to be moved to a new location if not canceled, because of violent riots prevalent in that country.   She asked if we would be willing to host the group.  Would we be willing???!!!!!  I couldn’t have imagined anything that could be a greater blessing!  Fourteen on-fire missionaries in training living with us for almost a month!  How fun!  It must have been in God’s plan as well because not only did we have just about a week to prepare our home for new arrivals, but also had to have beds literally made by a carpenter, buy mattresses, all kitchen supplies (we literally had just enough for our family and nothing else), screen windows in rooms we weren’t using, practically wire an entire house and attempt to get some sort of water available in all bathrooms, and another billion details I won’t bore you by mentioning. But it all got done, pretty much in advance, and fell into place with almost no stress or hassle.  AND all the missionaries were able to get a new flight to Ecuador!!!!!! I’m still in awe of how God pulled that off.

But not only that, He sent us the greatest group of missionaries I could have ever imagined!  From the get go they went with the flow and accepted what came their way.  Since they arrived they have had to, I could say participate in mission activity, but really plunge into missionary activity would be a better description. Soon after arriving they were called to minister to a family whose father died and then the oldest son less than a week later, leaving the mother, Graciela, and her 9 children at home to fend for themselves.  The next day, which was supposed to be their day off, turned into a very long day of ministry after hearing of a nearby house fire that destroyed the a huge family’s home, tragically killing 4 children.  Everyone thought that serving this family was more important than trying to enjoy a day off!

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The girls making the best of our 4 hour wait to cross the river.

When it was finally time to leave the funeral of the four children, we had to wait for 4 hours for a canoe to bring us back to our vehicle 15 minutes upriver.  The very next day after a beautiful Holy Hour, the tire blew out on our vehicle and the bolt to let the spare down was so rusted that no one could budge it.  We had the opportunity to wait for yet another 2 hours to return home.  And yet, they sang and danced and made the best out of such a frustrating situation.

Since then the days have been filled with teachings and visiting of the families and communities most in need.  Regardless of the meals missed or delayed, the 3 hour long hikes, the bugs, the chicha, the mud, the homesickness; these missionaries have stayed selfless and giving.  I have NEVER seen such a large group experiencing such hardship with such ineffable calm and fortitude.  We are so honored to share in this year’s SSME experience.  They call us all on!!!!

But, enough from us.  Here are this week’s experiences in some of our SSMEr’s own words:

Cody Grisamore:

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Cody playing with the kids as we wait for a canoe to bring us home after ministering to the fire victim’s families.

We arrived on Saturday, July 13. Sunday morning we took a canoe to a village for a communion service. We prayed for a mother who tragically lost her husband and oldest son two days before . On Monday we went to a village to give a funeral service for two families who lost four small children in a house fire. We spent time with the families, praying for them and weeping with them in their grief. Two days later four of us returned with some supplies as the families lost everything in the fire.
The children are poor and yet pour upon us their laughter and affection. I am soo grateful, and humble, to the Heavenly Father allowing me to be with these wonderful people!
Psalm 117 Praise the Lord, all you nations! Give glory, all you peoples!
The Lord´s love for us is strong, the Lord is faithful forever. Hallelujah

Lauren Dorsett:

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Lauren leading the way on our hike to Mango Playa.

This time spent so far on mission in Ecuador has been such a tremendous gift for me in the most unexpected ways. It has felt very much like home to be back on mission in a Spanish speaking country again and has once again convicted me of the dire need for lay people to respond to the call to foreign missions. Especially in places such as this where it is priests are seldom able to say mass or administer the sacraments to the people. The most beautiful moment for me so far was a day spent doing ministry in a place called Mango Playa. In order to get to this community, we had to canoe across a river and then hike 2 hours through the jungle. Once we arrived, the people were incredibly welcoming and receptive, excited to have missionaries share more with them about the faith. We held a celebration of the word for them, sang praise and worship and had kids ministry and formation for the adults. During the celebration of the word, Teresa, a full time missionary with FMC here in Ecuador, turned to me and asked if I would be willing to give a short preaching and testimony to the adults. At first I hesitated, knowing how much I was lacking in Spanish and with having no time to prepare, but I gently felt a nudge by the Holy Spirit to trust that He would provide and that this would be a healing moment from past experiences with struggling with the language on mission. With that “Yes”, I was blown away by how the Lord did show up in a big way and gave me the words to speak in a language I was lacking in. What a good, faithful and loving God we have! Who truly wants to use us, especially in our weaknesses to show love to His people, and who desires to redeem every moment our lives. He makes all things new. Gloria a Dios!

Bailey Smith:

 

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Beautiful Bailey with Sage on the hike back from Mango Playa.

I have seen so much personal growth in myself this past week. Community life is not easy. You have to be able to share whats going on in your mind, heart, and soul to better work,serve, and live with one another and I have never been good at this. Everyday I’m sharing more and more and I am so much more confident with myself.

Meg Simon:

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Meg with many of the local children in Chonta Punta

The Lord has spoken to me in many different ways here in Ecuador, but the most prominent way is through the kids here. We have gotten the chance to encounter so many local kids here in Ecuador and they have brought me so much joy. Not knowing the language can be really frustrating, but with the kids, we’re able to cross the language barrier and fill the space with laughter. I see the love of God in each one of their faces and their smiles and laughter bring me more joy than I could even put into words. I thank God so much for them and the immense amount of joy they have brought me.

Ceili Lesnefsky

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Ceili loving on the locals!

“Love my Forgotten Children.”

Ever since I arrived in the small village of Chonta Punta I have been trying to figure out my purpose here. My heart has constantly been asking God why He has sent me to the middle of the Amazon Jungle. What can I do here that anyone else wouldn’t be able to? How can I have an effect on the lives of these beautiful people when I can’t even speak their language? I found myself frustrated and so full of fear. I brought these questions to God in praise in worship and Jesus answered me right away, without hesitation as He tends to do when I question His motives. The words He put on my heart were,
“My daughter, I have brought you here so that you may love my forgotten children.”
I was struck by the simplicity of this. While I had been thinking about big, wonderful acts of mercy I could do to help transform the lives of these people, Jesus was just calling me to love. And moreover, to love in small ways; to love the forgotten. Coming out of this time in prayer, I was convicted. I was so full of passion and so empty of fear.
Since that night, I have been striving to do what Jesus has put on my heart. Instead of seeking ways I can do notable, recognizable acts of service, I have been trying to look for ways to love those who hide away from the crowd.
Everyday, I wake up excited to see the children, I live for their voices as they yell out my name in their little accents. I am no longer fearful of rejection, I am excited to learn to love the way He loves.
I think we are all called to love His forgotten children. And through our love, we can remind them that they are after all, not forgotten at all. We have the power to show them that they are treasured, precious gifts in the eyes of their Father. How honored I am to have been chosen to be here. And if I can touch only one heart with the love He has given me, my purpose here will be fulfilled.

Sage Bischoff:

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Sage and Fernanda!

My dear little friend, Fernanda, holds such a special place in my heart! She has a smile that can light up any room.
This past Sunday, I knelt before the Lord with tears streaming down my face. I felt such a longing to be nearer to Him. As always, the Lord knows our desires and what we need. I suddenly felt two little arms wrapping around me and, sure enough, I turned to see Fernanda smiling at me. She completely radiated joy and I know that the Lord sent her to comfort me. As little as my sweet friend may be, it is her who I look up to.
As my time in Ecuador passes, I love watching our friendship grow and the ways that she continues to bless my life. I pray that I can learn more and more from Fernanda and her sweet, holy example.

Anissa Wright

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Anissa and our chef, Segundo!

If I could write a million words about Segundo, I would. We don’t speak much, since I only speak English and he only speaks Spanish but his laughter and smile says a thousand words. Segundo, with the help of his esposa Carmen, has been cooking our meals everyday. Bread for breakfast; rice, chicken, and “salad” for lunch and dinner. The moment I saw Segundo, I looked at my friend Emely and said, “Look! Tio!” cause that was exactly how I felt about him. He is so welcoming and so SO giving! On Sunday night, after we had a home visit, Segundo cooked up a delicious dinner, as always. After we ate, everyone began to dance to the local music that Segundo plays at every meal! Segundo watched with a smile on his face. Though I don’t speak much Spanish, I worked up the courage to hold my hand out to him and say, “Segundo, bailar!” And he didn’t hesitate to grab it. We danced a very long and tiring song and in that moment I saw Jesus in Segundo. It was the most amazing feeling to be dancing with Jesus! When the night ended, Segundo left me with a very tight and loving “abrazo” and said, “Haste el ultimo dia bailaremos!” (Until the last day, we will dance!)

Elizabeth Dunbar:

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Elizabeth touching the lives of the local children at our house in Chonta Punta.

When I found out that our mission had been moved to Ecuador, I was most concerned about the language barrier. I do not know Spanish, and had desired to go to a place where I could more freely communicate with the local population. Yes, not being able to speak to and understand the people here has been a difficult reality for me, but I have been incredibly edified in the ways I have felt close to people despite our language barrier. God has instilled in us a universal language in shared human experiences, and I have felt this through the languages of laughter and tears. Whether it’s laughing over a terrible miss with the soccer ball, or crying over the agonizing loss of 4 children’s lives to a fire, we are able to connect deeply with our foreign brothers and sisters in a way that moves us beyond any necessity for words. I take to heart the words of St. Paul in his letter to the Colossians: “And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Col. 3:17). In this, I am reminded that we are able to give praise to the Lord and preach the Gospel in ways that transcend words.
Vicente Garcia:

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Segundo’s kitchen, where he creates his masterpieces!  You can see a pic of Segundo with Anissa’s message.

One of the ways I’ve encountered Christ this past week is in our chef, Segundo. After thanking him for a typical Ecuadorian dinner one night, we entered into a conversation and I learned about his life, family, and occupation. He’s a sincere, simple, and servant-hearted man providing for his expecting wife and their three other kids, and is going the extra mile by cooking two full meals for us, six days a week. Oh, and that’s aside from him getting up at 2 AM to make breakfasts bread for us and his sellers. His providing for us mirrors that of Christ, which is in abundance, to all, even to strangers or ”estranjeros.” Segundo’s name means ”second” as in ”second one.” His sacrifices and generosity make it such that we don’t have to ask him for seconds. How much more can we trust in our heavenly Father to provide for us, His beloved children, through his own Son Jesus as we partake in His redemptive mission for mankind.

Kendall Koch: 

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Benediction during the Holy Hour.

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The faithful who came to the Holy Hour!

One of the times I felt near the Lord would be when we got to go out and invite people to adoration. A particular situation was when Vicente, Elijah Kiehl and I went up to a house and Elijah asked a man if he’d want to come to adoration. The man then asked what we believed and Elijah went into apologetics and it was amazing. The people that came to the adoration Holy Hour were just incredible and the music, although in Spanish (which I don’t understand) moved in my heart. With the Lord in worship the language barrier doesn’t seem so difficult.

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Blessings Abound– June 2018

The last couple weeks have been so blessed and busy here in Ecuador for our community. So many good things have happened so many blessed encounters have come our way. It all started with the return of our mission partner Jason Healy who had gone to the US for a few weeks to attend the wedding of another FMC missionary. His return coincided with the reception of a new vehicle for our family.

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Jon, Jason and Rosindo mixing our cement floor.

In Chonta Punta the Lord has blessed us with a house that actually has another house on the same property that, until a couple weeks ago, lacked electricity and water as well as doors and toilets. Once Jason arrived, we went to work fixing up the back house. We were able to get electricity inside and began working on the water. Within a few days God sent us a gift. A sweet couple in our town Rosindo and Livia, who sell homemade ice cream, needed a place to live. Rosindo had worked with us during the last month fixing up the house and putting in a cement floor near the outside sink. We invited Rosindo and Livia to live in the bottom floor of the back house. Although it has no doors, it is a lot of space compared to the room they currently rent. They were so excited. We hope they will be a great addition to our team if we get groups coming down to visit. Livia is a great cook and Rosindo is a jack of many trades.

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Jonathan, our mission partner Jason, Fr. Freddy (back left) and a seminarian on the boat ride before their hike to Mango Playa.

Last week Jason and Jonathan went up to visit one of the furthest communities from us in ChotaPunta. Its called Mangoplaya which means Mango Beach. It was such a blessing. They went up early in the morning with Father Freddy and two seminarians. It was a 15 min drive from Chonta Punta then a 10 minute ride in a motor canoe. After that a 6 kilometer march through the jungle up mountain sides and in the mud. They arrived bringing catechesis and songs to the community before Mass while Father Fredy confessed people. After Mass the community blessed the five of them with a Monkey and Blood Stew! The people were so welcoming and desirous to learn the faith. When they returned that afternoon they were tired and joyful that God had given them the chance to serve in this way.

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Monkey and blood stew.

Last Sunday morning the whole family visited the community called Los Rios (The Rivers). Father asked us to go early to encourage the people with songs and give a teaching. It was really well attended. The people loved to sing and we were able to hand out a number of Bibles thanks to generous benefactors. We decided to go back again this last Sunday to celebrate a communion service. We mentioned the idea to the people and they were excited to have us back. Nevertheless, when we arrived around 8:30 AM, there was only one man there! We felt let down a little but decided to go out and invite people from the community. After inviting people for about half an hour we returned to the church and found people gathering inside. Before long people filled the little church. We presented a talk on God’s love, sin and the need for a Savior. At the end of the reflection before communion Jonathan asked people to publicly acknowledge Jesus and ask Him into their lives by raising their hands. Hands shot up all over the room! It was so encouraging. We have been struggling for months here seeming to make no headway. We have had many prayer services and youth group meetings with no people whatsoever. What is most odd is that we didn’t feel discouraged. Usually we would be sorely tempted to discouragement but God kept speaking to us to trust Him and keep on serving. Now we are finally seeing some fruits and it is so awesome.

Other highlights of this last week include visiting a new community, Selva Amazonica, with Fr. Freddy and a Seminarian on Monday for Mass, catechesis and songs. Wednesday our kids ministry cleaned up our local park after prayer.

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Jonathan and Teresa enjoying rat stew on Jonathan’s second visit to Mangoplaya.

Perhaps the best part of the week was going back to Mangoplaya the second time. Jason, Teresa and Jonathan went, leaving the seven children with a babysitter. It was an incredible journey. The whole community was so receptive and thankful for having a visit by missionaries once again. God willing, we will make this a weekly visit! Our next trip will be on June 30, and we will be bringing all of the children with us! It should be an awesome, though long, adventurous hike for everyone that ends with a memorable visit. Please pray for our visits to Mangoplaya and the surrounding communities. May God’s will be done and may hearts be opened and set on fire!

One last note: We have an idea, and we need your help! Many of the outlying communities not only have no chapel, but they also have no sort of music to go along with their services when we are not present. Our idea is to purchase ukuleles that we will bring with us to the far communities. They are easy to play, often the cords are only one finger on one string. Jon will teach a volunteer to play the ukuleles, one song per visit, so that when Father comes to say Mass they will be able to have music in their services. If you are interested in helping with this project, please consider donating online at https://www.familymissionscompany.com/project/jonathan-and-teresa-kiehl/ and write “ukuleles” into the message field.

Thank you all for your continuing prayer and financial support. We couldn’t do what we do without you!

 

The Mission at the Crossroads by Jonathan Kiehl

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” I Cor 1:18

DSC01501        My life in missions has been full of crosses.  In a way most of my experience of missions has been walking under the cross, at times sorely felt and at other times barely, but nevertheless it is uncomfortable and humbling and almost always near.  For me it started the moment we entered Mexico and couldn’t verbally communicate.  It was discouraging and frustrating to travel so far and be able to say so little.  We had hoped for the gift of tongues or some miracle that would take away the difficulty of learning a new language but alas, no supernatural gifts of Spanish were given and we had to learn the hard way through embarrassment and even shame.

DSC01843            Family life is a struggle as well.  Most of the people, places, traditions and things you love or enjoy are gone.  Restaurants or family getaways become scarce and it can at times be hard to even want to eat another round of rice and rubbery chicken.  Although the absence of creature comforts- ice cream or pizza- are manageable, it can be harder when your kids have few or no friends, or the friends they meet are immoral or mean. I myself have lived most of my life in missions with few real friends nearby.

DSC01877           Sometimes I ask myself why we are still here.  Yesterday I was praying my rosary and asking God what He was doing.  Our time here in Ecuador has been far from easy.  I have rarely encountered so many obstacles in such a small span of time.  Every step forward is hard and slow.  People (including our pastor) do not fully understand why we are here.  Why would we travel across the planet to talk about Jesus?  We aren’t even priests so what could we possible offer?  This is the epitome of missionary life as a Catholic lay person- prepare to be misunderstood.

DSC01888           When I feel like discouragement is near or life is heavy I like to go to Paul’s letter to the Philippians.  I always seem to be encouraged by Saint Paul in this letter.  I woke up this morning and began reading my Bible in Philippians where Paul writes from prison.  It dawned on me that this, one of Paul’s most encouraging letters is written from a jail cell.  He must have felt pretty useless at times during his long stints in a cell.  I have felt very tried trying to figure out why God has not just cleared out paths and made it easy.  Then I read, “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in Him but also suffer for His sake, engaged in the same conflict which you saw and now hear to be mine.” (Phil 1:29-30)  This is truly a different way of seeing the difficulties in our lives even here in mission.  God is not going to bless us, He is not going to show us His glory, no Paul asserts that He is blesses us by our participation in the suffering of Christ, in His cross.

DSC01788           The key verse for me today was “Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.  For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him.”  (Phil 3: 8-9a)  This is why we entered missions- to find ourselves in His Will and His Life.  This is why we left our lives that made sense full of friends and creature comforts- to follow Him and gain Him.  This is why although I feel unsure how God is going to work out our mission here in Ecuador I feel confident that “the Lord is at hand.  Have no anxiety about anything but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”  (Phil 4:5b-6)  Thank you Jesus for the call to missions and the call to the cross.  I await your response, “Make haste, my beloved, and be like a gazelle or a young stag upon the mountains of spices.” (Songs 8:14)

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Acknowledging Jesus in the Poor and the Immigrant: A Reflection on Our Time in Costa Rica

“I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before others the Son of Man will acknowledge before the angels of God. But whoever denies me before others will be denied before the angels of God.” 

Luke 12:8-9

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Micah and I on the bus

Micah and I spent the last week in Costa Rica helping out with a short term mission trip consisting of two parishes from Alabama and Florida. It was a blessed trip and had a number of firsts for us. One of those firsts was that the trip had two priests attending which allowed for daily mass both in our base town of Coopavega and mass in the surrounding small communities where there is only monthly or quarterly mass.

I was in charge of one of the work projects working with a poor Nicaraguan family who had crossed the river to Costa Rica seeking a better life. They lived in a small wooden house covered in dirt next door to the local lumber yard. The inside of the house had a flimsy wooden floor to help keep it about a foot off the ground because water sometimes flowed underneath. 20170728_102127[1]When we entered the house we had to watch out for the center of the room because you could feel the wood giving way and there was a space large enough for a small child to fall through. There were about 7 people living in the house from what I could tell. The oldest woman was named Rosario (Rosary). She recently had a stroke but was so happy.

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Phil Brupbacher, one of the local missionaries down there told me she loved to be prayed with. Fr Jim Dane, the pastor of St Thomas Parish in Orange Beach, AL was with us the first day. He blessed the family and we all prayed for them and Rosario’s healing. While we were there work on their new house next door progressed rapidly. A roof was put on and most of the house was painted.

20170728_071451[1]Felipe, her soon-to-be-spouse, was so excited and had such a beautiful smile. He told us of the hard times in Nicaragua and his new life in Costa Rica. On our last day they fed us homemade tortillas and cheese.

This morning as I was reading my Bible I read a passage in Luke 12 that appeared to me in a new way. Jesus begins to tell his disciples not to be hypocrites like the Pharisees. THeir attitude could probably be best summed up as in Jesus’ parable on the two men who go up to the temple:

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The dump side of the lumberyard next to Rosario and Felipe’s house.  Those piles are saw dust.

Luke 18: 10 Two people went up to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector.11 The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, ‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity—greedy, dishonest, adulterous—or even like this tax collector.12 I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.’

Or earlier in the parable of the Good Samaritan:

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Rosario’s grandkids

Luke 10: 31 A priest happened to be going down that road, but when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side.32 Likewise a Levite came to the place, and when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side.33 But a Samaritan traveler who came upon him was moved with compassion at the sight.

In both the parables the men overlook the fact that the man before them is a child of God, their brother and as Jesus reveals, in a mysterious way they also are Him. (Matt 25)

I have heard so many times people, who when encountering the poor, instead of being moved to compassion, are rather grateful that it is not they who are suffering or poor. When confronted with misery, instead of feeling compelled to share in the cross they rather go the other side of the road, grateful that they are not the ones suffering. And yet here is where the Luke 12:8-9 spoke to me in a new way.

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Phil Brupbacher and Fr Jim outside the new house about to start painting

When we acknowledge that it is Jesus in the poor, in the migrant, in the Felipe’s and Rosario’s of this world we can understand better the idea that Jesus is not asking us to acknowledge Him publicly only in times of religious persecution. He is asking us to identify with the poor, the migrants, the refugees. He is asking us to see Him, recognize Him, stop and look into His eyes, love Him. He really is present in the miserable of our world. He still carries the cross of every man or woman who has a cross. I know that even our small crosses would be too heavy if He wasn’t walking with us helping us on.

I pray I can be the first to recognize Him in those around me, the lost, the unlovable, the filthy, stinking masses of sinners who bear the image of the crucified Lord.

20170728_105349[1]“Do you want to honor Christ’s body? Then do not scorn him in his nakedness, nor honor him here in the church with silken garments while neglecting him outside where he is cold and naked. For he who said: This is my body, and made it so by his words, also said: You saw me hungry and did not feed me, and inasmuch as you did not do it for one of these, the least of my brothers, you did not do it for me. [Mat 25:34 ff]. What we do here in the church requires a pure heart, not special garments; what we do outside requires great dedication.”

St John Chrysostom Homily 50

I am Not the Measure

It is not hard to obey when we love the one whom we obey.

–Saint Ignatius of Loyola

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Since becoming a missionary which began only months before Pope Francis began his papacy, I have been constantly shocked at how easily we Catholics can write off what he says.  In order justify our dissent (which often is simply a justification of our lifestyle) many of us spread second or third hand stories about his supposed pacts with the devil, the masons or worse or all- the gay lobby!  I have heard Catholics judge and condemn the pope or the church as “infiltrated” by any host of “enemies” soon after some papal proclamation challenges their lifestyle or standard of living.  This “cafeteria Catholicism” has become the norm for many Catholics who simply refuse to accept anything the Church says that isn’t in accordance with their own vision of the mission of the Church.  

“Cafeteria Catholicism” allows us to pick those “truths” by which we will measure our lives as Catholics. … “Cafeteria Catholicism” is what happens when the stance of Protagoras, regarding man as the measure of all things, gets religion — but not too much.

— Fidelity, 1986, published by the Wanderer Forum Foundation

 

When we consider the Church’s moral teachings on Abortion, Homosexuality, sexuality, the environment, social justice, capital punishment, or war among others, it is commonplace for some to simply accept those issues championed by their particular political party or news source and then write off the others as irrelevant or worse satanic!  How many Catholics who disagree with the Church on contraception or abortion can actually present the Church teaching in a coherent way?  How many Catholics who disagree with the magisterium on care for the environment or capital punishment actually try to understand the Church’s argument? I have meet few on both sides.  

 

It amazes me that someone could condemn another for dissenting from Humanae Vitae (the last encyclical written by Blessed Paul VI) and yet themselves have no problem dissenting from the teachings of Populorum Progressio (an encyclical written the year before by Blessed Paul VI).   I recently quoted Blessed Paul VI’s Populorum Progressio on facebook and was told by some of our friends and benefactors that we could lose monetary support if I kept it up.  

 

Behind much of the anger and gossip seems to be a genuine fear that the Holy Spirit is not in control, that Jesus has somehow let His Church down.  Fear, fear, fear.  It lurks behind so many uncharitable words and criticisms.  

 

I John 4:18 “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.”  As our love increases our fear will decrease.  It’s that simple.  We need not fear the masons!  We need not fear ISIS.  We need not even fear Satan himself.  Rather as Jesus says “I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!”

 

We need to love our neighbors and trust in Jesus. Mark 4:40 “Why are you afraid?  Do you have no faith.” Again 2 Timothy 1:7 “for God did not give us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power and love and self-control.”

 

As Dr. Felix Just, S.J. points out “The most commonly repeated phrase in the whole Bible, in both the Old Testament and the New Testament, is “Have no fear!” or “Do not be afraid!”

http://catholic-resources.org/Bible/HaveNoFear.htm

 

I am not afraid of where the Pope is calling us.  I believe he is speaking for Jesus.  I have dove into his teachings first hand and found a medicine for my soul.  I am praying for each of you who read this blog that God rescues His flock from fear “to enable us to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our lives.” Luke 1:75

 

Jonathan

Back in General Cepeda: Our First Week

“Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” Luke 6:38

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On the mountain in General Cepeda

It is so good to be back in General Cepeda!  A month or so ago our family was invited to help staff a number of short term mexican mission trips down here.  We were thrilled at the opportunity to revisit a place that has meant so much for our family.  We spent our first year of missions in General Cepeda and we were eager to return and help others encounter the beautiful people who call it home.  

 

God has reminded us of His faithfulness and generosity continually during this first week.  I wanted to tell you all of two stories of how God provided for us already.  The first story is about the generosity we have encountered everyday in our fellow missionaries and the poor.  I am constantly challenged how willing the poor are to give to us from their need.  I pray God would open my heart to be more generous with all He has blessed me with.

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Some of our boys and the Gehl boys

Last Thursday we headed down with another family, the Gehl’s, for a five week stay here in the Casa de Misiones.  On the way down we stopped for the night in Eagle Pass, TX and met up with another missionary, Jason Healy, who would be leading the trips.  On Friday we began the adventure crossing the border and having breakfast with some of our fellow FMC missionaries just across the border in the town of Allende.  

 

After breakfast we headed over to the visa office in Allende to get our visas and the permit for the FMC van we drove down in.  I still remember sitting in the visa office remarking that God was so good.  The crossing was going so smoothly!  We would be back in General Cepeda in a few hours maybe before dinner.  And yet God in His goodness had other plans.

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The younger crowd

As we handed over the paperwork to get the van into the country, the woman at the counter said she needed to go out and inspect the VIN number.  We went out together and she took a few pictures.  Once we were back inside she let us know that our van was too heavy to be let into the country at this time.  She pointed to law from 2016 taped up on the window.  We could possibly get permission from the border patrol to enter but would need to backtrack 30 minutes or so to the Piedras Negras Border Crossing.  We spent the next hour or so finishing up the rest of our paperwork before we had to decide what to do.  I was so blessed by the generosity of our FMC community.  The Gehl’s and Jason didn’t want us to go back alone.  Even though the Gehl’s have a newborn and five other children and it was hot and we had been driving for hours, they still cheerfully suggested that we all stick together.  It was such a blessing to travel in a group.  We drove all the way back to Piedras Negras and wandered about trying to find someone who could help us.  In the end we were told we could not get the vehicle into the country until June 12th!

IMG_0233I was a bit crestfallen but the others kept on encouraging.  It was such a blessing.  We headed back to Allende and met up with the Garza family, a Mexican family who were FMC missionaries there.  They have seven children and are quite poor.  I have been astounded at their willingness to give their all for Jesus.  We had notified them of our coming and told them we wanted to see them on the way down.  

Originally we planned to stop by for an hour or so after breakfast.  They have so very little and we had 17 people in our caravan.  These beautiful poor missionaries said not to think of eating out but that they would be providing a full breakfast for us.  We were so astonished at their generosity.  This was the same generosity I had marvelled at long ago our first year we spent here.  The poor’s generosity seems to know no boundaries.  They gave us so much food.  Good food.  They humbly waited on us and made sure we were well fed.  As we headed back to their house from Piedras Negras we wondered if they would let us leave the van at their house and we could take a bus to General Cepeda or try and squeeze into the other two vehicles.  They astonished us again.  As we pulled up they had just finished washing their own vehicle.  When they heard our plight they immediately offered us their only family vehicle with joy.  We felt the normal reluctance at accepting their gift, at putting them out etc.  They cheerfully offered us their most expensive possession without hesitation.  “We can use your van in an emergency.” Tonio said.  He also mentioned there was a small car he could use for ministry.  I was so blessed and overwhelmed by God’s goodness.  We eventually left and arrived in General Cepeda in the middle of the night.  

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Dealing with border agents and police in Mexico is difficult at times and most of us have heard some nightmarish story of someone’s dealings with corrupt mexican police.  I have often heard of the “need” to bribe police at times.  We also have felt the temptation to do so at the customs office and on certain occasions with the police.  I have never bribed an officer.  I believe it is morally wrong.  Whoever is greedy for unjust gain troubles his own household, but he who hates bribes will live. Proverbs 15:7  God allowed my conviction to be tested this last week and once again He was so faithful never testing us beyond what we could bear. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”  I Corinthians 10:13

 

Our third day in Mexico Josh, Jason and I were in Saltillo and got in a car accident.  The guys in the other vehicle told us they had a friend on the force and we would need to just give them $400.00 USD or they would call him up.  We told them we weren’t going to just give them $400.00 and that we wanted to do everything correctly according to the law.  Praise the Lord we were able to encounter a few policemen before “their guy” arrived.  After a grueling few hours of learning the laws and ways of handling accidents in Mexico we had notified our insurance agents who had to come out to the scene and assess the damage.  When all was done the other vehicle drove off and we were left with one sole police officer.  I had been talking off and on to the officer about the faith and his family.  He seemed genuinely kind but then at the end of it all he told us he would have to give us a ticket and take the driver’s licence.  We explained that we were on our way to Monterey to pick up another missionary so we needed to keep driving.  He said we would have to pay the ticket the following day and there was nothing he could do.  Then his face changed and he said he could “help us out.”  There was an awkward pause then he said he could take away the ticket if we really wanted him to.  We realized he was hinting at a bribe.  I felt so sad inside.  How many drivers had given him a bribe in the past?  I looked him in the eyes and I said “Brother, you know I am a Catholic Missionary.”  I was preparing to tell him his soul was in jeopardy, that he was allowing the love of money to destroy his heart.   “A bribe corrupts the heart.” Eccles 7:7 “Nothing that comes from bribery or injustice will last” Sirach 40:12

Before I could go further he looked at me and suddenly pointed to the sky and said he swore by God above that he wouldn’t accept any money from us.  He immediately got into his vehicle and drove away without issuing us a ticket.  We blessed him and said we would pray for him.  I felt so blessed and relieved that God provided a way out.  

 

One of the most incredible blessings of missions is constantly being challenged to live the truth we preach.  Sometimes we can quietly go about our day and merely go through the Christian motions, attending church, praying, living our lives of faith in private and in the comfort of our own boundaries.  Jesus came to free us from the narrow confines of economic comfort and the chains of “personal space.”  He asks much of us because He wants to give us so much.  Please pray for our family and all those involved with our June short term mission trips that the Lord would move hearts and touch lives.  Please pray especially that He would raise up new missionaries who would be open to carrying His message to the ends of the earth.

 

 

A Life Transfigured by God’s Presence: Becoming Spirit-filled Evangelizers in the Modern World Part 2: Intercessory Prayer – The Prayer of the Spirit-filled Evangelizer

picture of a praying man

Here we see that intercessory prayer does not divert us from true contemplation, since authentic contemplation always has a place for others.” (Pope Francis Evangelii Gaudium 281)

Having grown up in a Christian evangelical household, prayer was unconsciously understood as intercessory prayer.  When we got together in church to pray or in our home, it always implied that we would be lifting up intentions on behalf of ourselves and those around us.  I can still remember my father early in the morning crying out to God in the other room asking Him for His help and provisions.  I was raised in a household where we brought before Our Lord all that we needed in faith and assurance that He would hear us.

St Paul urges, “that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people” (I Tim 2:1)  We also see in the early church when Peter was in prison “earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church.” (Acts 12:5)  Intercession was perhaps the prayer of choice for St Paul who goes as far as to encourage the Ephesian believers to pray “at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints” (Eph 6:18).  He also mentions that he was “constantly mentioning” people in his prayers. (I Thes 1:2)

When I entered the Catholic Church in 1999 I began studying the Church’s teaching on prayer with great interest.  So many forms of prayer and ways to live out the spiritual life! I fell in love with the scriptural rosary.  I loved the Mass.  I began using a variety of prayer books and for the first time began praying the Psalms as though they were my own.  All this was so very good for me.  I admit, though, that I began to intercede less.  I began to think that Intercession was a lesser form of prayer for beginners and that meditation and contemplation were higher forms of prayer to which I needed to dedicate all my focus.  I remember reading with great interest The Cloud of Unknowing and falling head over heals for the Jesus Prayer.  

Nevertheless I have come to see that in all our zeal for deeper prayer we can miss out on the profound encounter with Jesus, indeed a Christocentric form of contemplation that Pope Francis, in his great pastoral wisdom, is encouraging us to foster. The rediscovery of personal intercession, I believe, will lead us to fresh waters and spiritual richness.  

Before looking at the Papal teaching I wanted to mention that I found it quite difficult to discover any teachings from Catholics in the last millennium on intercession.  A simple internet search on Catholics and intercession got me nearly half a million its and yet pages and pages were simply devoted to the intercession of the saints, apologetic endeavors to defend saintly intercession, or liturgical forms of intercession.  The development of personal intercession seems greatly neglected.  I believe this dearth of formation is the backdrop for Pope Francis’ exhortation.  

In Evangelii Gaudium Pope Francis draws to our attention two forms of prayer particularly necessary for modern believers- missionary-disciples.  One is Lectio Divina (which we will discuss in a later post) and intercessory prayer.  He devotes an entire section of his exhortation (281-283) to this particular form of prayer.  

In our modern globalized conscience we are aware as never before of what is going on in our world.  Many people experience deep anxiety over what is happening all over the world which leads oftentimes to a feeling of powerlessness before all the suffering and evil in the world.  It can move us towards indifference and a sense of futility in our charitable actions which seem to do so little in the world.  We can become suspicious and closed off to our neighbors who seem wholly other and threatening.  Yet seen in a different light it is an opportunity for greater encounter if we allow Jesus to guide us.  

One could certainly call globalization a crisis.  Pope Francis recently points to a way of understanding crisis based upon the Chinese word for crisis which is taken from two words “danger” and “opportunity.” (Pope Francis Feb 17, 2017)  The danger is that we disown our neighbors excluding them from our love and compassion thus dehumanizing them.  Any time we respond to another human person with any attitude but that of love we dehumanize them.  (Karol Wojtyla Love and Responsibility)

The opportunity is that in others we can encounter Jesus.  Jesus said He would be with us always (Matt 28:20).  He certainly is with us in the Holy Eucharist but also He meets us in our neighbor, especially in the poor.  Pope Francis encourages us to take advantage of the opportunity to meet Jesus in other people.  

In Evangelii Gaudium 281 Francis says:

One form of prayer moves us particularly to take up the task of evangelization and to seek the good of others: it is the prayer of intercession.

An awareness of others needs should lead us to desire for them a personal encounter with Jesus.  That should be our first response.  As Pope Saint John Paul II stated in Mission of the Redeemer “The poor are hungry for God, not just for bread and freedom. Missionary activity must first of all bear witness to and proclaim salvation in Christ.”  We need to realize that before any other need the human person desires to know that God is with them.  This is the true task of evangelization.  The message is simple:

Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you. (Ev Gaud 164)

We need to believe that deep inside the human person is longing for this revelation.  Your maker loves you and is for you.  Intercession should first and foremost increase our desire to encounter others with this message.  As Pope Francis says intercession should move us to evangelization:

“We are convinced from personal experience that it is not the same thing to have known Jesus as not to have known him, not the same thing to walk with him as to walk blindly, not the same thing to hear his word as not to know it, and not the same thing to contemplate him, to worship him, to find our peace in him, as not to. It is not the same thing to try to build the world with his Gospel as to try to do so by our own lights. We know well that with Jesus life becomes richer and that with him it is easier to find meaning in everything. This is why we evangelize.”  (Ev Gaud 266)

Intercession also opens our hearts to other people’s needs.  As we ask God to move in the lives of others it reminds us of our filial relationship with them.  It calls us on to greater compassion.  How can we disown the person we have been bringing to mind in our personal time with God?  

“We achieve fulfilment when we break down walls and our heart is filled with faces and names!” (Ev Gaud 274)

Certainly Saint Paul was constantly praying for others in his personal prayer time (Phil 1:4,7).  He was a mystic and yet we can clearly see “that intercessory prayer does not divert us from true contemplation, since authentic contemplation always has a place for others.” (Ev Gaud 281)  I think of the long lists of names the Dorothy Day kept and prayed for every day.  I realize I was mistaken about the idea of contemplation and the place of others in my prayer life.

Intercession, Francis teaches, leads us to a greater gratitude to God for others.  This is so important today when the world has become so connected.  We can easily become threatened by others.  How often the fear of another destroying my way of life gets in the way of authentic Christian love!  Yet when I intercede for others I begin to realize all God is doing in the life of others and in my own life.

[Intercession] is a spiritual gaze born of deep faith which acknowledges what God is doing in the lives of others. At the same time, it is the gratitude which flows from a heart attentive to others. When evangelizers rise from prayer, their hearts are more open; freed of self-absorption, they are desirous of doing good and sharing their lives with others.  (Ev Gaud 282)

How many people would be changed if they began praying for their enemies, for immigrants, for refugees, for anyone on the periphery, and trying to see what they needed as they prayed.  How often would we discover the value in our neighbor as we ask God to give them their daily bread.  Our hearts can be opened by encountering the needs of others seeking to understand rather than be understood.  It opens doors rather than building walls.

So many of the great men and woman of the Bible were intercessors.  I think of Moses arguing with God for His people.  I think of Abraham pleading for the few righteous men in Sodom.  I think of Jesus n His high priestly prayer of John 17.  One could go on.  Francis says that:

Intercession is like a “leaven” in the heart of the Trinity. It is a way of penetrating the Father’s heart and discovering new dimensions which can shed light on concrete situations and change them. (Ev Gaud 283)

Our society longs for change.  We ourselves long for a better world.  Yet without God we are utterly powerless.  All our actions amount to so precious little.  When we intercede for others we touch Jesus and can be drawn into the very heart of the Trinity.  We encounter our neighbors needs but find that God “in reality is always there first.” (Ev gaud 283)

During this lent I want to encourage you and myself to intercede more, to exercise your priestly ministry given at Baptism.  I am reminded of the words of the Second Vatican Council concerning the lay members of the Church:

“Their work, prayers and apostolic endeavors, their ordinary married and family life, their daily labor, their mental and physical relaxation, if carried out in the Spirit, and even the hardships of life if patiently borne-all of these become spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (cf. 1 Pt 2:5). During the celebration of the Eucharist these sacrifices are most lovingly offered to the Father along with the Lord’s body. Thus as worshipers whose every deed is holy, the lay faithful consecrate the world itself to God”(Lumen Gentium 34).

We can truly consecrate the world itself during the offering of the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  While the ministerial priesthood asks Jesus to become present in the bread and wine we ask Him to become present in our everyday lives, in those we meet on the streets and online.  Rather than simply offering assent to the petitions during the sacred liturgy let us begin personally offering up our world to Jesus so that He “may be all in all.” ( I Cor 15:28)  

God bless you in Jesus name.