Happy the One Who Does God’s Will

One of the local coal mines.  A worker goes down under ground in what looks like a small trashcan and they dig and send coal back up to the surface.

One of the local coal mines. A worker goes down under ground in what looks like a small trashcan and they dig and send coal back up to the surface.

 

This last week end Teresa and I were blessed with the opportunity to visit Ramirez and El Mexiquito, the two poorest ejidos we have here in the counties of Progreso and Juarez.  Both of these villages being so poor and one completely without a chapel, along with a tremendous shortage of priests here in Northern Mexico has left them nearly without any sense of the Bible or the Catholic Faith.  Ramirez received one visit during Holy Week last year while El Mexiquito has never had a priest celebrate Mass in their village.

In fact, we are the first missionaries they have ever met.  IMAG4810It shows in the fact that even the most common of Spanish praise songs “Alaberé”, “El Amor de Dios es Maravioso”, and “No Hay Dios” have never been sung in community here.  All of this presents both a challenge and a Spirit-led opportunity like we have never experienced before.  God is so good!!!

When we presented the readings for this week’s communion service I had prepared a message on the Sermon on the Mount but I felt like God was speaking to us through the Psalm at that moment (Psalm 119:1).  The refrain in Spanish was “Dichoso el que cumple la voluntad de Dios” –Happy he who does God’s will.  I realized how happy I was in accepting the call to missions.  I recognized the deep life-changing joy that comes with stepping out into the unknown.  I shared with the people that our happiness is closely attached to our faith.  Our temptations are perhaps firstly challenges to believe that God’s will holds more joy for your life than any other will, including your own.

This is our morning prayer group.  We meet every Monday-Friday.

This is our morning prayer group. We meet every Monday-Friday.

I am reminded of Adam and Eve in the happiness of the Garden of Eden.  They had all that they needed to be completely happy but they were tempted by the serpent who challenged them to believe that God was holding back.  It was a temptation to see and experience God’s will as and imprisoning rather than liberating.  Oftentimes our sight is an obstacle to the true joy God has for us.  As Pope Frances notes, “Faith by its very nature demands renouncing the immediate possession which sight would appear to offer; it is an invitation to turn to the source of the light.”[1] When Eve “saw” that the fruit was good instead of God’s goodness, she experienced a need to liberate herself from God’s will and ate the fruit.

I try and say all the time that God is so good!!  I say it with excitement to help remind me of His goodness.  I try and live in remembrance of this goodness each day.  As I remember His faithfulness my eyes become more accustomed to see this same goodness and faithfulness each day in our life here. This “remembering of God’s goodness” was what gave Abraham the hope to pursue God’s call to leave his people. “As a response to a word which preceded it, Abraham’s faith would always be an act of remembrance. Yet this remembrance is not fixed on past events but, as the memory of a promise, it becomes capable of opening up the future, shedding light on the path to be taken. We see how faith, as remembrance of the future, memoria futuri, is thus closely bound up with hope.”[2]

In Mexiquito, I shared with the people about how great the love of God is.  Without end, without boundaries, His Love is fills His Will.  This is the challenge of Faith.  Do we really believe that His Will is also His life-filling, joy-filling, marvelous love?  The Psalmist points us to a profound truth—when we give ourselves up to the Will of God we also place ourselves in the center of His Love.

 


[1] Lumen Gentium 13

[2] Lumen Gentium 9

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Villa de Juarez: The First Three Weeks

Villa de Juarez: The First Three Weeks

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               Today marks the three week anniversary of our arrival here in Villa de Juarez, COAH.  So much has happened, so many blessings and answered prayers.  God is so good!!!  I woke up this morning with Ezekiel at 5AM and felt a surge of thanksgiving to our Lord for the last three weeks.  He has been so faithful throughout all of our new adventures and ministries.  Yesterday as I received the Eucharist I remembered the call we received to missions.  I was reminded of all the times in my life God has been faithful.  And yet isn’t this the very root of our faith?  Our belief springs forth from the remembrance of His promises, of His Love, of His faithfulness, or His call.  This is why we are called to remember Him as we receive His Body and Blood at Holy Mass. 

               Our work in Juarez is a bit different than what we were doing in General Cepeda.  Here Bishop Alonso has asked us to lead the parish here in Juarez as the pastoral staff.  Juarez has been without a priest for over one hundred years.  The parish here is too poor to support a priest and for a variety of reasons so priests have only come here from time to time on bi-monthly or even monthly visits.  The town is a pretty interesting place.  Within the last 30 years much has changed.  For example, 30 years ago there was no electricity or running water.  Now there are both and even cell phone coverage arrived three years ago (although there is no internet yet).  The locals live mainly off coal mining, fishing, and making natural charcoal from the abundant mesquite in the region.  The region is called the coal region (carbonifera) because of the abundance of coal mining and charcoal making. 

               Our mission here is to teach and animate the people in the faith, we lead Bible studies and catechism classes, Jon leads two choirs (one in Juarez and one in Progreso), we also have care of seven villages (ejidos) as well as our usual visiting the sick and homebound.  The weekends are really busy.  Saturday we lead two communion services in the evening.  Sunday Fr. Rogelio (he is the parish priest in Progreso 25 miles away) and Jonathan make their rounds in Progreso (9AM) then off to El Alamo (ejido) 10:30AM, then to Juarez 12PM, after that Father goes to La Presa Don Martin, Santa Rita and 22-0 (3 other ejidos) to celebrate Mass.  Then our whole family goes to Mexiquito (a small ejido without a chapel) at 2PM to celebrate a communion service. It is a pretty busy weekend!

               Every Monday – Friday we lead the liturgy of the Hours in the Church from 8-9AM.  We have a group of about 20 who faithfully come to pray with us.  This group has consistently grown each week.  We continually encourage people to come and pray with us.  Teresa started a ladies Bible Study this last Thursday which had about 15 ladies.  They are studying I John.  Most of the women have never studied the Bible so they are very excited! 

Jon also has begun an English class on Friday to help the locals who do not have job opportunities here and need to work in the US.  Often times they cannot get a job without a working knowledge of English.  This has also provided an opportunity to share the faith with about 40 young people and men who have not attended church very often in their lives.  We learn prayers and verses in English and hope to celebrate Holy Mass later on this year completely in English with a visiting priest. 

Our day off is Tuesday.  This day we spend as a family usually traveling 45 minutes to Sabinas, COAH.  Sabinas is a mid-sized city here and they have grocery stores, gas stations, etc. 

Wednesday we assist at Mass in the evening if Fr. Rogelio can make it or we lead a communion service at the same time.  Incidentally, Fr. Rogelio is the first Pastor in Progreso in over 40 years.  Our diocese was recently created in 2003.  Our first and only bishop, Don Alonso asked four different priests to come here but they didn’t think they could eke out a living here.  Fr. Rogelio agreed to come.  He receives no salary as other priests do.  I have seen him show such great love to the people here.  It really is a blessing to work with such a man.  He has become a great friend and confidant to the family.

We have a small simple house here but we have been so blessed by the generosity of the people.  They have given us all they can to make our small place cozy.  People have brought us fish, deer, goat, beans and rice, eggs, fruit.  Whatever they can to share with us their love.  We are learning their ways as well.  In fact Teresa has been drying deer meat on a clothesline all week in the local custom. 

This last week the mayor gave us a map of Juarez and La Presa Don Martin (our largest ejido).  We are now visiting people door to door inviting them to come to church and to study the Bible.  We have already met many families who lack sacraments and want to come back to the church.  Please pray for this door to door ministry as we hope to greatly increase the number of people who here the gospel message and receive the Love of Jesus.

Tomorrow I will meet with a bricklayer as we try and work our blue prints for a chapel in Mexiquito, our ejido without a chapel.  We spent last week getting names down of all the residents giving us land where we could build.  Now we have the signatures and simply need to begin.  Please pray also for this project. 

Currently what we need most of all is prayer, prayer, prayer.  Please pray that we can find and love the lost here in Juarez.  We feel a great call to seek out those who have fallen away from the faith or have accepted another gospel.  God is so good!  We know He is sufficient for our every need.  Please help us reach our brothers and sisters in Juarez who have so little.  We have seen many crying out for love and joy.  Our God is a God of Joy-giving Love.  Please ask God is pour out His joy on the people of Villa de Juarez that they may hear His voice and hearing His voice call upon His Name.

The New Mission Post: Villa de Juarez, Coahuila, Mexico

The New Mission Post: Villa de Juarez, Coahuila, Mexico

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Our new 3 room house in Juarez! We love it!

For the last week and a half our family has been adjusting to our new mission post here in Villa de Juarez, Coahuila.  And what an adjustment it has been!  I wanted to take a moment to share some of the glory stories and adventures we have already had as we bring Jesus to an area for so many years forgotten by the world.  Below you will see a map of our new town and our old post in General Cepeda.  We are in the same state but the two places are so different.

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The men of the community brought over a water tank (to give us water pressure) and a hot water heater so we can take hot showers. They supplied everything for free, including labor, because they said since we were giving to their community, they wanted to do the same for us!

Villa de Juarez as the signs call it is in an area of Coahuila known as the Carboniferous Zone.  It’s about 3.5 hours north east of General.  It is not desert although you certainly see the occasional cactus.  The land is home to many coal mines and in fact coal mining is one of the main occupations the men here engage in.

There are a number of wild animals here.  In our first week we saw a pet deer, a pet bobcat, a herd of wart hogs crossing the road, and a mountain lion crossing the road!  The people here hunt and fish.  There is a river about 200 yards from our house where men fish as well as a large reservoir where many men work in the fishing industry for livelihood.

We have been given a small pink and green house.  It has three rooms.  One is our kitchen.  The other 2 are our bedrooms.  We got running water yesterday after a week here.  The kitchen has no sink so we wash dishes in buckets. We still have no hot water but are hopeful that within the next few days we will.  The people have been visiting us every day to talk and share gifts.  Everything from carp to venison.

Our ministry here is going to be very different.  Bishop Alonso of Piedras Negras has asked us to be pastors of the church in Juarez.  Fr.

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We have no kitchen sink, so we do our dishes in buckets 🙂

Rogelio (the parish priest in Progreso about 25 miles from us) will celebrate Mass every Sunday.  We are in charge of the rest!  It’s a huge and blessed responsibility.  This week our schedule is:

Every morning at 8 we lead the community in the Liturgy of the Hours.

We visit 7 rancho-villages every week.

Teresa has a woman’s Bible study every Thursday night at 7.

Wednesday night communion Service or Mass when Fr. Rogelio can make it.

Jonathan leads the Choir in Juarez and Progreso.

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Fr. Rogelio, our priest, is incredible with the kids!

Saturday Catechesis for Adults and Children.

Friday night we are giving English classes for the community.  The mayor is donating all the material.  Many of the men here cannot work without a little knowledge of English.

The county of Juarez has not has a priest for over 100 years.  Electricity came here in the 1980s.  Cell phones arrived three years ago.  We have no high speed internet although dial up came three years ago at the local library.  There is no hospital, post office, fire station, police station or gas station in Villa de Juarez.  We do have a few small stores, schools, and one place will give you gasoline in a 5 gallon bucket if you really need gas.

The people are the most generous people we have ever met.  They have come over every day to make sure we are happy.  They offer babysitting, furniture, and food.  The food here is so interesting.  Venison tamales, ceviche (basically carp marinated in lemon juice), as well as all the usual culprits (beans, rice, tortillas, etc.)  We are so excited to see what God does here in this new post. Please pray for us.  We will try to post more often now that we are getting settled in.

We hope that our story will inspire others to take up the life of missions.  We have been called to be missionaries.  As Pope Francis says:

“If we want to advance in the spiritual life, then, we must constantly be missionaries. The work of evangelization enriches the mind and the heart; it opens up spiritual horizons; it makes us more and more sensitive to the workings of the Holy Spirit, and it takes us beyond our limited spiritual constructs. A committed missionary knows the joy of

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Our family was invited to a local fish fry!

being a spring which spills over and refreshes others. Only the person who feels happiness in seeking the good of others, in desiring their happiness, can be a missionary.”

Evangelii Gaudium 272

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Our kids have been loving it here. School is great, and the classes are much smaller! They live a block from the river and will be able to go fishing with the locals when the weather warms up, as well as swim to their hearts content! We are truly blessed!

My prayer today is that God gives each person who reads this the same joy in knowing Him that we have.  He is so good!!  His faithfulness is so evident to those who love Him.