Friday, September 5, 2014

Hady - "I Have A Little Sister Again!"

Lay missioner Hady Mendez talks about one of the new friends she has made in Cochabamba, Bolivia. 

As the youngest of four sisters, I’m used to being the “little sister.” However, during the times I’ve formally participated in the Big Brother Big Sister program back in the states, I’ve really enjoyed being the “older sister” and imparting wisdom and advice and love on my little. It brings me a lot of joy to connect to someone who starts off as a stranger and to see that relationship change over time.

Yrene, Melany, and Hady
A few months ago, Yrene, one of the workers at Manos Con Libertad, asked if I would consider spending some time with her daughter Melany. I really enjoy Yrene (she’s sort of the class clown at the restaurant) and thought it would be nice to get to know her daughter, so I agreed. I was nervous about taking on another commitment but have generally taken on the attitude here “to go where I am invited.”

Our first meeting was good. We went for ice cream, then back to my apartment so she could see where and how I live. She didn’t talk a lot in that first meeting. I asked about a billion questions. But from past experience, I knew this was normal.

For our second meeting, we decided to go for ice cream again. This time she opened up more. She told me about her life at home, her extended family, and what was going on at school. After that meeting, I gave Melany my phone number and told her she could call or text me if she ever needed anything or just wanted to talk.

A few days before our next meeting – we are on a two-week schedule these days – she texted me on a Saturday night to find out what I was up to. I told her I was watching a movie. Turns out she was too. We exchanged a few messages and I realized she was OK. She just wanted to “chat.”

When we met the following Monday, we headed to one of my favorite coffee shops for cappuccino and cake. I gathered from the previous meeting, that Melany enjoyed cappuccino (and anything sweet). She also told me she liked playing cards so I brought a deck along and she showed me how to play a few games. We had a really good time. The café we went to plays some English music so whenever I sang along, she laughed. She thought it was so funny. Go figure. She’s 11.

I like Melany. When we spend one on one time together, it’s really fun for me. Being a big sister reminds me to be patient. It also shows me a lot about how friendship takes time. The best thing about being a big sister is having someone look up to you!!

I enjoy hearing Melany’s stories. Sometimes she complains about having to cook or look after her little brother but those are very typical things for an older sister to do here. She’s also not a big fan of school right now but I know she loves reading and plan to reinforce that by giving her a few of my favorite books to read. She hasn’t told me anything shocking during our time together and I don’t think she will. She lives a pretty “normal life” for an 11-year old Bolivian girl.

I feel honored to share a few hours with Melany every few weeks. I think the time has been good for the both of us. And even though its hard for me, I keep reminding myself I don’t have “to do” anything special when we’re together. Just listen to her share, ask questions that might prompt her to share, and then enjoy her stories and experiences. Every once in a while I encourage her to ask me questions and sometimes my answers (and her follow up questions) leads us to a good conversation.

My goal is to find Melany a “big sister” who lives here so she still has a support system even when I’m gone. I already have someone in mind (a former Franciscan lay missioner who permanently lives here) and am looking forward to introducing them and knowing Melany will always have someone outside of the family she can chat with and talk to.

Life is good. Paz y bien from Cochabamba!

A self-described “Hija de Brooklyn y Puerto Rico,” Hady Mendez is the youngest of four daughters raised by Puerto Rican parents in Brooklyn, NY.  A proud Jasper, Hady graduated from Manhattan College in Riverdale, New York, before starting a corporate career in technology that lasted for more than 20 years. Hady has a true passion for world travel and social justice and has recently begun her first year serving and living with the people of Cochabamba, Bolivia.

Please consider supporting her time on mission by making a donation. 

Monday, September 1, 2014

Community: A Demonstration of Love

Third-year missioner Kitzi Hendricks continues to reflect on her experience of finding community in Bolivia. 

“Community is a sign that love is possible in a materialistic world where people so often either ignore or fight each other. It is a sign that we don't need a lot of money to be happy--in fact, the opposite.”-- Jean Vanier.

Throughout the past year, my small faith community here in Cochabamba little community has been centered around and strengthened by the presence of Saraí, the daughter of Jhovana and Fidel.

Saraí is a miracle baby. She was born two months premature and, with life-threatening complications, neither Jhovana nor Saraí were expected to live. Just over one year later, mama and baby are living life to the fullest and the family could not be more of an inspiration to the local community.

Each week, I have the blessing of watching Saraí develop and grow into a smart, curious, and happy baby.

We laugh when she laughs with her two bottom teeth showing. We take turns leading her around the patio as she develops her muscles for walking. We smile when she smiles.

What is amazing, however, is the impact that this little girl and her family have had on their greater community.

In January, Saraí was baptized at the chapel of Nueva Vera Cruz—the community where Jhovana works. It offers a before- and after-school program for the children in the local neighborhoods, providing homework help, activities, and food for each child. Many of their parents either work all-day long selling in the marketplace or the children come from broken families where alcoholism and domestic violence envelop their home lives. I hear new stories each time that I go to the chapel.

Children are frequently abandoned and new fights break out between the adults in their lives. Some of the teenagers are even kicked out of the house due to the problems in the families.
Saraí's baptism
Regardless of their home-lives, every child and youth in the community supported Saraí at her baptism, offering their presence as a testimony to the love and support that Saraí and her family provide for their community. The same occurred for Saraí’s first birthday, just over a week ago.

Saraí's first birthday party
Saraí's first birthday party
Amidst such brokenness, Jhovana and Fidel are models of a different type of story—a story of love, respect, togetherness, and support. They are a breath of new life and a living example of the honesty and fidelity that is absent in the lives of the children in the community. Through their active presence, they demonstrate what it means to care for and love a child and one another. They demonstrate how the love they share for one another and for their faith radiates into the local community and works to serve. Whether or not they recognize it, through their love, their friendship, and their presence, they are influencing the life of each child, each parent, and each community member. I am blessed to consider them family and to be a part of their community.

Kitzi Hendricks has been on mission in Bolivia since January 2012. A graduate of Creighton University and a native of California, Kitzi serves at ITEI (Instituto de Terapia e Investagación), an NGO that provides psychological care and accompaniment for persons who have been affected by torture during the dictatorships and political conflicts in Bolivia. She enjoys music and photography.

To support Kitzi's continued mission in Bolivia, please consider making a tax-deductible donation.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

New Board Members: Welcome, Fr. Tom Washburn and Thomas McGregor!

Franciscan Mission Service welcomes two new board members: Fr. Tom Washburn (OFM), and returned missioner Thomas McGregor!

Their invitation and acceptance illustrates the balance and richness of Franciscan Mission Service’s board through Fr. Tom's pastoral experience as an ordained Franciscan priest as well as Thomas’ experiences as a missioner in El Salvador and Colombia.

Bringing together a cleric like Fr. Tom and an expert in the world of finance like Thomas reflects the varied backgrounds of people called to the Franciscan movement. Hopefully, their stories will inspire other “Franciscan-hearted” people to answer the call in their lives to commit deeper to the example of St. Francis of Assisi.

Fr. Tom Washburn, OFM

Fr. Tom is a Franciscan friar of the Immaculate Conception Province who has served on the Franciscan Mission Service Board of Directors since 2013. He first heard about Franciscan Mission Service through his work as the Executive Secretary of the English Speaking Conference of the Franciscan Order, coordinating ministries between O.F.M. members of the Franciscan family in the United States, Canada, England, Ireland, Malta, and Lithuania. He also makes time for more directly pastoral ministry, facilitating retreats, coordinating the Confirmation program in his home parish in Boston, and taking preaching assignments each year to speak about the good works that Franciscan friars and lay people like Franciscan Mission Service are doing around the world.

When asked his thoughts on joining the board, Fr. Tom is quick to reply. “I have truly enjoyed the process. The board is full of a diversity of people, with tremendously varied experiences, gifts and talents, but all with the same common love and goal - supporting the good works of Franciscan Mission Service.”

Thomas McGregor, returned missioner
(Mission experience: El Salvador / Colombia, 2000-2002)

Thomas McGregor is the Vice President (Corporate Banking Risk Officer) of City National Bank of Florida. Born and raised in the San Francisco Bay area, he first came to embrace his faith in college through the university Catholic Newman Center. Listening to the Gospel and feeling called to live out Christ’s call to mission, he later served for two years as a director of a Mexican homeless shelter on the U.S./Mexico border. Inspired by this work, he began looking for ways to satisfy what seemed to be an unfulfilled call to a more interpersonal experience of foreign mission. Considering in his heart the words traditionally ascribed to St. Francis—“Preach the gospel at all times; when necessary, use words”—he selected Franciscan Mission Service as the vehicle to serve God, serving for two years (2000-2002) in El Salvador and Colombia.

In addition to his work in finance, he also serves on the council of his local TEC (To Encounter Christ) Young Adult community and helps to lead their bi-annual retreats. In both this position and his position on the board of Franciscan Mission Service, he brings a wealth of broad-based experience, encompassing first-hand knowledge of mission, as well as business/managerial training in both the nonprofit and for-profit sectors.

Thomas loves the way Pope Francis is bringing a Franciscan heart to the Church and is excited for what that means for the future.

“This is just a fabulous time to be part of the Franciscan family!” he says. “How much easier has our job become to preach of St. Francis, for we have the very visible presence of our Pope to offer. Let us not waste, but go in haste to do His will!”

Monday, August 18, 2014

Moving to the Country and Slowing Down

Up in Carmen Pampa. Photo by Nate Mortenson
First-year missioner Mary Mortenson talks about her and her husband’s recent move so that they could serve in different ministries at a rural Catholic university.

For those of you who do not know me all that well, I rarely leave a place with all my boxes checked and all my bows tied. Often it's more comparable to a cloud of dust and a panicked frenzy, and I'm usually a bit of an emotional mess.

So in usual fashion, our move from Cochabamba, Bolivia, to Carmen Pampa, Bolivia, was a whirlwind of goodbyes, last minute packing, and attempting to finish a fairly impossible to-do list. (This is the result of TWO eternal optimists "Sure, we'll be able to accomplish that"). When we finally got on the bus headed to our new home, I breathed a sigh of relief, naively assuming that we had "made it."

What I hadn't considered was that our lives were to go from a fairly fast-paced and on-the-go speed of life, to a meandering stroll - and that may take a little getting used to. We were moving from a city of a little over a million people with transportation right out my door and a food market four blocks away, to a teeny-tiny town that I would be surprised if it appeared on any map. It’s a home to around 40 families and, when school is in session, about 800 university students. But when we arrived it was winter vacation, so we were back to 40 families.

Don't worry: Nate and I were not being forced into this. We had visited this quaint little college village three times before we committed to moving. No, really, we were very excited for the slower pace of life in the countryside. We like the energy of the students and the philosophy of the school. After a few conversations with different staff on campus, we could see opportunities to serve that worked for each of us.

We thought it was romantic that the electricity turns off on the regular and adventurous that we would have to take a 30-minute bus ride to purchase our groceries. Plus the fact that the college is nestled into the mountainside with hike of 1,500 feet in-between campuses would be a perfect incentive to get a little exercise in and enjoy the beautiful view every day :)

Honestly, we knew there would be challenges, but we felt that life in Carmen Pampa would bring us more naturally into relationship with a community in a way that seemed harder in a bigger city. Which has proven to be true, but our transition was harder than expected.

When we finally arrived, it felt like there was no one around and that we were in the midst of rainy cloud that lingered for four days as we attempted to clean and dry out our apartment. Because there were no students and the mountain road was so bad from the rain, it was challenging to navigate transportation into Coroico to buy food or anything else.

I remember the second night we were eating the potatoes that the previous residents had graciously left for us that we had eaten for the previous night’s dinner and that day’s lunch , and I just couldn't take another bite and after a long tiring day, I opted for an early 7 p.m. bedtime instead. We can laugh about it now, but we truly were caught off-guard.

It's been almost a month now since we arrived, and country living is suiting us just fine. Well, and the students are back, so that helps. We have made the proper adjustments and preparations for things like the pipes clogging and keeping water from coming out of our faucets. We take our trips to town on Saturday mornings very seriously to accomplish and/or stock up on whatever we need for the week. We factor in a 25-minute sweaty hike to get back to upper campus after we've had meetings or other business. We plan on checking our e-mail once a week instead of several times a day like we did in Cochabamba and doing most of our communication with students and staff on campus in-person or by hand-written notes. And that is why we like this place so much, it really causes us to slow down and enjoy. It suits us.

The most important thing is that we've been reminded that things don't happen at the snap of your fingers. Things take time. As we are learning that lesson, we are also getting to know the students, staff, and other community members. But that takes time, too. We appreciate that although we have been warmly welcomed, students will take their time to develop trust with us. As we work side by side, we will start to understand the gossip and the jokes, and we'll earn the privilege of hearing students' stories.

Right now, I'm hoping that this pace of life will stick around for a bit.

Mary Mortenson is a Minnesotan farm girl who grew up picking strawberries. In college she studied sociology with a minor in outdoor leadership. She has a heart for lonely and isolated people, and enjoys the way food cooked in love brings people together. She and her husband Nate have been in Bolivia with Franciscan Mission Service since January 2014. 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Franciscan Feast Day: St. Maximilian Kolbe, martyr of charity

Today we celebrate the feast day of St. Maximilian Kolbe, OFM (Conv), who volunteered to die in place of a stranger in the Nazi German death camp of Auschwitz during World War II.

"Let us remember that love lives through sacrifice and is nourished by giving."
He was born Raymund Kolbe on January 8th, 1894 in what was then Russian-controlled Poland. His life was strongly influenced by a vision of the Virgin Mary that he had when he was a child. In the vision, the Blessed Mother offered him two crowns: one white, symbolizing a life of purity, and the other red, symbolizing the death of a martyr. When asked which he would prefer, St. Maximilian said he would accept both.

In 1907, St. Maximilian and his brother Francis illegally crossed the border from Poland to Austro-Hungary in order to enroll at the Conventual Franciscan seminary in Lwow (modern-day Lviv, Ukraine.) It was here that he was given the name Maximilian, later adding the name Maria to emphasize his devotion to the Blessed Mother.

Maximilian Kolbe on a West German postage stamp, marked Auschwitz
St. Maximilian was one of the first saints to use modern media---including newspapers, radio, and pamphlets---to spread the Catholic faith and speak out against the atrocities of the Nazi regime. These efforts, combined with his sheltering of Jews during World War II, brought him to the attention of the Nazi authorities, who arrested him in 1941 and sent him to the Auschwitz concentration camp.

At the end of July 1941, three prisoners disappeared from the camp, prompting the deputy camp commander to pick 10 men to be starved to death in an underground bunker in order to deter further escape attempts. When one of the selected men, Franciszek Gajowniczek, cried out, "My wife! My children!", St. Maximilian volunteered to take his place.

Stained glass image of Kolbe as a concentration camp prisoner
at the Conventual Franciscan church of Szombathely, Hungary
In his prison cell, Kolbe celebrated Mass each day and sang hymns with the prisoners. Each time the guards checked on him, he was standing or kneeling in the middle of the cell and looking calmly at those who entered. Soon he was the only man left alive, at which point the guards gave St. Maximilian a lethal injection of carbolic acid. Some who were present say that he raised his left arm and calmly waited for the injection. He was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1982 and is the patron saint of prisoners, families, and drug addicts.

Perhaps no other modern saint represents the Franciscan values of "accompaniment" and "solidarity with the marginalized" as well as St. Maximilian Kolbe. May his feast day today serve as a reminder to us of how we can integrate these values into our own lives. St. Maximilian Kolbe, martyr of charity, pray for us!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Franciscan Feast Day: St. Clare, Franciscan co-founder

Today we celebrate the feast of St. Clare, deepest friend of Saint Francis and co-founder of the Franciscan movement.

Sts. Clare and Francis

St. Clare was born in Assisi, the eldest daughter of a noble family. As a child, Clare was devoted to prayer. When she turned 12 her parents wanted her to marry a young and wealthy man, but she preferred to wait until she was 18. However, at the age of 18 she heard St. Francis's preachings which would subsequently change her life. Francis told her that she was chosen by God. Hearing this, her heart burned with a great desire to imitate Francis and to live a poor humble life for Jesus. So one evening, she ran away from home, and in a little chapel outside Assisi, gave herself to God. St. Francis cut off her hair and gave her a rough brown habit to wear, tied with a plain cord around her waist. Her parents tried in every way to make her return home, but Clare simply refused.

Soon her sister St. Agnes joined her, as well as other young women who wanted to imitate Christ in living a life of radical poverty in solidarity with the poor. St. Clare and her sisters wore no shoes, ate no meat, lived in a simple house, and kept silent most of the time.

Fresco of Saint Clare and sisters of her order, church of San Damiano, Assisi

Clare sought to imitate Francis' virtues and way of life so much so that she was sometimes titled alter Franciscus, "another Francis." She also played a significant role in encouraging and aiding Francis, and she took care of him during his illnesses at the end of his life, until his death in 1226.

St. Clare was sick herself and suffered great pains for many years, but she said that no pain could trouble her. So great was her joy in serving the Lord that she once exclaimed: "They say that we are too poor, but can a heart which possesses the infinite God be truly called poor?" In 1263, ten years after her death, Pope Urban IV officially changed the name of the Second Order to the Order of St. Clare, or "Poor Clares."

The wax figure of Saint Clare of Assisi at Basilica of Saint Clare, in Italy

May we take this opportunity today to reflect on how we, like St. Clare, can respond to the Gospel call to live a life of radical simplicity in solidarity with and for the poor. St. Clare, pray for us!

Friday, August 8, 2014

School Raises $5,000 in Support of Alumnae, Lay Missioner

Love of others through charity and justice is a core value at Holy Spirit School in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Holy Spirit students washing each other's feet on Holy Thursday
Each year the parish school selects a social justice focus to encourage students to think beyond the community and act on behalf of those in need. One year they supported Heifer International, another they built a well in Uganda. In supporting one cause all year, principal Dr. Mary Adrian says the school is able to develop a real connection, focus their philanthropic efforts more effectively, and help their students see that they can make a difference.

“They see how important it is as a people and society to be generous with our time, talent, and our money,” she said.

Holy Spirit students
For the 2013-2014 year, the school chose to support the work of one of its own alums: Annemarie Barrett, an FMS lay missioner serving in Cochabamba, Bolivia. In addition to attending the school, Annemarie made all of her sacraments at the adjoining parish, where the Barrett family remains active today.

The year-long, school-wide effort led to a generous collection of $5,000. How did 325 kids, kindergarten through eighth grade, raise so much money?

“It was a really easy, easy thing to do because it is a part of the culture of our school,” said English teacher Deb Townley, who herself donates to FMS on behalf of her former student and dear friend’s daughter. She recommended Annemarie as the school’s project for the year because she thought it would be great if Holy Spirit saw what one of their own was doing to change the world. In addition to fundraising, students have watched videos of Annemarie working in the garden and learned about Cochabamba, Bolivia.

Young Annemarie with her teacher Mrs. Townley
Townley says that the students really took pride in finding different ways to contribute. For instance, the third, fourth, and fifth graders thought to put together jars of muffin ingredients to sell during the holidays.

Three times during the year they had the opportunity to pay $1 to not wear their uniform to school that day. Money also came in through collections at school Masses. About $1,000 came from a collection at the middle school interdisciplinary performance in which students traced the history of media from the ’40s to the present.

The “coin wars” were the kids’ favorite fundraising activity. During the competition, the students took the first five minutes of the day to go around and put money in jars labeled by class. Classes gained points for each penny in their jar, but lost points for any other currency put in their jar by other classes, based on the value of the currency. “They all learned the word ‘sabotage,’ really quickly,” said Dr. Adrian with a chuckle.

Fun competitions aside, the school’s encouragement of leadership, service, and commitment to Catholic Social Teaching has, not surprisingly, produced several alumni who have gone on to volunteer around the world. Dr. Adrian says this fuels Holy Spirit’s desire to continue working with their students to help them understand their Gospel call.
Annnemarie (right) on her First Communion day at Holy Spirit with her second grade teacher Mrs. Gerber
As for Annemarie, she is grateful for the solid foundation the Holy Spirit community gave her and for the support she still receives.

“Both at school and at church I was empowered as a young Catholic lay person to participate in the community,” Annemarie said. “Learning at a young age at Holy Spirit that our Catholic Church is a church of lay leaders, including myself, formed me into the Franciscan lay missioner I am today.”

“Thank you for continuing to embrace me as a part of your community and for your decision to extend your community internationally as well, to now include these resilient families with whom we share work in Cochabamba, Bolivia.”