Bread for the Journey

by

A sermon offered by our Guatemala travelers, July 31, 2011

Matthew 14: 13-21

In worship on July 31, Guatemala travelers shared their reflections as the sermon. A group of thirteen First Church members, including our current confirmation class, visited the San Lucas Mission (www.sanlucasmission.org) the week of July 15-22. This Catholic parish was founded by Father Greg Schaffer, from New Ulm, MN, in 1962. The parish engages in programs that address both the immediate effects of poverty and its underlying causes. The projects are initiated and led by Guatemalans. Currently, the parish is supporting projects such as a clinic, a women’s center, a coffee processing and distribution program, and reforestation. According to the philosophy of the parish, volunteers come not primarily to help, but to learn about the people of Guatemala, and the joys and struggles of their lives.

The reflections respond to the following prompts:

What event or person that impacted you during the trip?

What did you learn, about Guatemala, about yourself, your life, your place in the world?

How did this trip change you?. How are you different because of this experience? What different choices might you make about your life?

What did this trip teach you about God, or about being part of the church community?

How does your experience relate to the story of loaves and fishes (Matthew 14: 13-21). For instance, what did this trip teach you about trusting, sharing, having enough in life?

Shea Niccum

The night before we left for Guatemala, I was very apprehensive about going. I wasn’t that sure that I was going to enjoy it. When we got there I was amazed by how beautiful the country was. When we took a lake tour, the other towns were really overrun by tourism so I knew that we were in an authentic Guatemalan city. When we worked with the locals I really got to know the town better and the locals better. The trip really awakened my awareness for the world. The trip also taught me not to take the little things for granted, like having clean water. I am really glad that I made the decision to go on this wonderful trip.

Andrew Sjostrom

I drew this picture of the Guatemalan mountains that we saw from the porch of the hotel. The mountains are big and beautiful and we don’t have mountains in Minnesota. While we were leaving, I saw a mountain (one of the volcanoes) with smoke coming out of it.

I liked doing the rebar because I like working with my hands. I was working on rebar with Aaron from the Kansas City group. He was fun and he was interested in me. He helped me by holding the frame while I bent the wires to hold it in place. I was surprised there were so many other people there.

It made me sad to see people living in tents. I’m grateful that I have a house and clothes and food to be comfortable.

I learned that there might be some people in the US and all around the world that might need a house, food, and clean clothes to put on every day.

Sam Stroup

I was nervous when I first arrived in Guatemala. I wasn’t terrified or anything, just a little timid.

One thing I was worried about was being robbed. I knew I wouldn’t keep my money in my pocket, but I just kept thinking of the worse case scenarios. What if someone breaks into the hotel and gets my money pouch while I’m not there! I found myself thinking.

I was also told that some street venders were so persistent that they would follow you around until you bought something. This also worried me. Sometimes I give in to pressure really easily without thinking things through and I was afraid that I would end up with 100 little souvenirs or mementos that I would never end up using anyway.

But in a way, how is this so different from shopping in the United States? Salespeople here are just as persistent. There’s no more reason to be afraid of Guatemalan venders than there is venders of the U.S.

Also, sometimes in the U.S., I am pressured into buying things that I don’t need. So if I’m going to, why give it to some big North American company when I could give it to someone who truly needs the money. Plus in the U.S., when I buy something, I’m usually in the store and then I’m out. In Guatemala, almost every time I bought something I had a real conversation with the salesperson. Even with my limited Spanish and their limited English, we still able to Connect with each other.

It may be a good idea to keep your wits about you and stay cautious and wary, when visiting another country, but that can also prevent you from connecting with new people and finding out more about them.

Seamus Hawley

While in Guatemala, I believe that my perspective of how to live has changed. I began the trip under the impression that all the people there would be living in extreme poverty and walked away with a much deeper understanding of how they live. The first few days that I was there, I would take notice of how little the people there had. This made me think that I should pity them for how hard their way of life is. But then, I had a realization when we went to one of the local shops and the woman was obviously happy. I realized that even those these people don’t have some of the “accessories” that us westerners have, they have family and community and that’s all they need to be happy.

This reminds me of the scripture because the disciples thought there wouldn’t be enough to feed everyone but there was more then enough and even leftovers. That is how I feel about my trip, I thought these people had nothing but they have everything they need and more.

Brigh Niccum

It’s cobblestone streets and semi-wild dogs

and trucks and tuktuks that come barreling around corners

(stop signs are really more of a suggestion)

IT’s a chorus of ‘Bienvenidos’ and ‘Buenos Dias’

and little kids who come running to shout ‘Hola’

and waving so harde you think your hand will fall off

It’s driving through town on the back of a pickup truck

and swaying with all the bumps in the road

and backing out of many many traffic jams (two trucks

going opposite directions is enough to cause a backup

on a ‘one-way’ street)

It’s the heft of a hammer in your hands

and the sting of rock shards as they hit you (thank goodness

for the sunglasses)

and the feel of soil under your fingers as

you fill a bag that will soon hold a brand-new

coffee tree

It’s the dirt on your pants and your face and your fingernails

so much that you don’t think you’ll ever wash it off

but it’s a good dirty a stain

of hard work and happiness

It’s speaking to people in a combination

of broken Spanish and wild gestures (who knew

that charades was a life skill?)

It’s a cacophony of noises barks and clucks and

fireworks that make you jump (no matter how many times

they’ve gone off) and people singing laughing shouting and life

It’s the smell of woodsmoke and exhaust and

the bite of the night air and the sting

of the deceivingly tiny ants after you’ve stepped on their home

It’s a night of singing a little out of tune (all right

a lot out of tune but it doesn’t really matter) and sharing

and praying and struggling to find the words for what you’ve seen

It’s a market so full you can’t see over all

the people and you’re immersed in a sea of chaos and following

the flow (because you wouldn’t be able ot go against it if you tried)

It’s evenings of card games Uno and Hearts and Hand and Foot (yeah

I hadn’t heard of it either) and laughing at ‘amareyo’ and

‘carne’ and many canasta-related mishaps

It’s the view from the top of a mountain (or near it

anyways) the city sprawled beneath you and oh look!

there’s the church and the farm and is that the women’s center up that hill?

It’s sun in the morning and rain in the afternoon regular as clockwork

except when it’s not and then you almost miss the downpours

that turned the streets to rivers and soaked through your raincoat in ten minutes

(but not really)

It’s the nicest people you’ve ever met who say ‘Buenos dias’ when they pass you on the street and never

laugh at your clumsy attempts to speak Spanish ( laughing with you

is another matter entirely)

It’s soaring mountains and low lazy clouds and a lake

that’s crystal clear blue (you can’t see amoebas)

and so beautiful it takes your breath away and

a bittersweet early morning goodbye when you finally go

home

George Domstrand

We had a week of volunteer service in Guatemala with no TV, no E-mail, no video games or texting, no cell or hotel phone service, congregate dining without menu choices, occasional lack of running water at the hotel and early morning rooster and barking dog wake up calls. I didn’t hear any real complaints or whining. We all dug in and worked, ate, hiked, shopped and experienced the beauty of the people, community, land and water.

San Lucas Toliman Mission has provided several hundred jobs to local people in addition to 3 acre plots of land; coffee plants; tree seedlings; a school with affordable tuition; a women’s center; a modern well-equipped medial clinic/hospital and ambulance; and a place of worship.

Working with and for the people of San Lucas was a wonderful opportunity. An experience not to be forgotten. Our youth worked and played hard. They were and are an inspiration.

I am more thankful than words can express for the San Lucas experience and thank everyone who went for their friendship and support.

Carl Dyar

My first few days of walking around San Lucas Toliman, I was confused as to just how this place worked. I expressed my feelings in the reflection group on one of the first nights. I wasn’t sure just how any of the innumerable little tiendas in town made any money, or just who the ever-present Tuk-Tuks were carrying around. In my mind, it seemed like a bunch of families having yard sales in a cul-de-sac, a situation in which almost all the items were sold to another of the participating families.

However, as the week went on and I had more time to observe how this place worked, and as I compared SLT to the biblical story of the loaves and fishes, I began to see how people got by. Each of the tiendas sold a slightly different selection of items, minimizing the number of items they had to keep in stock and maximizing the number of customers, and the Tuk-Tuks were a handy way for small groups of kids to get to school or families to get to Mass, especially in a place where private cars were difficult to obtain and own (due in large part to gasoline a $16/gallon).

Although their way of doing things was foreign to me, like the biblical story, their way of making their town function relied on the idea that the total value of the population was more than just the sum of their parts. While their resources seemed limited, almost everyone in SLT seemed to get enough. Whether this was a triumph of the spirit, ingenuity, or the result of years of practice on the part of those living under certain conditions, the end product seemed no less miraculous than the feeding of the 5000.

Darrick Niccum

I had high hopes for Guatemala. One of the objectives I hoped to see was the confirmands realizing how lucky they are, being born in the USA and living a life of privilege. Hoping that they would gain insight into how the majority of the rest of the world lives. I believe this insight was achieved, but as often happens in life, and during our faith journey, things don’t progress according to predefined plans.

As we stepped off the plane and proceeded through customs, Brigh, Shea, and I face a fairly long wait, as we flew separately from the rest of the group. We encountered our first challenge with the Spanish language. The security guard wanted to usher us out of the waiting area (we had two hours until will we would meet the rest of the group). He said we must leave, we tried to communicate that we needed to stay in the area to meet the rest of our group. He allowed us to sit down against a wall in the lonely transition area between customs and the outside world. Upon seeing this, the security guard took mercy and motioned us through the door to a cafe, and confirmed that we could re-enter the restricted area closer to our group’s arrival time. A diet Pepsi for me, a hot chocolate for Brigh, and a Pepsi and sandwich for Shea, along with a restroom break, we never felt better. All of this occurred without a clear verbal exchange between us (in English) and the security guard (in Spanish).

This exchange typified the journey for me, which I will explain shortly: The emotional ups and down of Frustration leading to Understanding resulting in Appreciation.

Jane asked us to prepare some material for a nightly reflection. As some of you may know, I am an engineer by trade, analytic in nature, and struggle with the softer side of human interaction (i.e. I am a member of the Greg Hubinger Introvert Club). So, I quickly went to Google and typed in “cultural appreciation”, quickly printed the results realizing that I was late to dinner with baseball practice looming. I consolidated some relevant phrases and ushered a sigh of relief, task complete. At the time, I did not appreciate how relevant the material would be, although I did have high hopes that the young adults would gain magical insight from the following phrase:

“The world is not a problem, the problem is your unawareness” Indian Spiritual Leader Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh

What is truly amazing is what I learned about myself during the trip.

We arrived Friday evening after a long journey from Guatemala City to San Lucas Toliman through torrential downpours in a fairly crowded van. The following thoughts ran through my head: Will we make it? Will the van hydroplane and toss us over a cliff? Will my stiffening muscles begin cramping forcing an emergency stop to stretch in the rain? Upon arrival, we were guided to the top floor (more of a concrete slab awaiting further construction) of an aged hotel with the explanation “we are sorry, but we only have 3 rooms (for 13 people???) since we have 60 volunteers here this week” Oh well, We were promised that we could rearrange to more comfortable rooms on Monday when the number of volunteers decreased. The accomodations did not faze our hearty group of travelers. We quickly split up the group into room assignments: 5 confirmands in 1 room, 4 ladies plus an accommodating Zach in another, and 3 men (only one of whom did not snore, you will need to confirm which one with George) in the final room. No trouble, no complaints, no stress. In fact, when additional rooms opened became available, we did not feel the need to move from our three rooms.

After a restful sleep, I awoke on Saturday, eager to see the week’s schedule laid out before me. What would we do? When would we do it? How were things organized? Much to my dismay, none of this was clear. We were told to serve dinner on Saturday (what????, how???) Our orientation was scheduled for Monday (Monday???? How can that be, our visit will be half over). As we reflected during the first several nights, I began to understand the unique nature of this experience. One of the quotes I found that resonated with me was:

“The closest to being in control we will ever be is in that moment that we realize that we are not” Brian Kessler

This truly could be the greatest revelation I gained from the trip (just ask Jane).

The remainder of the trip followed the process I had experienced at the airport. Uncertainty leading to frustration leading to understanding leading to acceptance culminating in blessing.

One of the most gratifying experiences of the trip was the nightly meeting time, where we gathered to reflect upon the days experiences, attempting to relate them to scripture, and appeasing Jane by singing hymns (some of us with limited ability). The group had no reservations sharing their thoughts. I expressed my difficulty in dealing with the seemingly unorganized chaos (who is in charge, what are we doing, how are we helping!!!). What I truly appreciated was watching the young people’s growth in understanding and relating their thoughts to the group. When we first arrived the comments were “how can they live in such poverty” “they don’t even have water to drink” “the street vendors are begging for money”. As the week progressed, I could see further understanding and appreciation for this very different way of life (through their thoughts and reflections) from their traditional, highly materialistic perspective (Game Boys, PSIII’s, latest movies, music, and concerts) to what the people of San Lucas had (sense of community, friendships, security, strong families, faith, and a fundamental relationship to church and God). At the end of the trip, I think the young adults truly understood and gained an appreciation for a different way of life. This is something I still struggle with today. My colleagues in Europe and Asia have a very different lifestyle: “They work to live” while I struggle with “living to work”. I believe this trip provided perspective and context allowing this very special group of First Church confirmands to gain an appreciation of how the majority of the world’s people live their lives.

I am truly grateful for being allowed to participate in this experience. I was frustrated at first. We did not have good exchange between the local Guatemalan’s working with us (wasn’t that the purpose of the trip?, to learn?, to experience?, to grow?). All of this was missing the first half of the week. In addition, we experienced torrential downpours every day for the first 4 days: Imagine flooded streets, thousands of gallons of water flowing down unregulated gutters, non-optimal (i.e.wet) rain gear. As the week progressed, and my expectation of control lessoned, the true blessing of the experience revealed itself. We interacted more. The local people reached out (perhaps, we also reached out more) and interacted through disjointed English/Spanish phrases supplemented with interwoven charade like gestures resulting in understanding. We truly connected. An example of this was Eldridge, a local team leader, who truly enjoyed interacting with Zach, Brigh, and Shea: “how old are you, who is your family, what are your favorite sports?” All of this occurred while he was correcting our rebar bending mistakes with a smile on his face.

Jane asked us to relate our experience to today’s scripture reading regarding the bread and fishes and the ability to supply food to the growing crowd. Our trip followed this parable. I arrived wanting to be in control: what do we have to accomplish, when will we be done? As I learned, the truly profound experiences in life are unexpected and people who take the time to experience them are rewarded. I began the trip worried about what I and the confirmands would experience and learn? Looking back, we all gained more than our minds, hearts, and souls required to be filled.

For those of you who have not experienced Guatemala, the following quote sums up my experience:

“The only way to know something absolutely is to experience it for yourself, anything less is theory, speculation, and belief” Bhawean Rajneesh

I will leave you with one final quote by Howard Thurman:

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive”

God bless us all and keep the Parish of San Lucas Toliman in your prayers as they transition through a time of change as they deal with Father Gregg’s skin cancer and upcoming transition of leadership.

Sophie Strand

When I think about the lessons that Guatemala, and specifically the people of San Lucas Tolimán taught me in the short time we spent with them, it really boils down to this: that one person, or a small group of people – in this case, Father Greg and his Parish – truly can change an entire community for the better, and that the way to accomplish this change, at least in the case of San Lucas, is to constantly reiterate that we are all equal and that we are all entitled to a life of dignity where we are provided opportunities to make our own choices about how to live that life.

Although Father Greg was not physically in San Lucas at the same time we were, his presence was still felt in the people and the projects supported by his parish.  One of the tasks we were assigned was to fill bags of fertilizer to later be used to plant coffee seedlings.  As the most fluent Spanish speaker of the group, I ended up chatting with Leonardo, our bag filling instructor, as we were filling bags.  Leonardo was born and raised in San Lucas and has been working with coffee for 35 years, starting as a young boy picking coffee in the fields and now earning a living working for the parish on their coffee sales.  We covered many topics, from the coffee harvest process to the weather to our families and the many and not-so-many differences between the US and Guatemala.  The part of our conversation that I remember best and keep with me most is when Leonardo talked about Father Greg.  How his coffee program has made it possible for farmers to finally get a fair price for their coffee beans and to finally have a little extra money to care for their families.  How, even though Leonardo is not Catholic, how Father Greg has taught all the people of San Lucas that they are all equal and it doesn’t matter if you’re Catholic or Evangelical, rich or poor, Guatemalan or American; that in God’s eyes we are all equal, we all deserve a life of dignity, and that we are all responsible for loving and caring for each other as human beings, no matter who those “others” are.

That same mentality seems to be played out in all of the projects supported by the parish.  The parish provides a starting point: a plot of land, a coffee seedling, an affordable education, lessons on how to make cookies and textiles, and the community takes these small gifs and turns them into a livelihood.  And they support each other.  Moises, who oversees the parish farm, told me that the money earned by the men who make spoons in their homes not only supports their own families but also goes to make sure that the elderly men and women who don’t have families of there are still taken care of, have a roof over their heads, and food in their bellies.

It is both refreshing and humbling to experience first hand what a community that takes care of itself feels like.  It is refreshing because I rarely feel that my home community shares those same values.  Humbling because I live a life of such privilege, and yet these “poor” people who have virtually nothing by American standards have a better sense of community than we do.  They get it.  We don’t.  So my biggest take away from this experience is a renewed desire to find these places here at home, because I know they exist, and to strive to help create them where they don’t; always focused on the lessons I learned from Guatemala, in the paraphrased words of my new friend Leonardo: no importa si somos católicos ni evangelistas; ricos ni pobres; estadounidenses ni guatemaltecos.  Creemos en el mismo Dios, somos iguales ante Dios, y Dios nos ha mandado amar y cuidar a los demás.

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