Friday, June 19, 2009
Dear Parish Faithful,
I wanted to bring up an item of two that would further supplement my summary of our Mission Team trip from yesterday. In terms of "interconnected events," or "meaningful encounters," when we arrived at the Hogar, we were introduced to a long-term missionary by the name of Ben Logan. Ben is from an OCA mission in Nicholasville, KY (Southern Diocese). Ben was a retreat participant last September when Madre Ivonne was here as our guest and retreat leader. As we all were, he was deeply impressed by her presentation of the Hogar. That was the first time he met Madre Ivonne and, as the saying goes, "one thing led to another," and he is now spending the summer at the Hogar. For all practical purposes, Ben was attached to our Mission Team as a twelfth member and was of considerable help in our various work assignments. He is also accompanied us on our "outings" with the children. And he always appeared at the Bible Studies with his Greek New Testament!
Sadly for us at Christ the Savior/Holy Spirit, when Luke Loboda departed from the Hogar his final destination was his new home in Pittsburg, PA. Luke's wife, now Dr. Ashley Loboda, is doing her residency at a local Pittsburg hospital. So the Hogar was Luke's last "parish activity" with us. And Luke was an invaluable team member. In addition to his hard work, Luke was very good with the children. Madre Ivonne said that he accomplished a "miracle" of sorts in the swimming pool with some of the younger boys who were afraid to get into the water, but who trusted Luke and for the first time "made the plunge." We will miss Luke, Ashley and Noah and we wish them the best in their new home. May God bless them for, and with, many years!
Presvytera Deborah's niece, Mara Livezey from Detroit, spent her four high school years at a prestigious Russian-based ballet school in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. While at the Hogar she offered a one-hour presentation of her ballet skills and some basic teaching to the senoritas who thoroughly enjoyed themselves.
Anne, Anastacia and Alexandra Taylor had to leave earlier than the rest of the team. On the morning of their departure, following Matins, Madre Ivonne openly complimented them very warmly on their educational level and their excellent behavior as young team members. Surprisingly and sadly, however, she also informed everyone that they may be the last team members under twenty years of age allowed. On a recent team, the young members unfortunately acted very rudely toward the Hogar children; and, contrary to the rules of the Hogar, they were "inappropriately dressed." This prompts two immediate questions: "Where was their team leader?" "Where was the accompanying priest?" This is a good example of how some must reap what others have sown. Actions have consequences. I am not sure that this has become an "official policy," but again Madre Ivonne informed us openly of Madre Ines' decision. The madres are fiercely protective of the children. They clearly will not tolerate any rude behavior towards them.
The number of ninos and ninas at the Hogar has been considerably reduced. There are now about sixty children. At one point in the past there were a hundred and fifty and above. This allows for greater attention for each child. Many children have returned home to family, or at least extended family, members. The older boys have been sent to Ak Tenamit (Alexander, the boy we tried but failed to adopt, is one of these boys), an educational and vocational school that trains native Guatemalan children for the future while helping them to appreciate their own Mayan cultural traditions. We certainly missed seeing some of our old friends, but we hope and pray that their lives have been changed for the better following their encounter with the love and support they all received from the Hogar.
The Healing Process
Presvytera and I have now known some of these children - particularly the senoritas - for six or seven years respectively. Thye have become our "amigas." Towards us they are always friendly, open and deeply respectful. We mutually look forward to seeing each other periodically and maintaining some contact. We have seen them grow up into sixteen, seventeen and eighteen year old teen-agers. Their deepest desire is to be "normal," and a great deal of "normalcy" now characterizes their lives, as much as that is possible in the settiing of the Hogar. This is their "spiritual oasis," but also something of a "golden cage," as Madre Ivonne acknowledges, shielding them from some of the harsher realities of life, concretly symbolized by the four fifteen-foot high walls that enclose the Hogar on all sides. Over the years, Madre Ivonne has become their "madre" in a very real sense. Yet, the healing process is long and arduous, marked by "ups and downs" that must be dealt with patiently, firmly, but with love. Madre Ivonne reminds us that below the surface, the senoritas have real "issues." None of these senoritas come from wholesome families in which they experienced the love of father and mother. Actually, they come out of broken households that we today would term highly dysfunctional. They are all "abandoned, abused, and/or orphaned." Some of their personal stories have a nightmare quality that we cannot quite wrap our minds around. At some point in their lives they have suffered from physical and/or psychological trauma. And yet they have ambitious plans for the future - marine biologist, doctor, teacher, etc. It is wonderful to hear them speak of this.
The lives of the senoritas - and the other ninos and ninas - are deeply and organically woven into the life of the Church. Thye are immersed in the daily, weekly and annual cyles of the Church's liturgical life in a way that is perfectly natural for them. They have a tremendous love and respect for the Church. This is evident even when they clean the church. For the Church is their primary source of healing as it is the primary source of strength, perseverance, commitment and love for Madres Ines, Maria and Ivonne. Christ is the Physician of their souls and bodies - as He is of ours. All of us are in the process of being healed and restored to fellowship with God through our lives in the Church. The more conscious and committed we are to that process, the more "real" it can become. Witnessing this healing process in such "hurt" and damaged children as are at the Hogar is profoundly moving and encouraging. BIG IS GOD!
A Mission Team Next Year?
This was our first Mission Team to the Hogar since 2006. Up to that point we had a team every summer since 2002. I also calculate that twenty-five current or former parishioners have made the journey to Guatemala. Perhaps we have reinvigorated our Mission Team commitment with this year's excellent team and our generous parish donations. Someone has already approached me and asked about next year! The "June slot" has historically always been offered to us, and I will find out from Madre Ivonne if that will hold up for June 2010. She usually makes the schedule in the early Fall and then informs me of the dates. You may want to let me know if you have any kind of tentative desire to be on the team for next year.
If I could answer any further questions, please forward them to me.
Thursday, June 18, 2009
Dear Parish Faithful,
Having returned from a week at the Hogar San Rafael Ayau in Guatemala City, I would like to offer a summary of this year's Mission Team activities and experiences. Over-all, I can write assuredly that the entire trip was muy excellente. I believe that we maintained a good balance between our work project assignments, and accessibility - and thus fellowship - with the ninos, ninas and senoritas. Our (fearless) team leader, Presvytera Deborah, successfully combined the roles of keeping the team in good order, and acting with genuine maternal care for each member's well-being. Her experience with life at the Hogar and its particular "culture" were effective assets throughout the week. The task of further over-all supervision and the directing of each Mission Team to the Hogar belongs to Madre Ivonne. As always, it was a joy to work with her and simply spend some time with her, though her incredibly demanding schedule keeps her constantly on the move from one task to another - including the minor crises of each day. Any conversation that lasts over five minutes is invariably interrupted by a cell-phone call, or an approaching child, teacher, ninera, visitor, etc. with a new question or problem to be solved. The stamina and patience that all of this requires - let alone the ability to address and react to the multi-leveled day-to-day challenges - is staggering to contemplate.
Our Mission Team
On one level, our eleven-member Mission Team was not characterized by great diversity (we were all midwestern, white and Orthodox). However, we did have some real age-related diversity (to keep with the spirit of the times) that embraced some young members - one pre-teen and three teens; some "middle-aged" members; and a few "older" members. This works effectively on more than one level, not least of which are the different types of relationships the children can form within this wide range of age diversity. The Hogar children can enjoy the company of their North American peers; the big brother/big sister relationship with the next age-group up; and the maternal/paternal relationships with the older members. The team was thankfully marked by a spirit of cooperation and closeness as the week progessed. In short, we "got along." We did our best to have a Bible Study in the early evening, followed by an evaluation of the day and preparation for the day to come.
One of the main goals of a Mission Team is to fulfill a work assignment that upgrades the facilities of the Hogar, beautifies the grounds and relieves the Hogar of the financial burdens such work entails. We had two work assignments: painting and landscaping. Presvytera Deborah thus created two groups for these twin tasks. We transferred the music room from one spot to another newly-prepared room; painted a very large room and then transferred the work shop machinery into that room. Landscaping entailed mowing, edging and planting. Luke Loboda was "awesome" in mowing the entire Hogar park and surrounding areas by himself. Actually, a third assignment was assisting with the children in the nursery - holding them, taking them for walks in the outdoors, playing on the swings, etc. This was done primarily by Anne, Anastacia and Alexandra Taylor (though Anastacia also helped in the painting). And a fourth assignment was helping the younger boys to swim. This was done by Luke Loboda and Anthony Jula from Columbus. This work is carried out within the framework of the liturgical cycle of daily Matins (7:00 a.m.) and Vespers (4:15 p.m.) I also celebrated a somewhat delayed Pentecost Liturgy for the Hogar on Tuesday morning.
Memorable highlights, chronologically listed, included: 1) A trip to the mall supervised by Anastasia Kostoff of our younger team members together with the older senoritas to see a film about the Jonas Brothers(?), sponsored by one of our parishioners. 2) Distribution of the special gifts for the senoritas in the beautiful setting of the Hogar park provided by our parish members. 3) A real "fiesta," with pinata, Mariachi band and dancing in honor of one of the Hogar school supervisor's fiftieth birthday. 4) A power-point presentation of our Mission Team members and the parish to a large group of the Hogar children. 5) A very exciting evening to see the Moscow circus(!) with our entire team and the senoritas, together with some of the other younger ninos and ninas. This was quite a night out! The Russian embassy in Guatemala provided the tickets for all of the Hogar children. (Madre Ines has established a good working relationship with the Russian embassy. In July she will be taking two former members of the Hogar family to Russia where they will study engineering in a five-year program. They will initially live in a monastic setting in and around Moscow). 6) A trip to the Holy Trinity monastery to greet Madres Ines and Maria, that began with the celebration of the Divine Liturgy in the breathtakingly beautiful cathedral church there. This was followed by a day in Antigua to which we invited eight of the senoritas for some sight-seeing and the inevitable shopping. 7) A final pizza and coke party also sponsored by one of our parishioners.
Monetary donations came from a wide range of sources: the wekly "basket by the Cross;" an Ice Cream Sundae Sale sponsored by the Church School; a baklava sale sponsored by members of St. Katherine's Sisterhood; specifically-designated donations for activities with the children or our work assignments; money left with Madre Ivonne for a future Fall event; and assorted miscellaneous donations from outside the parish. This all amounted to about $4,950.00!
In addition there were seven suitcases "stuffed" to over-capacity with new clothing, games, school-related items, domestic items, etc. In other words, we more than retained our "reputation" for genorosity to the Hogar and its children. The three other parishes represented on our Mission Team also brought further generous monetary and item donations. Madre Ines insisted that I express her deep appreciation for these gifts and donations and our continuing support of the "abandoned, abused, and orphaned children" of the Hogar.
To be concluded with a few closing comments, hopefully by tomorrow.