Monday, May 13, 2019

Recap of Recent Events

Greetings from the lovely tropical island nation of Papua New Guinea.  It’s been several months since my last blog and much has happened here which has kept me busier than I would want.  I will try to recap many of the events here on mission as I can.  For starters, since my last blog back in February, I have had the opportunity to accompany Bishop Fey, several seminarians, priests, Sisters of Charity and Danita (fellow LMH also here at Caritas) to a village named Valupai where Bishop Fey confirmed about 100 young men and women on the feast of St. Joseph.  The road was very bumpy as many roads are full of large potholes and many others are unpaved.  When we arrived at the village we were warmly welcomed by the pastor, a Polish missionary priest.  The parish was a buzz with activity as people were there from several surrounding villages (many folks walked for hours to get there).  They spent the night camping out in classrooms and many stayed up praying and singing throughout the night.  The excitement of this special event to be celebrated the next day was palpable and the faith of the people was inspiring. 

The next morning the mass began with a “sum, sum” (traditional processional dance up the main aisle) to usher in the young men and women to be confirmed and Bishop Fey.  The church was packed and the choir sang beautifully!  The confirmation lasted well over 45 minutes.  After the mass, the celebration began with the slaughtering of a pig in honor of Bishop Fey’s visit.  (This tradition is of the highest honor in this culture.)  Many folks prepared other foods to feed the large number of people present.  After the meal several dances were presented to Bishop Fey.  All in all, it was a very interesting, inspiring, and exciting experience as I witnessed the faith, joyfulness, excitement, and friendliness of the people.  

Then it was time to return to Kimbe.  We said our goodbyes, jumped into Bishop Fey’s truck and off we drove.  However, as it had been raining most of the previous day and the day we were leaving, the road was muddy and as we reached a steep uphill in the road, the truck began to slip back. After several tries to make it up the road, the truck’s two driver’s side wheels ended up stuck in a ditch.  We were instructed to jump out of the truck while several men tried to get the truck back on the road.  It took about an hour but finally the truck was back on the road.  We were then instructed to walk up the steep hill so that the truck would be lighter and make it up the road. 

By this time, it was raining, the road was muddy and slippery.  I had left my umbrella in the truck and was wet.  I began to walk up with the other folks (locals) who gracefully walked in the muddy conditions as I kept slipping and sliding, taking one step forward and two steps back.  I would see elderly women, young adults, and even a pregnant woman effortlessly walking next to me and felt that I was here to be with these people, then I would continue walking with them…struggle or not!   When the folks noticed my struggle, some came behind me and would encourage me to step here and there to gain traction under my feet.  Finally, one of the seminarians said to me, “Ms. Maria, take my hand and follow me.  I will pull you long.” And he did.  As I made it up the hill to where the truck was waiting for us, I felt a grace come over me that made me realize what a wonderful sense of community these people have!  I felt carried on the wings of their encouragement when I felt I would not make it up the steep hill.  Close to the top, I found a beautiful shiny, black rock, formed out of the lava of volcanoes, in the shape of a hill/mountain.  I picked it up and now it sits on my prayer area to remind me of how God is always helping me through these beautiful people no matter how hard the road may seem, He is by my side to pull me up from the struggles. 

School here at Caritas continues to keep everyone busy as many activities are planned.  Back in March we were very busy preparing for the visit of the Korean ambassador to PNG along with the governor of West New Britain (the province/state where Kimbe is located).  After days of planning, preparing, and anticipating the visit of such dignitaries, we received word that day as we waited in the gym that the ambassador would not be coming as his flight from Port Moresby was cancelled and there were no more flights into Kimbe.  This was very disappointing but there was nothing more to say or do. 

Then in early April we were fortunate to welcome the Apostolic Nuncio (representative of Pope Francis) to our diocese and school.  He came and offered the school mass and then visited our school and stayed with us for a few hours as our students showcased their technical skills and dancing.  We bid him farewell and thanked him for taking time to visit us.  The days leading up to his visit again were a whirlwind of preparations, practices and other activities all aimed at providing our honored guest with a very warm PNG welcome.  I was amazed at how artistic our girls are and how talented as well!   

At the end of April, the end of Term 1 was coming to a close at school and we teachers were extremely busy with preparation of final exams for the term.  Then the grading of all our exams and finalizing the students’ grades in the several Excel spreadsheets needed to complete students’ report cards.  The staff room (teachers’ work area) was a buzz for days and some late afternoons as we worked to prepare everything.  Finally, the day to distribute report cards came.  Finally, I felt I could breathe again…but not for long as new activities, lessons to plan, classes to teach, etc. were upon us.

We did get the Triduum off, plus Easter Monday off.  This was a much needed break, though short…it was very welcomed.  During the break, I was invited to join a friend and co-worker, Brigette, to spend some time at a beach house that her parents rented at a private beach called Dami.  We relaxed in the house, watching movies on her laptop, enjoyed tasting the traditional PNG foods prepared by her sister and mother, and spent time on the small beach mostly in the water.

I returned to the Caritas campus on Saturday evening to join he Sisters for the Vigil Mass here in Kimbe. The Vigil celebrations were beautiful and attended by a massive crowd.  About 40 people, young and old, were baptized into our Catholic faith.  Though the Mass lasted well over 3 hours, it was wonderful to experience the traditions, hear the singing in both English and Tok Pisin and witnessing the simple yet strong faith of the people.  Easter here is not about the bunny, candy, baskets, new clothing, etc.  It’s a about CHRIST’S RESURRECTION! 

On Easter Sunday, early in the morning (5 a.m.) I accompanied the Sisters to the village of Vavua where the Sisters gave vocation talks after Mass to the young women, while myself and a Salesian volunteer from U.S. taught a few Sunday school songs to the children.  They in turn sang songs for us as well.  It was a beautiful experience.  Everywhere one goes, people are so welcoming and genuinely happy and grateful for our visit.  Along the way to Vavua, we witnessed a beautiful Easter Sunday sunrise!  I find God in so many places, events and people here in a different way than I have before.. 
 Back at school, we are now into the fourth week of Term 2 and the busyness of classes, activities, etc. continues to consume our days (and some evenings with grading and planning).  This coming week we will welcome the visit of the Mother General of the Caritas Sisters.  Her visit is a great honor for our religious sisters who run the school and for us here at Caritas.  We have been very busy preparing dances, sports events, marches, etc. to welcome our special guest.  Next week promises to be a whirlwind of activities as we make the final preparations and rehearsals, in addition to teaching and the many other myriad of teacher duties. 
As always, know that I keep you all in my daily prayers and thank you for your prayerful support as I continue this journey in a far off land where God continues to bless and surprise me in all I see, hear, and experience.  The more I learn about this country and its people, the more I realize just how much we have in common as brothers and sisters in Christ.  I look forward to the many more blessings and surprises our Lord has in store for me here!  Blessings to you and may God bless you!  Stay tuned for more about my time here in PNG, a land blessed with abundant natural resources, where people, animals, insects and lush vegetation commune gracefully day to day! 

Friday, February 15, 2019

My New Home For Three Years

Greetings from Kimbe, West New Britain, Papua New Guinea (PNG)!  I arrived in Port Morsbey, the capital city of PNG in the afternoon of Friday, January 25th, and was met at the airport by the Caritas sisters (Korean) and Danita Kurtz, LMH missionary about to complete one year on mission here in Kimbe).  After 20+ hours of travel, their welcome and smiles was a blessing!  From the moment I arrived in PNG, even at the Customs area, local folks greeted me with warm smiles and welcome.  Several men offered to help me pull my luggage from the baggage claim and place them onto a luggage cart, which are available for free here…a nice surprise! 

The sisters took us to their convent in Port Morsbey to spend the night there since our flight to Kimbe did not leave until the following day in the afternoon. They were very kind and hospitable and fun to be with.

Finally, on Saturday, January 26th, we arrived in the late afternoon in Kimbe where Bishop Fey, Bishop of the Kimbe Diocese, was waiting to drive us to Kimbe.  As we traveled 2 hours to Kimbe down a bumpy highway with so many potholes that the truck would swerve constantly to avoid them, I was amazed at the lush vegetation.  People walking or resting along the road would wave and smile. 

That night Bishop took us to dinner at the nearby resort called Liamo Resort where we enjoyed a delicious hot meal.  The Liamo Resort is a beautiful resort that serves great meals.  By the way, since I have spent the past two weeks mostly sleeping and making my efficiency a home, in addition to the endless lesson planning and paperwork a teacher encounters daily, I have only returned to the Liamo one time.  When I saw it in the daylight, my eyes could not take in all the gorgeous scenery!  The meal was great as was the company of our principal, Danita, and the dorm “mother.”

The day after I arrived here in Kimbe, I was able to appreciate my surroundings here on the grounds of Caritas Technical Secondary School.  I was amazed at the many kinds of beautiful plants and lush vegetation!   Now, from my desk at school, I see palm trees swaying in the wind all day and brightly colored plants that adorn the gardens of the school.

Sad to say, but jetlag hit me hard!!!  I arrived on Saturday night and by Monday morning I was at school meeting folks and trying to figure out how their educational system works.  The lesson planning, reports, assessments, class schedules, discipline, grading, etc. of the PNG educational system and of Caritas Technical Secondary School was quite different than what I am used to in the United States (Texas).  I felt as if I was walking in a fog, my internal clock was so turned around that by 2 p.m. (9 p.m. in El Paso, TX) I was ready to call it a day and go to sleep!  As soon as I got home from school, I would eat something and fall asleep as early as 6 p.m. and sleep, sleep, sleep!  For the first two weeks, I could not understand well what people were telling me or what was being said in meetings here at school.  Getting used to their accent combined with my brain fog/jetlag made understanding them very difficult!  Now I am becoming accustomed to their accent and my jetlag is dissipating.  I can now understand what is being said and the system of lesson planning, etc. is starting to make some sense.  The school year here begins at the end of January and ends in early December. 

I have been teaching now for two weeks.  I am teaching Business Studies to high school girls in grade 9, 10, and Pre-11 (This is a name given to students who did not pass the national exam in grade 10 and therefore often will drop out because they are not accepted in public schools.  The Sisters call them the “second-chance” girls.  It is their effort to help these women continue their studies and hopefully graduate from high school.) 

I am also teaching Office Management to Grade 11 students.  Flexibility is a must here.  Schedules change almost daily as do assignment of what one will teach, when one will teach, what classroom one will teach in.  So I listen and go with the flow!  No it’s not the American way, but I remind myself I am not in America…this is PNG! I’m getting to know and enjoy working with the staff and faculty here and am impressed at their dedication and hard work, even staying for staff meetings that can last up to 2 hours after a full day of teaching.    

The students are very well behaved and respectful.  They are also very shy and quiet in class.  Getting them to respond aloud has been a challenge but they are slowly getting used to my teaching style and to the fact that it is o.k. to give an incorrect answer.  I enjoy the school Masses (every Wednesday) and just love to hear them sing so beautifully and harmonize so well.  Often I am touched by their singing and it brings tears to my eyes.
Another thing that shocked my body was the intense humidity (about 95-100% everyday!) especially coming from El Paso, TX where humidity is almost non-existent!  We are now in the “wet season” and it rains about 3-4 times per day with heavy downpours. (Here they have two seasons only…wet and dry and both hot!) Umbrellas are a MUST here.  No one ventures out without their umbrella!  One Sunday, I saw that the sun was shining, so I chose not to carry my umbrella, however suddenly the sky opened and rain began to fall as we waited outside church for the previous Mass to end. A kind woman invited me to join her under her umbrella and said, “You must carry your umbrella always.  It serves to block the rain and if it is sunny, then the sun will be blocked too!”   Wise words to a newbee here in PNG!    I am getting used to this weather…feeling soggy is the norm here!   
Also, getting used to the fact that all kinds of bugs and mosquitoes are part of this place has been difficult for me.  The ants here (tons of ants) are relentless! I do so many things to get rid of them but they return in a few hours.  I think I heard a group of ants thanking me for the insecticide I sprayed on them.  They probably just lick it up like candy and laugh at this American trying to get rid of them!  I’ve learned several natural ways to ward them off, like cucumber peelings….it works!  Well at least long enough to let you cook and eat!  Peppermint essential oil in witch hazel or even water works well too…I spray it and they leave for a while.  There are bugs here I have never seen before, like the HUGE spider that greeted me the other morning on my bathroom door….YIKES!!!  That thing was a monster!!! I don’t know who was more scared, me or it as I screamed and proceeded to get rid of it!  My only regret is that I did not get a picture of it, but when one is scared who thinks of a camera!!! I know folks won’t believe me but it was about the size of my hand with my fingers extended, No, it was not a tarantula, possibly larger.  Anyway, several other vermin have come to welcome me, but I’ve made it clear to them as I spray and whack them that they have overstayed their welcome and can now leave me alone!!! I suppose it’s just another day in paradise here….lovely scenic vegetation comes with its price, in this case….lots of critters!

The people here in Kimbe have been very welcoming! When I walk through the shopping areas across the street from the Caritas campus and at the city market, where one can find many vegetables, fish, clothing, etc.,  men, women, and children will smile and say “welcome, sister!, Good afternoon/morning, sister!” Danita tells me that is what missionaries are called here as well, sister or brother.  People are helpful as well.  The country is a very poor one but they are rich in values of faith, family, church, community, and hospitality! 

I continue to adjust to my life here and my surroundings.  Soon I know that I will find my new “normal” here and will appreciate and enjoy my time here even more.  Every day I thank God for His blessings and ask him to bless all the folks that have made it possible for me to respond in this way to God’s call to serve our brothers and sisters on this side of the world.  Thank you for your prayerful support!  Thank you for taking time to read my blog.  I will continue to share more of my mission experience.   

In Christ’s love.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Journey to Mission

My name is Maria Luisa Garcia (family and friends call me Marie).  I was born and raised in El Paso, Texas where I was a parishioner of St. Matthew Catholic Church.  My parents immigrated from Mexico thus making me a first generation American. This meant that I grew up knowing and loving two countries, two cultures, and two languages.  Ever since I can recall, I’ve enjoyed meeting people from different cultures, different religions, and/or who speak a different language, and always was curious to learn more about them and their culture. 

I have felt a call to go on mission overseas ever since I was a child.  I recall looking through missionary magazines and seeing the missionaries working with the local people in various countries; and reading their stories.  These pictures and stories always inspired me, and I would hope that one day I too could be a missionary overseas. 

Finally, after many, many years of feeling this call to mission work, I realized that I was not getting any younger and that now was the time to make my dream a reality.  I asked Jesus Christ to guide me to where I could best serve Him as a missionary.  After about two years of searching and praying about this, I learned about Lay Mission-Helpers during my participation at the Religious Education Congress in L.A. back in March, 2018.  I talked to the women (who now I know was our director, Janice England) at the booth. I expressed my lifelong desire to do missionary work overseas but felt that “I had missed the train” because I was too old. (I believed they only wanted young people.)  I was pleasantly surprised when I learned that LMH accepts men and women up to 62 years of age!  So, I took all the brochures and information home, read these carefully, prayed, and felt this was the time to take the leap of faith and apply to do mission work.  

After having gone through the application process and interviews, I was invited to participate in a 4-month formation/discernment program at the Mission House in Los Angeles and participate in the faith life of the neighboring parish of St. John the Evangelist where folks have welcomed us “missionaries-in-training” with open arms and hearts!

Now as we near the end of our formation time, my call and resolve to serve God as a missionary overseas has deepened.  With excitement and great anticipation, I look forward to serving in the Diocese of Kimbe, West New Britain in the country of Papua New Guinea. (Papua New Guinea is an island nation just north of Australia.)  My assignment will be to teach English at Caritas, a Catholic High School for girls, run by sisters from Korea.

Please keep me in your prayers as I wait for my work visa to arrive so that I can hop on a plane and fly out to Kimbe.  I am very excited and thank God for this wonderful opportunity to serve Him and the people of Papua New Guinea!  Be assured of my prayers for you as well.  

Recap of Recent Events

Greetings from the lovely tropical island nation of Papua New Guinea.   It’s been several months since my last blog and much has happened ...