Thursday, February 27, 2020

Christmas In Papua New Guinea

Towards the end of November, we had a special Christmas celebration before the girls left school,  Hamamas Krismas means Merry Christmas in Pidgin.  So we had our Hamamas Krismas celebration with student singing carols, performing dances and biblical skits about the birth of Jesus.  We ended the school year on November 29th with class parties and all the excitement that the end of school year usually holds.

We, teachers, administration, and staff, worked one more week and ended our work on December 6th.  During that week, we went to the Liamo Resort and spend some relaxing time and a meal to close out our 2019 school year.  We exchanged gifts with our Secret Santa and received a gift from the Sisters. 

Christmas in PNG is celebrated mostly in the churches and not so much in homes.  The tradition of decorating homes with lights, decorating a tree, wrapping and exchanging cards and gifts is practically non-existent here in PNG.  Most families will celebrate Christmas by going to church and then enjoying a special meal with family.  Gift exchanging is not common in PNG.  This made for a bit of a melancholy December for me as I recalled traditions and customs of the season back home.  I was able to enjoy viewing Hallmark Christmas movies that satiated my desire to listen to Christmas music and see decorations. 

The decorations at the vigil Mass were basically those we would use for a birthday party.  As I sat waiting for the vigil Mass to begin, I contemplated the altar decorations I felt these were more like baby shower decorations.  Then it struck me that it did make sense to use the color blue to decorate because a baby boy was born to Mary.
I wish each of you a blessed New Year 2020.  May God grant you good health, happiness and peace.  Thank you for all your prayerful and monetary support that makes it possible for me to be here serving the wonderful people of PNG! 

…and so, my mission journey continues….Jesus, in You I trust. 

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Celebrating 100 Years of the Gospel in Bitokara

In early October, we (sisters and lay missioners) were invited to participate in the celebration the 100th anniversary of the Gospel being brought to the village of Bitokara by a missionary.  We arrived in Bitokara in time for the beginning of the celebration.  There were many people gathered at the parish and priests from throughout the province of West New Britain were also there.  We were warmly welcomed by Fr. Gregory, the Missionary of Charities (sisters) who live and work in that parish/village.  

Soon after the celebration began.  We joined the procession which was led by two men carrying on their shoulders a small replica of the canoe used by the first missionary to transport the Gospel to Bitokara.  Sr. Florentina, Caritas sister, was asked to carry the book of Gospels following the small canoe.  Then religious sisters, us, and priests, and the village folks followed in the procession making our way into the church.  At one point, the procession stopped and Sr. Florentina was asked to place the Gospel on a special small stand placed on the small canoe.  Then we proceeded with the procession.  Along the way, there were chants and songs and the excitement of the day was palpable! 
Once in the church, which was already packed, we took our seats and then the Gospel was taken from the canoe and placed on the altar.  The church exploded with the sound of spontaneous applause!  Then the mass continued, concelebrated by all the priests present.  It was a magical moment for me to be a part of this celebration and this was just the beginning.

After mass, we went to Fr. Gregory’s house to have lunch.  After we had eaten, we were asked to join the parishioners on the lawn of the church for a special ceremony in honor of us missionaries (priests, religious sisters, and lay persons).  We sat under a special tent of honor and speeches were given by several men of the parish.  

Next, we were honored with special gifts from the village folks.  Starting with us, lay missionaries, we were called forth and presented with three gifts, no not gold, frankincense, nor myrrh, but just as special to the people of Bitokara (and PNG).  We each received a floor mat, hand woven from palm leaves, often used to sleep on.  Also, we were presented with three taros (vegetable) which grows here in WNB, and finally with a portion of a pig ready for cooking. 
The pig had been slaughtered in honor of us this day (great honor here in PNG).  I was humbled and very touched as I felt the kindness, faith and respect from the people.  The religious sisters were honored next and finally the priests, all received the same three gifts.  Then we were honored with local dances.  The dancers were brightly adorned with beautiful, bright colored costumes.  
Soon after that, we headed back to Kimbe.  This was an awesome and humbling experience.  One that I will hold dear to my heart. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Life in Kimbe Part III: Clean-a-thon

The next event for our school was our community service in the form of a Clean-a-thon around the town of Kimbe.  Faculty, admin, and students (and several parents) gathered at school at 6:30 a.m. on a Saturday and headed out of our campus and into the town of Kimbe, brooms, rakes, gloves and trash bags in hand, with the mission to pick up all trash (rubbish, as it is called here) to make the town a more pleasant place.
We broke off into groups by grade level and were assigned a certain area to clean.  Two teachers were assigned to monitor each grade level.  I was assigned to monitor the Grade 12 students.  We went around the area designated for us and cleaned for about 2-3 hours.  When we were done, we looked back and realized how nice the town looked.  As we cleaned, people who had come to shop were able to witness us picking up rubbish and thanked us or made nice comments about our work. 

Since that one day, we have also joined efforts with a local company who also organized their own clean-a-thon and again we were able to witness to the community of how to care for the town.  Now we are seeing less rubbish thrown around the town.  Some businesses have now put out rubbish bins in front of their store, posted signs asking people to dispose of their rubbish responsibly, and some businesses are now sending their employees out to clean their respective sidewalk area a few minutes before closing.  This was something not done prior to our clean-a-thon.  The sisters have decided that we will have a monthly clean-a-thon from now on to help “change the mindset of people” to help them become responsible for keeping the town clean.  The mayor of the town is also supporting our efforts as are several businesses by providing gloves, trash bags, water, and snacks for our students to use and enjoy during our clean-a-thon.  Also, the mayor has asked businesses to take responsibility to maintain their areas clean.
To be continued...

Monday, November 4, 2019

Life In Kimbe Part II: Technical & Sports Days

In June, our school held their annual Technical Day.  Technical Day was held on a Saturday.  The weeks leading up to the actual event were a buzz with activity both in and outside the classrooms.  The myriad of preparations, practices, and projects made for a very busy time around here. 

Technical Day is a day where students showcase all they have and are learning both academically and technically.  Students also perform dance, showcase how to decoratively skirt a table, frost and decorate a cake, fold table napkins into fancy designs, and set a table for a formal meal.  Many projects, and other work that students have done in various classes are put on displayed to show their learning and skills. 
I, along with Danita (fellow LMH missionary) and another teacher, were in charge of displaying student work for the English Department.  Also, Ms. Mirio (teacher) and I, were in charge of the arts and crafts group and displayed some of the crafts students made.  I taught students how to create beautiful wall art from toilet roll paper holders, spray paint and embellishments.  I was very proud of their work.  They created beautiful wall art.  

The actual day of the event was a great success.  Many parents and family members attended, and a good time was had by all.  The students proudly displayed and/or performed to show their skills, and parents were beaming with pride! 

In July, we had a Sports Day where our students competed against each other in various sports and activities.  During the year, our students are separated into four different color groups…red, blue, green and yellow.  They are given a sports uniform top in the color of the group they belong to.  (FYI, the groups are called “houses” here. I, along with another teacher, was in charge of the Green house.)  
The days leading up to the actual Sports Day, again found us busy with practices and meetings with our “house.”  Each house was asked to do a special precision march, create a cheer/chant, and design a “house” flag.   

On the actual day, we gathered in front of the school office, took some pictures and off we went to the soccer stadium/park next door.  The sisters rented space for the day.  Parents also were invited to join the fun.  Student Houses competed in soccer and volleyball. Then we all settled down for some lunch (picnic/potluck style).  

After all had their fill, we continued with other activities such as a Limbo dance competition, balloon popping, potato sack race, and other relay type of races/games.  This day was a great day of fun and bonding for all students, parents, faculty and administration. The candidates (girls interested in religious life living here) and the other employees (workers) also joined in the fun.  My Green house received no first, second, or third place in competitions, but they enjoyed playing and competing none-the-less.
Stay tuned for Part III:  Clean-a-thon & Faculty Gathering 

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Life in Kimbe, Part I: Walking to Mass

Greetings to you from Kimbe, West New Britain, Papua New Guinea. Since my previous blog back in May, I have continued to remain busy with the many demands and activities of the school where I teach. 

I have come to the realization that teaching is a demanding profession, be it in the U.S. or in a foreign country, such as is the case here at Caritas Technical Secondary School (Kimbe).  The many demands, preparations, delivering of lessons, grading assignments/tests, extra-curricular activities, staff meetings, reports, etc. are all part of being a teacher.  Though I am teaching on the other side of the world and on a different hemisphere, it isn’t much different than in the USA.  Only the place, people and small details change. Sure gives me a sense of how we are truly ONE IN CHRIST! 

Every day that I spend here in PNG is another opportunity to discover more about the culture, language and customs here in Kimbe.  Because I live and work in the large, gated campus of Caritas, my life revolves around the activities and events of our school, and not so much on what goes on outside in the town of Kimbe.  I do venture out into the town to run errands and go shopping and now know my way around the town well.  Also, Sundays find me walking to early Mass (only 6:3O a.m. in English and 8:00 a.m. in Tok Pisin Masses are available here…none later in the day). 

The cathedral of the diocese is still not built and therefore Mass was held her at the Caritas gym until June.  Now the diocese rents space from the city and our Masses are held in a large tent adjacent to the soccer field.  One of my favorite things to witness and be a part of on Sundays is walking to and from Mass.  Seeing all the people walking and headed the same way really touches my heart and speaks to me of the great faith and love for the Church these people have.  They are true witness for me!  
Also, along the way, folks will greet me and often will chat as we walk together.  One Sunday, a young girl named Daisy, about 16 years old, walked up to me, greeted me and warned me of a truck coming behind me.  As we moved over to let the truck go by, I thanked her and thought she would continue walking ahead of me, but much to my surprise, she continued to walk with me.  We chatted along the way and I found out she is a 10th grader at the local public high school (Kimbe Secondary School).  She asked how the U.S. is and if I live near New York.  I shared with her that I come from Texas and that is very far from New York.  She then said she hopes one day to go visit New York because she sees it many times in movies. 

As we neared where I needed to cross the street go buy some things, I bid her farewell, but she said, “Oh no, Sister, I will come with you and help you.”  I really didn’t need her help but seeing her desire to accompany me, I thanked her and she went with me to the store.  I offered her a drink and some cookies and she was delighted.  As we left the store, she insisted on carrying the bag with my purchases.  So we continued and finally when we got to the Caritas gate, she gave me the bag, thanked me and said, “See you next Sunday.”  I assured her of my prayerful support as she continues her studies and will sit for her national exams on the same week as my students, and we parted ways. 

I was so touched with her kindness and willingness to help me out.  This is just one example of the kindness that folks here are always so willing to offer others.  I continue to pray for her and I am sure some Sunday in the near future we will see each other again. 

(Coming soon, Part II:  Technical Day & Sports Day)

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.

Christmas In Papua New Guinea

Towards the end of November, we had a special Christmas celebration before the girls left school,   Hamamas Krismas means Merry Christmas ...