Advent: Week 1: On Waiting in Hope and On Finding God in the Present

by Alumni / 29. November 2014 18:18

Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don't give up. - Anne Lamott

These past few weeks, I have been reflecting a great deal on what it means to wait in hope.  As Catholics entering into the Advent season, we begin by reflecting upon the hopeful waiting for the arrival of our Lord.

Sometimes, it feels as though hope is impossible to spot in the darkness, but as Anne Lamott so wisely shares, often hope begins in darkness.  There were many times during my year in South Africa as an Augustinian Volunteer, where I experienced a feeling of hopelessness.  Often I felt that the problems I witnessed were so incredibly vast that I could not possibly make a change, a difference, a dent.  However, as I was reading through my South African blog in preparation for this reflection, I realized that my blog entries were full of hopefulness and beauty and laughter. And these words were the result of showing up, they were the result of getting out of bed each day and loving the world and loving each other and loving God.  And, while waiting in hope for a more peaceful and joy filled world, what a gift it is to be able to find God currently in our midst.

The most hopeful moments of my life have often come from moments in my life that seemed the most challenging.  These moments often came in the midst of waiting for God to show up.  But as we prepare our heart and homes for the coming of Christ, let us not forget to be aware of the God already present in our lives. 

Fr. Jim Martin, SJ reflected this week about joyful waiting by saying “Find God today—but wait in hope for a beautiful future.” During this Advent season, I pray that we each might wait in joyful hope for a more beautiful world while also recognizing the beautiful presence of God in our midst right now.

 

Becca Little
AV Alum
South Africa 2010 

 

Questions for further reflection:

In what ways have you "found God today"?

In what ways are you being called to "wait in hope" this advent season?

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Alumni | Internationals 2010

What protects your heart?

by Admin / 15. November 2010 11:06

What protects your heart? Is it stability in life, love and family? Is it confidence in the work place or the understanding that regardless of how bad your day may be, at the end there will always be a healthy dinner on your plate, a secure roof over your head and a warm bed calling your name? Is it the realization that healthy or sick an educated physician is merely a phone call away and medical attention is accessible day or night? Is it the knowledge that with the wealth of education you received options for employment and advancement are endless?

Take away stability. Remove confidence and understanding. Evaporate the table of food, well constructed roof and warm bed. Eliminate access to medical professionals, confiscate necessary medicine and delete the option for education.

Forget about viable transportation or a reliable income, for those never existed within your possession. Add a lifetime of suppression, depression and disappointment. Add a generation of deaths and diseases pillaging your community, your neighbors and your home.

Welcome to South Africa. Welcome to the everyday reality of the children my roommates teach and the patients I care for. Welcome to the life of Lindiwe, a patient of mine at the Hillcrest AIDS Respite Center and a dear friend.

Often Lindiwe slept the day away silently so I was surprised early one morning while giving her a bed bath when she asked me if she could have the cloth to wash her own face. Typically patients who can not make it through a traditional standing shower are bathed in their beds – head to toe. As I handed Lindiwe her washcloth I was silently thankful for her new found strength, a sign perhaps that she would be on the upswing.

Her bath was finished and her hair was braided. It was a slow morning at the Respite Centre so I had plenty of time to sit and talk with her. She told me that even though her body was not doing well her heart and her head were protected because of the love in her life. Love from her beautiful family and love from Jesus.

Mid sentence she paused.

She took one deep breath and she asked me to help her lay down saying she wasn’t feeling well. As she neared the pillow her eyes rolled into the back of her head. Her body grasping for air, her breaths shallow. As seven am turned to eight, eight to nine, and nine to ten I sat there. I held her hand and I prayed.

Lindiwe, age 40 passed away. She left behind a family who adored her including three beautiful young children.

I often leave the AIDS Centre at a crossroads of thoughts. As the unrest and cacophony of the day surround me I frequently find myself feeling heartbroken and discouraged. It is in those moments that I pause and think about what protects my heart.

Although the stability and confidence I have help, it’s not them. It’s not the food or shelter I am blessed with or my availability to medicine and knowledge. It’s the unspoken love that I am surrounded with during the beautiful days and most importantly during the harder days. It’s the deep faith and ever present strength in the eyes of my patients even when their pain is beyond intense and their bodies are giving up. It’s the loving support of my three roommates whose hands support mine in friendship, love and prayer at the start and end of each of my days.

My heart is protected by experiencing first hand how freely love flows in South Africa. It’s protected by witnessing the deep faith of my patients who, like Lindiwe have encouraged my strong belief in something bigger than myself.

Meghan McKennan
South Africa 2010
Bronx 2008-2009

 

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Internationals 2010

The Advantages of Always Saying “¡SI!”

by Admin / 29. October 2010 11:03

One of the most important qualities an AV volunteer can have in a place like Chulucanas, Peru is the ability to be flexible, open to new ideas and experiences, and comfortable with the unknown…and the uncomfortable. I tried to come into my year of service without expectations, because if I knew one thing for sure, it was that I had no idea what I was getting myself into. The great thing about Chulucanas is that you have the opportunity to have multiple and numerous jobs that may change throughout the course of the year and may accumulate as well, so it is a good thing that I didn’t have some fixed idea of “my job in Peru”. Instead, I tried to take advantage of them all.

The theme of my blog started out with my new local friends teasing me about how I always say yes….yes to taking on random jobs or favors or activities. I guess they got tired of me always dividing up my time, but I would like to elaborate on how each time I said “yes” I got unforgettable and unique experiences in return.

1. Michael Jackson
Peruvians really love MJ. I mean, I am a huge fan myself but these people don’t even know what he is singing about and they go crazy for his songs. It’s great. The students I teach at the parochial school found out I shared their love for the King of Pop (RIP), and they asked me to choreograph a dance for them for the annual Mother’s Day celebration. Of course I said yes, thinking it would be a small side project that would end up being one of many numbers at a small after school gathering of some students’ and moms. WRONG. First of all, they wanted to do Thriller, which I was all for because I remembered some choreography from when I danced it for my high school dance team one Halloween. I guess I didn’t take into account that they didn’t understand the song was about terror and zombies, but I figured their moms would appreciate the creativity. After a few weeks it was show time, and the kids had gone out and rented a smoke machine, strobe light, made costumes by cutting up old shirts, and found a guy to paint their faces like dead people. We were the last number…the grand finale in an auditorium packed with moms…some even standing outside the doors looking in. It was a huge success and the kids were so happy… I don’t think the moms even cared that their mother’s day gift was their son or daughter acting like they were back from the dead. Not only was this something they will remember from their last year of high school, but it was something I will never forget either. The whole experience helped me reach out to the students who may not always be present in class and show up with their English homework done, but who have these extraordinary personalities and talents that I would not have never known had I limited myself to the classroom setting. I was able to gain the kids’ trust within the first months of teaching, and this has been so helpful for the rest of my year volunteering at the school. The number was asked to be performed at another school a few months later, and I was also asked to help choreograph for another group of girls for a dance competition. Opportunities like these helped me to meet more of the youth in the community and feel more involved in and a part of Chulucanas.

2. English
I never imagined that being able to speak English in a poor Spanish-speaking town would be so incredibly valued/sought after. Almost everywhere we go, we are asked by people where we teach, how they can enroll, if they can get private lessons, etc. It was a little overwhelming at first but I took on classes at the high school, classes for adults at a community center run by the Sisters of Mercy, and classes at the new seminary of the Chulucanas Diocese. The advantage here for saying yes to all three jobs as a teacher was the amazing relationships I was able to form. Not only do the kids at school make me smile every day, but they can make me forget about any problems I have instantly because they have a way of sensing when something is off, and I am so grateful for each one of them. The seminarians are also friends I will miss. I don’t know what our 4th of July would have been like without them at our house for an “American style” party, and I am not sure I will ever have the opportunity to be buddies with future priests again. Lastly, one of the most special relationships I made was with my conversation class, consisting of two girls close to my own age. In Chulucanas, it is very difficult to make friends with a) women b) women my age. Why? Well, sadly it is not rare in this culture to have a family or be a single mother by the time you are 23 (meaning you are stuck in the house), and if that is not the case, you don’t necessarily stick around Chulucanas. Many of the girls go to the city to study and only come home on the weekends, making it difficult to make friends with people who are not 12 or 70 years old. I was lucky to be able to have these two girls as my students, but more importantly my friends. It is amazing how you can tie in a conversation lesson with watching movies and listening to music in English!

3. Others
So as not to make this entry obnoxiously long, I will conclude with a brief summary of other “yeses”. Yes to learning and dancing a traditional Peruvian dance in front of a team of volunteer doctors from the U.S. Yes to quitting vegetarianism and eating pig intestine my second week in Peru (which turned into eating a lot more meats…that I ended up really enjoying). Yes to going to baby showers and birthdays and saying yes to participating in their games (which may or may not have consisted of dressing up as Barney). Each of these experiences were unique and (as cliché as it sounds) once in a lifetime.

I will miss the beautiful and random life I have lived in my year in Chulucanas, but from it I will take so much. Above all, an adventurous outlook that looks to suck out all the juice life has to give.

Clarissa Negrete
Chulucanas, Peru 2010

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Internationals 2010

My Peruvian family feels complete now

by Admin / 8. October 2010 10:58

Each Peruvian volunteer spends a month living with a family. Mine consists of a mom, dad, two sisters, one brother, a niece, and a dog. A few months later I was able to add a grandma to my family. I met Rosita several months ago. Then, we were simply members of the same parish, but now she calls me her granddaughter and I call her my Peruvian grandma.

Part of our work at the parish health office is visiting patients in their homes. This includes patients with varying medical conditions, typically the impoverished elderly. Rosita is in her eighty’s with a sound mind, long grey hair, and not a single tooth. She lives on the few centimos she charges merchants in the market to use her bathroom (a hole in the ground) and by the good of her neighbors. I visit her every day in her home which is made of a stick roof, dirt floor, chickens and ducks roaming about. Rosita had 12 children, 6 survived, so I couldn’t understand how someone at her age, who can barely walk should be living alone. Her abusive husband passed away 3 years ago, and most of her children moved away. The ones who live close by visit from time to time and her grandchildren who live in the same town say they’re too busy to visit. On one visit I noticed a large wound on her leg from a fall which became infected and caused her foot to swell. With her other medical conditions I wanted to take her to the hospital however the Peruvian national insurance was on strike and patients were not being admitted. So I gathered supplies for wound care and took care of it myself. Every day I would wash and bandage her leg. On one particular day Rosita who is normally all jokes began to sob. She cried because none of her children or grandchildren who she spent most of her life raising and caring for will take care of her now in her old age. It wasn’t the first time I’ve seen her cry for this reason.

With the help from one of her neighbors Rosita was able to see a doctor from the states during a medical campaign. Once her prescription runs out I make sure to get her another months supply from the parish who donates medicine to patients who do not have the funds to purchase them. I enjoy watching Rosita take her pills. She holds them in her hand, closes her eyes, and raises the pills above her head, then sings a song to God to heal her. Her blood pressure is under control now and she no longer has dizzy spells or headaches.

My favorite place in Chulucanas is sitting next to Rosita in “my chair” on her porch where there’s a nice breeze and shade. She sings songs and we clap or play air guitar together. She has a witty sometimes improper comment about every shopper in the market. Passer bys think she’s an odd old woman but I’ve been blessed to get to know and care for Rosita. Her life has been full of challenges, she’s suffered much, and yet she is one of the most faithful, lively and humble persons I’ve met during my service in Peru.

Laura Garza
Chulucanas, Peru 2010

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Internationals 2010

The Great Divide: The Most Challenging Thing I’ve Encountered as an Augustinian Volunteer in South Africa

by Admin / 7. October 2010 12:14

I was asked to tell you about what I find most challenging about being an AV in South Africa. Most of these words are ones that I wrote down at the very beginning of my time here in KZN. Today, nine months later and still in South Africa, this is still the truest and most resounding challenge I have in my daily life as a volunteer.:

Last weekend (January 2010) we went out on the town in Durban. It was a much anticipated social event. As 4 females we aren’t able to get out too often after the sun sets.

So – our new friends from the Kloof parish took us out. It was an eagerly awaited event, but it induced a sort of social schizophrenic sensation in our minds. I am now two people. Becca – the fun, extroverted American volunteer hanging out with new friends at an ocean front restaurant after a long week of work. And, Becca – the 1000 Hills Community Helpers employee sharing a government provided meal with the people of Inchanga. It blows my mind that my work daily brings me to a place that most white South Africans would rarely think to go. And so a battle has begun within my heart to try and identify with both of these women. To maintain some semblance of togetherness when there are two radically different aspects of my life that are daily waging war against each other.

I could go into detail about many instances when I felt this divide. For instance, last Saturday night, we had dinner at Moyo with the Kloof crew. It was the type of place I imagine a guided tour of Durban would take you. It was a surreal experience watching people flash photos of dancers at Moyo who were paid to demonstrate the tribal dances of KZN. Everyday at St. Leo’s I see the learners do the same type of tribal dancing. They dance not because they are paid to or as a tourist spectacle, but because it is a part of their culture. It is who they are and brings joy to them. Again – so hard to bring these two vastly different worlds together.

I felt no solidarity at Moyo. In fact, in the moments while I was eating and drinking there I felt as separate from the people of KZN as I possibly could have.

Even attending church is a testament to these two different worlds. We attend the long Zulu mass at St. Leo’s, barely understanding what is said but being in beautiful communion with the people of Molweni. Then at night we attend mass at Our Lady of Mercy (Kloof) and it is so wonderful to have a relationship with people our own age that live in South Africa. Mass at Kloof is entirely in English and has familiar praise and worship music and is such a comfort to me so far from home. But there are rarely Zulu families at this Mass. There still seems to be such a divide.

Even the geographical location of my home enforces the division. Most Zulu people live in the valley, while our home sits on a hill overlooking Embo. We are – even physically – positioned higher than the people we work with on a daily basis.

I haven’t figured out how to cope with these thoughts and feelings (still – 9 months later – I have no consistent and successful solution for coping with the divide). I have had the recurring realization that this may be something I will never be at peace with. Being born into the middle class as a white citizen of the United States, there are some things that I will never truly be able to understand. And I don’t know how to approach that realization. Yet – ministry of presence, community and loving the people I am with, no matter who they are or what their background, seems to be a successful step in dealing with this.

Becca Little
South Africa 2009 - 2010

 

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Internationals 2010

Learning How To Pray

by Admin / 3. April 2010 04:39

It’s another Tuesday at St. Leo’s Primary, and I’m seriously dragging. The photocopier is out of toner again, which means the vocabulary test that we’d planned for Grade 5 has to be a bit more off the cuff than I’d anticipated—but that’s the nature of teaching in this school. This is a place where almost seven hundred learners have been admitted to the school, despite lack of space and individual attention; a place where pencils are in such short supply that they have to be labelled with names to keep them from going missing; a place where teachers engaging their students in the classroom is the exception, and not the rule.

But St. Leo’s is also a place where the library is one of the most valued spots in the school; where the enrollment is so high that the administration can’t keep up, just because parents want their children to learn English with Americans; a place where the sound of young voices singing can make even the most miserable Monday mornings worth it. In a country where the population has big dreams and very little follow-through, the children at St. Leo’s are an example of the hope I’ve come to look for with each day that passes here in South Africa.

Break at St. Leo’s comes early– at ten o’clock in the morning, I’m not hungry and not ready to interrupt the day just yet. On this particular Tuesday, the four classes that follow break are even more of a struggle than the two I had this morning. We attempt to review some lessons from the previous weeks after the test is finished and graded, but the learners are lethargic and I’m losing my patience. I can only repeat myself so many times—a mystery is “a puzzle without an answer”, and “a chance to do something” is an opportunity, not often. And then, just when I’m about to resort to reading them a story instead, the bells from the church next door ring to signal midday, and the sixteen Grade 5 students in front of me stand up, fold their hands, close their eyes, and bow their heads. They begin to pray.

Yethi Maria, ogcwele igrasiya, iNkosi inawe, ubusisiwe wena esifazaneni, ibusisiwe nenzalo yesisu sakho uJesu. Maria ocwebileyo, Nina kaNkulunkulu, mawusikhulekele thina zoni, manje nasesikhathini sokufa kewthu. Amen.

As the words rise to Mary who hears and understands, whether in English or in Zulu, I close my eyes and lean against the bookshelf near my desk, reflecting on the day so far and silently asking God to help me through the rest. I open my eyes again and look around the room, at the boys and girls in front of me, praying fervently in the midst of the schoolday. My heart is filled with so much love.

This is the type of encounter with God I have come to know and appreciate during my time as an AV in South Africa—the prayers that offer me respite from the noise of language barriers, racial identity, and poverty.

Though I’m a teacher, I’ve learned from these students; learned that prayer has to be an integral part of every day, even if it is just a few Hail Marys quickly spoken during a vocabulary review, or hymns sung during assembly as the sun rises over the valley. The Zulus’ prayer life is one without expectations or judgment, where I can participate in a Zulu teachers’ prayer meeting in English and no one minds. The devotion to everyday spirituality that I’ve witnessed here in South Africa is inspiring, especially when the living conditions of some should adversely affect their wellbeing. But it is these simple daily encounters with a very present God that give South Africans the hope they need to push onwards. This entire year is my classroom, and the people with whom I spend my days are my teachers, gently guiding me towards the presence of God.

Sinéad Cloughley
South Africa 2010

 

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Internationals 2010

Community Support

by Admin / 4. March 2010 04:42

Coming into this year I had a pretty clear idea about what community life was all about because I spent last year volunteering in the Bronx. I was somewhat leery of my new community because I knew they wouldn’t be the same gals I had come to know and love last year. They would have different expectations for this year, and I would be coming into the year with my own set of pre-conceived notions. These were my thoughts before orientation in August.

Then I went home to California for the next four months while I waited for our departure in January. Just during those few months, I easily slipped back into life outside of community. I was excited to move back into the community lifestyle, but at the same time I was worried about losing the independent lifestyle I had lived for the last four months! However, that desire for total independence quickly lifted when we landed in the Lima airport. It was clear from the moment we got off the plane that community support was absolutely necessary.

Unlike last year in the Bronx, here in Peru, we did not live together for the first month, so our community wasn’t formed first by becoming roommates and scheduling out cooking, cleaning, and prayer. Instead, our community started out more as a support group. When we met up with each other we would vent, talk about interesting events, people and sometimes weird bugs and animals. We have faced cultural differences and challenges together and we’ve met to support each other spiritually all through the time we were living separately. Our small community of three has been my first resource in many decisions and preoccupations. And in particularly, as a community of women in Chulucanas we are in a unique situation and we often find ourselves supporting each other after experiencing remarks or situations in which are treated differently because we are women.

I’ve also come to recognize communities outside of the three of us, who have offered our volunteer community a sort of home in the larger Chulucanas community. Those people are first the host families with whom we shared the month of February. They taught us a lot about the culture and the simple life that people in Chulucanas live. Secondly were the people at the Obispado, where we lived for two weeks. The third group I mention in hopeful anticipation- the Augustinian Friars, who we will be meeting on a weekly basis, now that we have moved into our permanent community home.

To sum things up, my expectations about the new community were quickly redefined by my experiences thus far. Every day is truly a whole new adventure, and the support system we have with each other has probably been the only stable element in our volunteer year thus far. Since we have finally moved in together, I’m excited to get to know them on a different level. As a community we have yet to face the little conflicts that roommates always encounter, however I feel like our community of three will remain my strongest form of support and understanding throughout this experience.

Katie Abajian
Chulucanas, Peru 2010

 

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Internationals 2010

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