Wednesday, August 7, 2013

More of What We Do and Why We Do It

As I mentioned in my previous post, I wanted to take the time this week to highlight some of what we do in the mission field here in Costa Rica and why we do it. My last post talked about the material help we provide for poorer communities in the form of our chapel building projects.

Our main day to day work here in the field is the work of evangelization. The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines evangelization as the proclamation of Christ and His Gospel by word and the testimony of life, in fulfillment of Christ’s command.” Evangelization is also part of the fulfillment of the Great Commission in Matthew's gospel: "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.

Movie Night in Grano de Oro

Notice that the commission Jesus left us does not only ask us to baptize the nations, but to make disciples of them and to teach them to obey everything He commanded. For this reason, we undertake a two-fold evangelization in our area. One aspect is to continue to effort of firmly planting the Gospel among the Cabecar indigenous people so that they will be baptized and made disciples. The second is the formation and discipleship of the faithful in rural Costa Rican communities of our parish. 

One aspect of the life of the Church in poor countries that can always use support is adult faith formation. Whereas the devotion and deep commitment of many adult Catholics is heroic, often their understanding, appreciation and ability to articulate the basic tenets of their faith is lacking. The priests who serve them are heroic too in their efforts to preach, prepare and form their flocks, but as anyone can tell you, it is not a task they can complete on their own, especially in rural areas where they are often responsible for a huge amount of souls spread out over a wide geographical territory. And without continued formation and discipleship, the Catholic faithful at the ends of the earth are at risk. First, there is a risk that they will not find the understanding, motivation and sense of belonging they need to live in obedience to the Catholic Church's teachings. Secondly, there is the grave danger that a faith based simply on cultural devotion, while it is a testament to the last-lasting traditions of our faith planted so many years ago by the earliest missionaries, will not stand the questions, doubts and cynicism of the next generations who are increasingly enticed and influenced by secular culture. For this reason, we are consistently seeing a need to enliven and strengthen the faith of the faithful in traditionally Catholic cultures as well as to re-evangelize the younger generation to give them a deeper understanding of their faith and the teachings of the Church. This need is prevalent all over the world, in the wealthiest, most well-organized parishes as well as the poorest third world missions. But the poor Church lacks man power and the sheer challenge of geography makes the work even more difficult to accomplish.

San Martin Chapel

For this reason, we have made the ministry the teaching, formation and discipleship of adults in our widespread parish a large part of our ministry. In word and by the testimony of our lives and friendship, we hope to give our brothers and sisters new eyes with which to see their faith and to allow them to "be transformed by the renewing of their minds" so that they will "not be conformed to the patterns of this world" (Romans 12:2).

The main way we are taking on this task is by circulating through our communities using our projection equipment to show quality Catholic movies like For Greater Glory (which is pertinent to our communities since the central church of parish houses a relic of the finger bone of Blessed Jose Luis Sanchez del Rio below the altar) and facilitate a short discussion or teaching on it. These raise interest and bring something new to the catechism efforts previously undertaken in our area. It also offers us a way eliminate the language barrier issue and go far deeper thematically than we could on our own. We follow the "movie night"event in each community by introducing them to the Catholicism Series by Fr. Barron. We then return to the communities to show the series and facility the discussion over the course of a couple of months.  While these types of outreaches are effective in many places and parishes, imagine the effectiveness of this type of outreach in places where the nearest movie theater is two and half hours away and many of the people have never even been to the cinema before. It is fun and exciting for them in addition to being educational. Thanks to modern technology, we can follow Pope Francis'exhortation, "Dear young friends, Christ has confidence in you and he entrusts his own mission to you: Go and make disciples!". by going out to the poor in remote places and bringing them more fully into the fold of the universal Church.

One community we recently visited with both For Greater Glory  and the first episode of the Catholicism Series was the small pueblo of El Progreso. El Progreso is home to our friend Don Oscar (not this Don Oscar, more on him later). Don Oscar is a faithful Catholic man with a radiant smile and a love and zeal for his faith that bubbles over into warm hugs and contagious enthusiasm for every single Mass, Holy Hour, or activity that ever occurs in the chapel just across the dirt footpath from his home. Don Oscar is battling colon cancer and weakening by the day. Each time we go, we arrive early enough to go to his house and visit, thinking surely he will be too weak to come down to the chapel for the presentation. And each time he surprises us by telling us he is going to get ready to come.

Movie Night in El Progreso

The last time we visited El Progreso, Don Oscar's son-in-law carried him to the chapel on his back like a child. He sat gingerly in his wheel chair and looked pain. But still he smiled his radiant smile. And we talked about cancer and praying for healing and death being the ultimate victory is eternal life is our goal. We hugged. We cried. His faith community lifted him up and encouraged him as we sat in that chapel together waiting to begin the first episode of Catholicism. Then the lights went dim and for a brief hour, Don Oscar got to travel to Rome and the Holy Land and see the birth places of his wife. He got to see the faces of his brothers and sisters from far way places. And he learned about what we mean when we call Jesus Messiah and how He is the fulfillment of thousands of years worth of Biblical promises. And, I hope, in that brief time, that three things happened: one, that he was happy for a while, resting from the mental, spiritual and emotional battle with his own mortality and the physical battle with pain, and second, that his hope in heaven, his real faith that this will be his ultimate cure and greatest victory when the moment comes was enlivened, that his thirst for Christ whetted and his knowledge that he is loved and supported by a cloud of witnesses felt deeply. 

This is what it means to evangelize, to make disciples. At the end of the day, it is an exercise in love. An opportunity to go out, meet our brothers and sisters where they are, an offer them the three things that abide: faith, hope and love. To Don Oscar and so many of our brothers and sisters like him, who need someone's strength to see the struggle in hear and now through the lens of eternity.

Pray for Oscar? That's him there in the white shirt.

You can help us in this outreach by making a monthly subscription to cover the fuel expenses of getting out to these remote communities regularly. You can set up your paypal subscription on the Saint Bryce Foundation web page. Also, donations of quality Catholic media presentations and movies that are available in Spanish are welcome. Contact us at stbrycemissions AT gmail DOT com if you have an item you would like to donate.

Monday, August 5, 2013

What We Do and Why We Do It

I am going to take some time this week to write a little bit more about our missionary foundation and the work we do. This blog has mostly been a place where I processed thoughts and shared my heart, but it occurred to me that there may be some newer readers who are stopping by and have very little idea why I live in Costa Rica or what we do as missionaries here.

If you weren't around in the beginning and are not sure where we live, I shared a little geography tutorial here.

If you don't know our personal story and how we ended up back in the mission field in early 2012, you can read my personal perspective in a guest post at My Crazy Adoption.

In order to say "yes"to God and answer His call to serve him in the mission field in Costa Rica, we founded our family foundation: St. Bryce Missions. You can find much there about our history and our mission and what we do. Our mission statement says this:
                                                              Mission Statement
   Saint Bryce Missions is a lay Catholic association of the faithful  established to aid and serve the poor in foreign mission and domestic evangelization. Faithful to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church and under the direction of the local Bishops and Pastors, we promote the rich teachings of the Catholic Church and support the third world missions by serving in lay apostolates such as teaching, evangelization, projects for the poor and helping build church infrastructure. Consecrated to Our Lady of Guadalupe, the source and focus of all endeavors of this lay apostolate is the Most Holy Eucharist and devotion to Our Lady. 

Over the course of this week, I will highlight some of the ministry we work we are currently doing in our large, rural parish, San Antonio de Padua de Tayutic. It is a parish that is comprised of a vast geographical territory which includes 18 rural communities and the entirety of the Chirripo Indian Reservation. While our main work in the mission field is the spiritual work of evangelization, we undertake many material works to aid the poor as well. The principle work among those is the construction and renovation of chapels in poor communities. The reasoning behind making this our principle work is expressed today on the foundation's Facebook page

Why building chapels for the poor is such an important part of the new evangelization, a great witness to charity and the virtue of hope. Blessed John Paul II said in his Papal Encyclical "Ecclesia de Eucharistia" "Like the woman who anointed Jesus in Bethany, the Church has feared no extravagance devoting the best of her resources to expressing her wonder and adoration before the unsurpassed gift of the Eucharist. No less than the first disciples charged with preparing the large upper room, she has felt the need, down the centuries and in her encounters with different cultures, to celebrate the Eucharist in a setting worthy of so great a mystery." 

This is our goal St. Bryce Missions: to help build and restore chapels in poor communities. The poor in many cases want a place to honor the mystery of the Eucharist but do not have the resources within their own community to build a chapel. The poor struggle everyday just to feed their bodies and it is part of our duties to help them meet their basic needs for food and shelter. But along with feeding their bodies, they must be nourished spiritually and come to the understanding of the reality of the hope of heaven so they do not despair at the harshness of their lives and fall into many sins. For Catholics, that nourishment is found in the Bread of Life, the Eucharist, and the life-giving grace of the other Sacraments as well. A chapel built in a poor community is a beacon of hope that rises out of a sea of despair that can draw all men to Christ. For very little of our resources simple chapels can be built from materials that will last for several generations. In providing a sacred space where the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass can take place and the Blessed Sacrament can be made available in the tabernacle, we are honoring Christ and the poor whom Christ loves and desires to be with in His Real Presence. 

This video shows the process and simple design we have created to provide long-lasting, dignified places of worship that will need minimal maintenance over time:

We have completed a number of projects over the last year and a half in the area in which we are working directly, including the chapel above in the indigenous community of Quetzal. All work is funded through donations from sponsors (parishes, groups, families, and individuals) who adopt a particular project and sponsor it.

Last month, our supporters at St. Nicholas Church in Lydia made it possible for us to fulfill our dream of spreading the work of chapel building to other poor areas of Costa Rica, Latin America, and the world by funding the construction of a long awaited chapel for the community of Bella Vista in Puntarenas, Costa Rica. We spent a week visiting with the community and visiting homes to share the joy of our faith and the Eucharistic presence with our brothers and sisters now.

We have a number of new collaborations in other areas we will soon be seeking sponsorship for, but our current priority projects awaiting adoption can be viewed on our funding site. In addition to the Bella Vista chapel above, a chapel reconstruction for the indigenous community of Nimari is fully funded and underway, as well as the Padre Pio chapel in the rural community of Bajo Pacuare de San Joaquin.

Our current priority projects are now the two chapels needed on the island of Chirra in Costa Rica:

There are also a number of smaller renovation projects that can be seen on the funding page as well as information on how you can organize your group to raise funds for a project you would like to adopt. Take some time to look around the site and see if God pulls on your heart to reach out to your brothers and sisters at the ends of the earth and care for the poor by nourishing their souls with the Most Holy Eucharist and plating the virtue of hope in their hearts.

1 Corinthians 13:13 calls faith, hope and love the three remaining, or abiding, virtues:

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love.

And the Catholic Church calls them the theological virtues and the foundation of all Christian moral activity: 
 The theological virtues are the foundation of Christian moral activity; they animate it and give it its special character. They inform and give life to all the moral virtues. They are infused by God into the souls of the faithful to make them capable of acting as his children and of meriting eternal life. They are the pledge of the presence and action of the Holy Spirit in the faculties of the human being. There are three theological virtues: faith, hope, and charity (CCC 1813)
I can think of no better way to act on these virtues and make them apparent to the poor than in your charitable love for them building them a place to practice their faith and renew their hope in the presence of God among them.

Help us by sharing this post, our web sites and Facebook pages with your contacts, spreading the word about who we are and the work we do, and considering if your parish, ministry, community or family might want to adopt a chapel project and work for its completion. E-mail us for more information at stbrycemissions AT gmail DOT com.

**We are often asked about short term groups sponsoring a chapel and coming to participate in its construction. We welcome your group and would encourage you to visit and get to know the community you are aiding, but we prefer to allow local builders to hire workers from within the communities to complete construction problems. It provides much needed work, increases the community's involvement in and responsibility for their project and ensures the work is done according to local quality standards. Thank you for understanding.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Letters to Emma: On Soul Mates, Self-Seeking and Systematic Overload

Dear Emma,
I saw that your mama sent you the links to a few hot articles circulating around these days on the concepts of marriage, romance, and future spouses. I'm sure you weren't too thrilled to find out that you might just marry someone who is not your soul mate and that overly romantic movies might just be women's own version of --blush--pornography. While I am not totally sure I agree fully with that premise, I think there is something about these things worth considering.

Look, you're young, you're trying to figure out this great big thing called life and how to do it God's way. And God love you, Emma, you want it do be a-maz-ing. And you deserve for it to be so, my dear. But here's the thing I re-learn every day of my wide-eyed, high-hoping life. Expectations are the death of amazing. That's why this whole soul mate, "I want to marry Mr. Darcy" thing can be so destructive.

You see, Em, at the end of the day, our notions of what we want, and the feeding of those notions with overly idealized fiction, are usually not the way life works out. And they are almost never the way a life lived radically sold out for the gospel turns out. And so when we indulge in crafting our own idyllic visions of life, of marriage and of the men we will marry, we risk being constantly plagued by disappointment. The problem with that is that disappointment is never content to be just disappointment. It insists on growing into resentment, envy and covetousness. It is an ugly little monster.

And we, Emma, girls like you and me? We are the queens of expectations. And, in my case, dramatic let down. When I was graduating from high school, there was some question in our cute little final profiles about the man we would marry. I wrote about the wild concoction of a man that was lot of my daddy, a lot of Jesus and little bits of physical pieces of about twenty-five movie stars and fictional characters. Really, I did. By the time I graduated from college, I had met a couple of men who kind of looked like this fictional man in my mind. And I'll tell you what, Emma, it was a good thing there was that little bit of Jesus and my daddy in my criteria, because they were all big fat jerks who were nothing like either of those two.

So at twenty-two, I took to hiding in the Adoration Chapel and lamenting dramatically my old maid-dom. And telling all my friends that if I wasn't married by the time I was thirty, I was going to adopt seven Haitian children and move on. Because, you know, that's the logical next step. But something happened to me in that chapel, Emma. When I began to put my eyes on Jesus and what He might want for me instead of myself and what I might want for me, my criterion list for a husband became suddenly very short. It went something like this: "God, please send me a husband who will love only you more than he loves me. And who wants to have as many babies as possible. And who wants to serve the Church."

Because what I learned about all those soul mate expectations, sweet Em, is that they are entirely self-serving. They have nothing to do with the very real sacramental, sacrificial laying down kind of love that is Christian marriage. I mean, you don't sit around dreaming about your soul mate and how you will pick his dirty socks up off the floor and wash them even when you are mad at him or how he will be the one to scoop a screaming colicky baby out of your arms when you are at your wits end. You think all about how good he will make you feel with his flowers and his love notes and his sweet secret winks and dimpled smile. And all the nice things he'll do for you to make you feel good about yourself. At the end of the day, our notions of soul mates are entirely self-serving. All about the way the person we marry will be perfect because he will make us feel good about us.

I would suggest that we need to be more invested in looking for our soul challenger -- the person who will challenge us to grow, challenge us to holiness, accept us for who we are, weaknesses and all, but not be willing to leave us there. The person who will love us like Jesus' loves, which is a lot more about teaching us truth and stretching us in grace than it is about making us feel good. And he should occasionally buy you flowers for no reason and leave you love notes too. But that won't be what makes him the perfect spouse for you.

I celebrated my sixteenth wedding anniversary this week. We squeezed in a sushi lunch between shopping for a new washing machine hose and running to the grocery store. And we stopped first and picked up my anniversary gift. Do you know what it was, Emma? Three huge red plastic laundry baskets. The most romantic, un-romantic anniversary gift ever. Not the stuff of chick flicks and soul mate dreams, no. But real, true love in action. Why?

Because my husband knows me, loves me, and respects me. And this gift proves just that. You see, Emma, I have this temperament issue that does something strange to me. When I feel overwhelmed by life and my responsibilities and start to feel behind on the daily routines that keep things running smoothly, I tend to jump off this dramatic mental cliff and crash hard on the conclusion that I am an abysmal failure, that I will never, ever get things right, that God was totally wrong when He gave me this life and the world would be better served if I listened to music and browsed Pinterest than if I actually tried. Because trying would just thrust my incompetence upon the world again and that would be a terrible tragedy.

I really, really wish this was humorous exaggeration, Emma. But it's not.

Here's another little quirk about me. I can not mentally or physically function unless I have a strategy, a plan, a system in my head for how I am going to accomplish something in small steps. And I mean anything. Like when I go to the sink to wash the dishes, I have to mentally say to myself, "First I'll wash the plates, Then the cups. Then the silver ware. Clean out the sink. If there's time and space left in the universe, I'll wash the pots and pans." Because, seriously, if not, those sinks full of dishes will seem like a mountain I am completely incapable of climbing and I will end up in my bed with the covers pulled over my head. I have to have a system that makes sense and breaks things in to small chunks that feel doable, or I implode. For every. little. thing. I. do.

Oh, and a third quirk. My brain does not understand a system created by another person. Nope. If I read someone else's "keep the house clean in twenty minutes a day"plan, I run headlong off that same, "I am such a big failing loser"cliff. I get tight in the chest and think I will never, ever have a clean house if I have to do it her way. Seriously. Even my beloved's suggestions for how to tackle something that is overwhelming me send me tears. Because, obviously, if he had to make a suggestion about how I could tackle something, it is because he noticed I am not doing it satisfactorily, and that obviously means I am tragically flawed and there is no hope at all that I will ever be a good wife, mother, or missionary. Right? Right.

So, here's the thing. Laundry in rainy season has been sending me off that cliff every single day. To the point that my husband asking me for clean socks can make me shake, tear up and flop on the bed in utter despair. But at some point while I was buried under the blankets, my mind made up a system! If I could just put the clothes in baskets in an order that made sense to me, then rotate the baskets from the front to the back of the line, nothing would fall through the cracks, the laundry mountain would be broken down into steps that didn't make me nauseated, and I could be a good wife again! Laundry baskets would make the universe livable, Emma!

Now, I am sure by now you can see that this is probably an issue I should work at improving on, Emma. And I dare say my husband might think so too after 16 years. But you know what, he didn't say that when I told him about my plan. Instead, he took time out of our anniversary lunch time to take me to buy laundry baskets. He invested our minimal missionary income into something that is really wholly unnecessary (you do realize that sorting laundry when you only have ice cold water to wash in is pretty pointless, right?) but made me feel capable again. AND he let me pick the color. Because you know, the color of your laundry baskets matters. (It totally does, by the way). AND he cheered with me when I got home and organized my previously life-sucking laundry mountain into a line of pretty red baskets and all was right in my world.

Now, I don't think laundry baskets for an anniversary present were in my dreams of my future with my soul mate. They certainly aren't the stuff of emotional pornography. But when it comes to the man who got down on his knee and proposed to me in front of Jesus in that same adoration chapel where I had prayed for God to send Him to me? They are the perfect statement of the way he loves me. He accepts me for who I am, dramatic systematic overload and all, and desires for me to succeed, to feel good about myself and to enjoy the work and the sacrifice that our life together requires. He appreciates that I have said yes to this life with him and thus no to aisles full of pretty baskets at Target around the block and a car I can drive and a pretty red front loading washer and dryer. He is invested in me and our life together. And he wants to eat his sushi without talking about laundry. Why? Because he wants ME to be able to celebrate, to know joy, to relax and feel appreciated while I am with him.

That, my dear, is what this is all about. And that is why it worth setting aside those soul mate expectations. Because they may just blind you to the truth of what real love and romance could look like one day. Don't marry your soul mate, Emma. Marry the man who will make you think that getting laundry baskets for your anniversary is a reason to melt into his arms with appreciation. And who won't mention that even with your system in place, he still couldn't find his clean socks two days later. Because that, Emma, is what love really looks like. And that is what makes life a-maz-ing, dear.

His dimpled smile doesn't hurt either. Swoon.