2018 Mission Trips
El Salvador, with Habitat for Humanity
Mission trips, especially to international countries, have the potential to offer a different perspective on life and faith, elicit a deep sense of compassion and solidarity, and make a difference in the lives of others. In June, St. Francis parishioners and some friends traveled on mission with Habitat for Humanity to the Central American country of El Salvador. Besides working daily on the construction of a home for a local family, this group also had the opportunity to visit a local school and make a pilgrimage to the holy sites of 20th century Catholic martyr, soon-to-be-named saint Archbishop Oscar Romero. In these reflections and pictures, we hear and see how these ten days on mission affected the lives of our fellow community members.
Tom Crotty – Doing our small part of working on a Habitat house for Juan, Johanna and their two small boys was a truly humbling experience. They, along with many others we met, had so little but were so happy for what they had. Just as Romero was in his day, we are called to be a “voice of the voiceless,” to advocate for those less fortunate among us.
Tim Sullivan – What struck me most about our trip to El Salvador was the resilience and dignity exhibited by the family and the local workers under what we would consider very stark living conditions. Trying to imagine what it would be like to walk in their shoes made me realize that our modern-day comforts may have a tendency to blind us to the most basic human needs and values.
Tim Stevens – We witnessed firsthand the living conditions of working families. This house we worked on will make a huge difference in this family’s lives. It is humbling and rewarding to be a part of this process to bring such improvement in living conditions and in addition live out our faith calling to be a people of compassion and mercy to those living in our world.
John Balogh – While living in vastly different circumstances, we witnessed our common humanity with the Salvadoran people. They have the same common aspirations for themselves and their families as we do: a good home, food, safety, security and promise for the future. At the school we visited, the chaotic playground filled with joyful kids playing catch, wrestling to get a ball for the next throw, blowing bubbles, etc….that could have been any playground anywhere. I stand in awe of many we met on our trip and hold the family and construction masons in a special place in my heart.
Gilbert Pena –This project humbly reminded me of how my immediate family has been abundantly blessed over the course of my entire lifetime. I believe the events of our entire week enlightened our Team to the fact that no one needs to walk alone. We only need to do our part; any part we can, to help pick up any Brother or Sister we meet along our life journey.
John Budway – While we were in El Salvador, we weren’t able to solve the poverty housing problem in that country, nor in the city of Santa Ana nor in the little neighborhood of Zapotitan, but for one small family, we made a difference.
For more information about future international Habitat for Humanity Mission Trips: John Budway, 305-205-5104, firstname.lastname@example.org
Guatemala, with Sister Parish
In July, a delegation of St. Francis parishioners traveled to the far ends of Guatemala to make a visit to Las Margaritas II, a rural village of about 100 indigenous Mayan families. 25 years ago, Fr. David McBriar and a handful of parishioners established this partnership in conjunction with the organization Sister Parish, Inc. to foster awareness and understanding of the plight of many in Central America for the sake of greater solidarity, justice, and peace in our world. Through shared prayer, mutually supporting each other in a variety of efforts, and exchanging visits, this “sister parish” linkage has allowed us to put ourselves in the reality of others and, thus, experience the profound gift of human solidarity across the many kinds of borders that divide us. Experiencing a real and profound connection of brotherhood and sisterhood is one of the most treasured gifts we can encounter in our lives.
This anniversary delegation provided an opportunity to deepen our walk of solidarity and love with Las Margaritas II, and as the reflections and pictures below reveal, this journey deeply affected our parishioners. Whether it was encountering the natural and wild beauty of the Guatemalan landscape, playing “football” (soccer) in the village, learning about the grassroots recovery in response to the recent volcano irruption, sharing a meal of tortillas and beans in a host family’s home, or celebrating mass together, our parishioners could not help falling in love with this country, its culture, its land, and especially its people. Indeed, with this particular “sister parish” relationship, hearts were opened, expanded, and filled with awe and gratitude and love. This is the gift of this ministry.
Austin Maher (father): Being part of our sister parish delegation really challenged me. I was in a different country. I was a member of a new community. I didn’t speak the language. But more importantly, I was brought face to face with questions that often seem philosophical but were also quite concrete. Who is my brother and sister? What does it mean to live in poverty? What can I do to promote social justice and to assist the poor? These are not new questions, but being part of this delegation brought them back to me and gave me a fresh perspective on them. Participating in the St. Francis delegation to Las Margaritas broadened my horizons, took me out of my comfort zone and gave me a new perspective on my life as a Christian.
Austin Maher (son): For me, this journey was a personal one. I was born in Guatemala and left the country at a very young age, so part of it was just to revisit and learn about my homeland. Not only that, but my internal journey that had hit a bit of a roadblock. I think it’s easy for us to get stuck, stressing over things at work or school, with friends and colleagues. Sometimes we just need that little push to get us back on our feet, whether it be the inspiration of a new landscape, or the kindness of a stranger. Some of us need to let go and get lost in the world. Some of us are lost and need to be found. This was an eye-opening experience for us all, and a big part of my personal journey.
Liz Mosler (mother): Our family has been connected with Sister Parish since we first hosted delegates in our home in 2005 and then again a few years later. Now having visited the village twice with two of my children I feel even more connected. This particular trip was especially impactful as I felt like we were sharing life’s experiences, the good and bad, on an even deeper level. We laughed together, cried together, and prayed together, and no language barrier could ever taint the genuine exchange of emotion that was being shared. I struggle to put into words the many ways in which this time with LMII has impacted me. Each time I spend time with them, I am humbled and my perspective on life is forever altered.
Josie Mosler (daughter): When our delegation first arrived to Las Margaritas II, the sun was fading from the sky, and I was so anxious to be there. When our van pulled into the community, there were tons of families lined up waiting for us, the children chased the van with American flags, and when we finally got out, we were met with the purest welcome you could possibly imagine. The complete and utter joy I felt to see our brothers and sisters is overwhelming. I don’t think that there was a single moment during the days where we didn’t have at least ten children hanging on to each of us. The excitement from these children was overwhelming in the greatest way possible. The feeling that this gave me has been one of the things I will cherish most from this experience, giving me a feeling that I will never forget.
Trevor Thompson (father): I’ve traveled quite a bit, even living overseas for many years, but this journey to Guatemala was like no other trip I’ve taken. The opportunity to share life for four days within a family home of a rural indigenous Mayan family was incredible. The vulnerability, even awkwardness, but amazing grace of sharing life was an unparalleled experience of solidarity and love. I feel humbled, knowing I take far too much for granted. I also hold many stories in my heart now of those children and families who are showing up at our borders (and in our news). I now carry far great understanding and solidarity for their plight, their sacrifice, and their dreams. I’m incredibly grateful to have shared this time with my daughter; it is a memory we will continue to unpack over many years.
Sophia Thompson (daughter): The most meaningful thing to me was how much warmth and love we experienced from the kids, and everyone else in the village. They were thrilled and honored to have us. We are so different in so many ways, but we are also alike as well. We both share love and joy in having a community and family that loves us and takes care of us. We both share corn and coffee, music and dance, and especially faith. This is the main reason we visited the village in the first place, celebrating 25 years of love, journeying together with faith in the same God and Spirit, all together as family.
There’s already conversation about another journey to Guatemala next year!
Contact: Carie Gunnells, email@example.com, 864-320-9452
Morocco, with Franciscan Missionary Union
Reflection on Morocco, Fr. Steve Patti, OFM
This summer, parishioners from St. Francis and Immaculate Conception (in Durham) traveled to Morocco on mission as part of a trip organized by the Franciscan Mission office in Boston. What was it like? What did we see? We arrived in Morocco on Monday, June 25, in the magical-sounding city of Casablanca, after a long layover in London. In our time in Morocco, we traveled to Meknes, to Fez, to Midelt which is in the Atlas Mountains in the interior of the country, to Marrakech, and finally back to Casablanca. In some ways it was a blur – lots of places, sounds, sights, different languages, whole different culture. As I said to someone, you could drop me in Rome and I could find my way, but drop me in Fez and, in the midst of its maze-like 9,500 twisting alleyways, I wouldn’t be able to find my way much of any place. Morocco is a country that is 99% Muslim. We visited the third-largest mosque in the world, in Casablanca. We heard, throughout our time there, the 5-times-aday call to prayer, and in the evening, sitting on the roof deck of one of our riads (like a bed and breakfast), sipping mint tea, that call to prayer has a haunting, beautiful sound. Francis of Assisi, when he visited Egypt in the 1200s during the Crusades, heard that call to prayer and saw that this foreign religion and his own faith shared a sense of reverence toward the Creator God. Francis was always looking to reconcile people, faith, anything. We found the people of Morocco to be welcoming, kind, and friendly. Morocco is a moderate country with a king who is open to reforms, especially in light of the uprisings of the Arab Spring from a few years back. We traveled a lot. We met Franciscan friars in Meknes. They work at a school there, and they also work with refugees, migrants, and prisoners. I asked them what it was like to be Franciscan, or Christian even, in a predominantly Muslim country, and they said they were called to live a minority lifestyle without power. There are only 16 Franciscan friars in the whole country. The ones we met were from Italy, France, and Madagascar. In Midelt, in the mountains, we visited Our Lady of the Atlas (Mountains) Trappist monastery. There is a movie called “Of Gods and Men” which tells the story of Trappists in Algeria in the 1990’s who worked simply among the people there, and who were caught in the midst of a civil war, and how 9 of them were kidnapped and eventually killed. The movie is a powerful depiction of the love of these Trappists for the people they lived among, who were Muslim, and how, when given the option to leave, they decided to stay among the people. One of those Trappists who survived now lives at this monastery in the mountains; he is 93 years old. It’s a whole different understanding of the word “mission.” The classical meaning many of us grew up with was, you go to a foreign country and convert the natives. The new understanding is, you go to someplace and, by your witness, by the way you live your life, you reflect something of God’s grace and goodness. “A minority lifestyle without power” as the friars in Meknes told us. We visited Fez and Marrakech which are dizzying, maze-like cities, filled with women wearing headscarves, or not, winding alleys and streets, mosques, vast markets, or “souks” where you can buy just about anything, including live chickens, fish, multi-colored and flavored spices, and, in some places, beautiful pottery, leather goods, or carpets made by the Berber tribes in the interior mountains. We saw the Roman ruins of Volubilis outside of Meknes. We had lunch with a family that our guide knew, and the family welcomed us into their home and served us vast plates of chicken and lamb kabobs, homemade couscous, fresh salad (one had to be careful of any uncooked vegetables), and we even tried some Moroccan beer (“Casablanca”). We were offered mint tea just about everywhere. On our last day, Tuesday July 3, we got on a bus outside our hotel in Casablanca at 8:30 in the morning (3:30 in the morning here), rode to the airport (passing a cinema which listed “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” with a giant dinosaur lunging forward), and were on our way out of Morocco, out of Africa. We flew to Madrid, then to JFK in New York, and finally back to Raleigh. What to make of it all? A dazzling experience, an exhausting experience, a blur in some ways, something very foreign, even exotic, and in the end, so beautiful to meet people on the streets, in the souks, in the restaurants and riads, and to look out the windows of our bus and see shepherds with their sheep in the vast open landscape of the interior, hearing how they move from place to place, how they stay in tents and go where they need to go, and it all seems timeless and eternal. Our guides were patient and kind and happy to show us their country. We took in the flavors of Moroccan cuisine. And we had a sense of travel at its best – as something that takes us out of our own world for a time, shows us something new and even a little strange, and expands our sense of the beauty and goodness of God’s world. And of course, it’s always great to come home again – nothing like walking through JFK and seeing stacks of the New York Post and the New York Daily News at the newsstands and being back in your own culture.
We are beginning to look at domestic and international mission trips in 2019. If you are interested in exploring future options, contact Trevor Thompson, 919-847-8205x270, firstname.lastname@example.org
Cuba, with Franciscan Missionary Union
We have taken 3 trips to Cuba since 2016. We will NOT be coordinating a trip in 2018, but if you are interested in traveling to Cuba to experience Cuban culture and Franciscan spirituality in Cuba, contact us and we will keep you on a list for future trips.