Sunday, December 8, 2013

Falling in Love

After being in South Sudan for over three months now, I think it is safe to say that I am falling in love.  I received a message from a friend this past week that reminded me of the true meaning of falling in love as Fr. Pedro Arrupe, SJ explained it.  He said, "Nothing is more practical than finding God, than falling in Love in a quite absolute, final way.  What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything.  It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, whom you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.  Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything."  As soon as I was reminded of this quote, I knew immediately how applicable it is to my current life.

There is always time for a spontaneous dance party!
I'm going to let my Jesuit educational background come out for a minute.  All throughout university, I was taught to live out the Jesuit core values--one of which is finding God in all things.  This may seem pretty self explanatory, but I have found that it goes deeper than a surface-level understanding.  Finding God in each person I come in contact with, in every experience, leads to knowing Him more.  Even though I was repeatedly taught this value and encouraged to incorporate it into my life, I guess I never fully experienced the true meaning.  Since coming here, this idea has been observed in such a full and concrete way.  When I lay in bed at night and reflect on my day, I see God…in my site partners, in activities from the day, in the community, in the beautiful environment around me, and most fully, in my sweet, joyful, mischievous kids.  I don't think I have ever experienced such complete and unconditional love from a group of people that were strangers just a short three months ago.  

The girls preparing to dance for Sunday Mass.
I have found God in these kids, and as Arrupe said, they have quickly affected everything in my life.  They have made me become more focused on the present moment and more concerned about the person who is in front of me at that moment.  Slowly, they have pulled me away from electronic devices that can easily steal away hours from my day, so I can spend time with them and love them in that moment.  I see God in their many self-giving actions and words--when the altar boys come every weekend to work around our compound.  Or when the girls devote hours of their day to prepare dances to enhance Sunday mass.  I see God in the kids when they greet me and ask me how I am because I know it is more than just a "Hi, how are you."  They genuinely are concerned and truly care about how I am.  I see God in the kids when they invite me to their homes after school or on the weekend to just sit and be present with them.  I see God in them when, day after day, they repeatedly offer to share their lunch with me.  I see God in them even when they are loud, can't sit still, and bursting with energy in class and I can't take it anymore--because they are bursting with God's energy and love.  God is undoubtedly present every morning when so many kids gather for Mass before the school day starts.  And to conclude the day, I see God through the kids when we say the rosary and twelve and thirteen-year-old boys lead each decade.  I truly am finding God in all things here, in all aspects of this simple and joyful life. 

Visiting some of our students.
The days are quickly passing and sometimes it is hard to distinguish events of one day from another because I have gotten into a new normal routine.  But one thing is constant and makes every day different-the way I see God in such a concrete way in the children.  In their big brown eyes, bright white smiles, and dirty little hands.  Even though I discipline the kids for disturbing class or if I occasionally rush by kids instead of greeting each one, the kids constantly show me unconditional love every single day…they show me God's love.  It is impossible not to fall in love.  They are the reason I get out of bed in the morning, they fill my evenings with playing and dancing, they keep me occupied on the weekends, and they definitely fill me with joy and gratitude.  It only took three short months, but I have repeatedly found God in these kiddos, and in falling in love with these kids, I have fallen even more in love with God.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Giving Many Thanks

Sharing Thanksgiving dinner with my kiddos!

Thanksgiving was a bit different this year.  My traditional Thanksgiving meal was replaced with a bowl of porridge.  As I was walking to eat lunch at the Fathers' house with the community, a heard one of the girls, Grace, call out in her high pitched, raspy seven-year-old voice, "Sister, you come eat."  Obviously I couldn't resist this invitation.  Here was a circle of kids who probably only ate that one meal the whole day, and they wanted to share with me.  So this Thanksgiving, instead of sitting around a table sharing a meal with my family, I was sitting on the ground sharing a meal with my new family--my South Sudanese munchkins.  And instead of getting up super early to wait in long lines on "Black Friday," I got to get up early to celebrate the Eucharist with those same kids whom I love so very much.   
This year I was able to put aside the traditional festivities that go along with this holiday and truly focus on what I am thankful for.  And this year, that list is quite extensive.  Every morning for the past three months I have woken up in South Sudan--a reality that has yet to sink in fully.  I am so grateful for the opportunity to actually live out my dream and passions at the age of 22.  I am thankful that I get to spend all day, every day with the most amazing kids I have ever met.  We sing and dance, make up the most ridiculous handshakes, play football, and just joke around.  I am thankful that every day these relationships are getting deeper and more meaningful, and  our conversations are slowly changing from small talk about the day to really getting to know the kids and their hopes and dreams.  I am grateful that I get to bandage the biggest and nastiest wounds on the cutest little kids.  Every day I have a line of kids who come to the hospital during their break at school to get their wounds cleaned and bandaged.  It is truly amazing to clean those same wounds every single day and see how they gradually get smaller and smaller.  

The most amazing site partners!
I am thankful that it is completely acceptable to pick up random babies and just cuddle with them and love on them-at least the ones who don't scream in terror as soon as they lay eyes on me.  I am grateful for the opportunity to teach.  It has been an adventure, but this week I successfully completed my first term of teaching.  There were many ups and downs, struggles and joys, but at the end of the day, I honestly love each one of my students no matter if they chased me with lizards during class or decided to dance on their desk in the middle of an exam.  I'm convinced they teach me so much more than I actually teach them.  I am eternally grateful for the three incredible ladies I get to share this experience with.  I have the most amazing site partners I could ever ask for-Grace, Cait, and Ariel.  Although Grace and Cait leave in a few short days, I definitely will cherish the months we did spend together.  They made my transition here so smooth and all three have been the best support during my time so far.  Who else knows how I feel better than those who are going through the same exact thing!?  And I am grateful, also, for the support of so many family members and friends in the States.  Every week, I get messages and emails from people at home.  Even though they are half a world away, their words of encouragement and advice are invaluable.  

Waiting for me outside my door
I am thankful that I can't walk one hundred feet without it taking under ten minutes.  I am greeted by both little and not-so little kids holding out their hands  with huge smiles painted on their faces.  I am grateful that I don't have any privacy whatsoever, although at times it may seen annoying.  The kids know where my room is, and if they see my shoes sitting outside they will scream my name until I come outside to greet them.  It always makes me smile when I am sitting in my room and all the sudden I have an entourage outside my door.  And I am grateful that I get to end each day by saying the rosary surrounded by teenage boys.  I mean, where else in the world would you find this?  

The list goes on and on.  Although this Thanksgiving was completely different than any other Thanksgiving I have experienced, it was different in such a great way.  As I was sitting down in the 90 degree heat eating the hot porridge with my bare hands, I couldn't help but smile thinking about the incredible life that God has laid out for me and for the blessings he showers down on me each day.  I thank God each day, and especially this Thanksgiving, for these and the many other amazing blessings and for His guidance through this journey so far.  

Monday, November 4, 2013

Under the African Sky

I am always amazed at how God speaks to me through the way He paints the sky.  There is just something about a sunrise and sunset, big fluffy clouds, or the bright blue sky that always reminds me that God is right by my side.  

Each morning I wake up and open my door to the most gorgeous orange and pink filled sky.  And every night as we say the rosary outside, I see the sun setting as it paints bold colors across the sky.  Each sunrise and sunset just as breathtaking and picturesque as the one before-each a sign of God's love and presence.  

Many of you know that I have a thing for sunsets, and so I am sure you can imagine that my camera roll is quickly filling up with pictures trying to capture a mere glimpse of the sky's true beauty.  

The first day I arrived in Juba, I was outside playing with the kids when I saw the sun begin to set and emit it's bright colors as the day came to an end.  I immediately grabbed my camera and tried to capture the moment.  

One of the kids came up to me and said, "Sister, you don't have the sun where you are from?"  I was confused at the question, but then explained that we do have the sun.  He said, "But you are taking a photo like you have never seen the sun before."  I just laughed and then told him my love for sunsets.  He laughed as well, but I am sure he thought I was crazy!  

As the photos keep piling up on my camera, I thought it would be a great chance to share with you all a few pictures of the gorgeous African Skies during my first two months in South Sudan.  Enjoy! 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Meaning of Mission

   Throughout my short time here, I am starting to slowly learn the meaning of mission.  Before starting this journey I thought I had a pretty good handle on what it meant to be a missionary, but my understanding of the word "mission" is definitely growing and developing into something very different.  From the beginning I simply thought mission was synonymous with doing.  My expectations were that I would be physically doing and performing different tasks:  bandaging a wound, giving out medications, playing soccer with the kids.  Although this is true, my duties go far beyond these surface tasks.  Mission is not only doing, but more importantly, it is being present with the kids and loving them unconditionally.  

This morning in Church reaffirmed this new meaning of mission.  I was sitting behind a little girl about 3 or 4 years old.  For some reason, that is the age group that is most terrified of white people.  Mass started off with her taking one glance at me and bursting into tears while burying her face in her mother's lap.  For the first 20 minutes she gradually started to look back at me to sneak a peak.  Each time I flashed a quick smile and she immediately turned back around.  Then slowly, instead of turning back around she gave me a little smirk.  Before I knew it, she turned around and swung her legs onto the other side of the bench and stuck out her small hand.  I went to shake her hand and she pulled her hand right back towards herself.  She continued to push the limits and see how far she could go.  Eventually by the end of Mass she was sitting on my lap, rubbing her hands up and down my arms, pulling my arm hair, and trying to flick off my freckles.  I'd say we made it a long way from the initial cry of terror.  Throughout this entire encounter, I realized that this is my mission--to be present to each of the kids here, to smile at them and love them, to slowly build relationships with them, to nurture those relationships so that they grow and get deeper with each passing day, and to let them attempt to flick off my freckles if that is what puts a smile on their precious little faces.

Last week was a pretty slow and uneventful week here.  The kids had a week long break after taking their second term exams the previous week.  Last Saturday night one of the kids informed us that there was a public holiday on Monday and Tuesday, so the school would remain closed for those days.  (The majority of the information we get comes from the kids!)  And I am still not really sure what public holiday was celebrated, but school was closed.  On Wednesday it was the best feeling to see all of the kids again.  I can't believe only a week and a half had gone by, but I missed them so much.  Most of the boys spent their holiday harvesting crops in the fields and the girls worked at home cleaning and cooking.  They all seemed very happy to be back at school, and I sure was thrilled to be surrounded by my loving and amazing kiddos once again.  It is incredible the huge impression they have left on my life and my heart in not even two months.  I can only hope and pray that I can also make a small impact on their lives throughout my time in South Sudan.  

So on this Mission Sunday, I am trying to take to heart, even more, this new found meaning of mission.  Don Bosco stressed that "Children must not only be loved, but they must know that they are loved."  He said also that we must work to be a friend- a friend to kids who are poor, kids abandoned, and kids at risk- and in doing so, to be a friend to Christ.  The other stuff, the bandages and medicine and soccer balls, are not the main component of mission.  My mission is to be present and to love.  That alone is my mission.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

A Day in South Sudan

After being here for about six weeks, I finally feel like I've found my daily routine.  It is slowly becoming my new "normal."  So I am going to share with you a day in the life of Theresa. 

6:30am: Wake up call.  The church bells go off at this time to alert people that Mass is about to start.  Since I live right next to the church, this has quickly become my handy, dandy alarm clock.

6:45am: Mass begins.  I am always amazed by the number of kids that are at daily Mass.  Most of the kids that come to Mass have anywhere from a 5-45 minute walk to the Church from their house.  It is inspiring to see their dedication and devotion to the Eucharist.  

Morning Assembly
7:30am: Breakfast time.  Breakfast consists of bread, eggs, and usually spaghetti paired with a cup of hot tea or hot chocolate.  After a satisfying breakfast, I am ready to get the day going!

8:00am: School assembly.  The school bell rings sometime around 8-8:15.  The kids gather to pray, sing, dance, and listen to announcements.  I usually attend the assembly and see all the sweet kids before I head to the clinic.   

Grace and I in the dispensary.
8:30am: Clinic opens.  Patient registration opens at this time.  The clinic staff (doctor, 3 nurses, lab technician, receptionist, and cleaning lady) gather right before 9am for prayer.  We just started this practice last week, and it has been a great way to keep the Lord at the center of my work.  The doctor starts to see patients at 9am, so that is also when my duties begin.  For the first part of the morning I mainly take vital signs before the patients see the doctor.  As soon as I finish taking vitals on the patients in line, I float and do whatever needs to be done--giving injections, cleaning and bandaging wounds, dispensing medication, or doing administrative paperwork/filing.  The clinic stays open until all the patients are finished which is usually around 1 or 1:30.  Lately, the daily census has been around 25-30 (not including people coming for injections or wound bandaging).  There is always a steady stream of patients which makes it nice…never swamped, but I always have something to do.  Things will definitely pick up in January when the Maternal and Child health unit opens, so I am embracing the pace of the clinic while it lasts!

Attempting to help plant beans with the kids.
1pm (or after I finish at the clinic):  Lunch!  By this time in the day, I have worked up a large appetite, and I am always ready for lunch.  Lunch consists of a variation of the same main foods:  rice, beans, potatoes, pasta, chapati (flatbread), eggplant, and fruit (oranges, pineapple, passion fruit, and many, many bananas).  I have gotten in the habit of throwing a scoop of everything into a bowl and mixing it all together.  This has been my lunch every day so far, and I still look forward to it every single day!    

2pm: Teaching begins.  The kids have a lunch break from 1-2pm.  They eat a soup that is made of maize which the kids plant and harvest themselves.  They recently planted beans which are starting to grow and will be harvested soon.  After they finish, classes resume at 2pm.  Each week I have seven 40-minute class periods.  Like mentioned in a previous blog I teach science to 3rd grade and arts and crafts to 4th grade.  Both classes are extremely rambunctious, but I love each one of my little nuggets.  I am slowly getting the hang of the whole "teacher" thing.  This past week I completed my lesson plans for the rest of the year which is a huge relief!  

4pm:  School Ends.  The kids usually hang out after school, so I stay with them.  If there is football (soccer) practice, sometimes I join the girls and practice with them.  If not, sometimes I take this time to grade papers or Grace, Cait, Ariel, and I will hang out or I take a much needed nap.  Basically from 4-5pm is free time.

Playing cards with some kids during Oratory.
5pm: Oratory begins.  One of the main components of Salesian spirituality is the concept of Oratory.  Don Bosco stressed the importance of playtime for the kids.  So that is exactly what oratory is--A huge recess for the kids in the community.  We get out the balls and cards and simply play with the kids.  It has definitely been a great way to get to know the children and their personalities outside of the classroom.

Brother Jules giving a goodnight talk to the kids after Rosary.
6:30pm: Rosary.  Oratory ends with the kids coming together to say the rosary.  The little kiddos are in charge of leading the decades, and it is so cute!  We say the rosary in a mixture of Zande (the local tribal language) and English.  I actually don't think I could imagine a better way to end the day than surrounded by my  precious little kiddos praying together.  After rosary, one of the community members here gives an ending story or thought for the kids.  Then we say our goodnights, and the kids start their journeys home.

7:30pm:  Evening prayer with the Salesian community.  The priests, brothers, occasionally sisters, and volunteers gather in the chapel to say evening prayer.

8pm: Dinner.  This has been an adjustment.  All throughout my life I have been a 5 or 5:30pm dinner kind of gal.  So the late dinner is a change, but I am slowly adapting.  We eat the same thing for dinner that we had at lunch.  The cooks make enough food at lunch to last for dinner as well.  Dinner is the time that we all catch up with each other and also catch up on the news (we have a television in the dinning room).  

9pm:  Free time.  After dinner I am exhausted.  But I usually take some time to get on the internet to catch up on life at home., send emails, and chat with friends.  Ariel and I have recently started watching a new television series that I brought with me.  We are already hooked and so we have been watching an episode before bedtime.  It is a nice, relaxing way to end the day.  

10:30-11pm:  Bedtime!  I jot a few notes down in my journal, perfectly tuck in my mosquito net, and then it is lights out for me!  

Each day is filled with work, play, kids, laughter, and so much fun.  Although most days are long, exhausting, and jam packed, I wouldn't want to have it any other way!  

Sunday, September 29, 2013

One Monthiversary!

One month down.  And it seems like I just arrived yesterday!  The past month has been filled with exciting adventures, so many laughs, hundreds of "firsts," and so much love.  Although I am still settling in, this place has quickly become my home.  I am excited for the adventures that lie ahead in the coming months.  

Sr. Merilyne and I at the conference
This past week has definitely been a test of my flexibility and patience.  For any of you who know me at all, you know that I love being on time and organized, having everything planned out and scheduled, and having list after list of things so I won't forget anything.  But this is South Sudan--the land where a meeting that is supposed to start at 8am doesn't actually start until 2 in the afternoon and the land where you are supposed to be somewhere on Sunday and don't actually reach there until Tuesday.  So last Saturday night, Sr. Merilyne called me and informed me that I would be leaving the next morning to go to Yambio (a town about 3 hours from Maridi).  She said we would be going for a medical conference on case management for 4 days.  I quickly became excited for so many reasons.  #1. I've never been on a business trip before--so I'm thinking this is the real deal and #2. Not only is it a business trip, but it is a business trip in South Sudan which makes it instantly so much cooler and #3. I get to explore a new part of this amazing country.  My mind quickly began to wonder what this "business conference" will consist of.  I'm thinking a fancy hotel conference room, business suits, Powerpoints, people taking notes on their laptops and smartphones, the whole nine yards.  Surprisingly, some of my predictions ended up coming true.  Anyway, I definitely was not prepared to leave in less than 10 hours, so I quickly packed my bag and got everything set and ready to go.  Sunday morning after Mass, Sr. Merilyne and I ate breakfast and waited for the vehicle to come pick us up to go to Yambio.  And we waited.  And waited.  Finally by evening I realized we weren't going to Yambio that day.  Okay, fine--we were told the car would get us on Monday morning instead.  The communication wasn't the best, and we weren't really sure who was actually supposed to come pick us up on Monday.  So the next day I repacked my bags and Sr. and I waited by the road for a car to come get us.  After many phone calls back and forth to various people and many questions without answers, we realized we weren't getting picked up that day.  I finally realized that we were not going to go to the conference at all.  It was supposed to be Monday-Thursday and we already missed the whole first day.  So I unpacked my bags and continued on with planning my classes for the week.  Monday night, Sr. informed me that our driver for our site here would be picking us up at 5:30am to make it to Yambio in time for the second day of the conference.  Although I doubted that we would go the next morning, I repacked my bags for a third time and sure enough we left the next morning.  

The conference-Powerpoints and all!
We got to Yambio and pulled into the parking lot of a fancy hotel, and then proceeded to the conference room (My predictions started to come true, minus people taking notes on laptops and smartphones).  The conference was put on by the World Health Organization and it covered management of different diseases (Viral Hemorraghic Fevers, Malaria, Measles, Meningitis, Neonatal Tetanus, Typhoid, Cholera, HIV, just to name a few).  It turned out to be an extremely helpful conference, and I learned much more about treatment and management of common diseases that I will be seeing throughout my time here.  Even though the travel plans were hazy and a bit frustrating, things worked out.  I am trying to let go of the structure and organization that I am used to, and really just go with the flow!  Because this is South Sudan--where time is not a concept, but everything always finds a way to work out.  I got back to Maridi late on Friday night, and it sure is good to be back.  Saturday morning I was greeted after Mass by my precious little kiddos whom I missed so much!  Overall-successful week.  

To top everything off, Victoria, a woman that I met one of the first days after I arrived, gave birth to a beautiful baby girl on Friday.  So Saturday, Cait, Grace, Ariel, and I took a little trip to visit the new baby.  I got to snuggle with a newborn baby--not even 24 hours old.  She is very healthy and mama is doing really well, too!  It is tradition here to wait 4 days before giving the baby a name, so on Tuesday we are going back to their house for a big party and naming ceremony.  

Looking back on the past month, I can't help but smile at all the incredible experiences and people who have become a part of my life.  Everyday I wake up and have a reality check--I live in South Sudan.  I can only hope and pray that the rest of my time here goes as well as this first month.  One month down--One month of memories.  One month of joy.  One month of love.  

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Bless the Rains Down in Africa

The aftermath of the mud fight

So far, my schedule the past two weeks has been very fluid and there hasn't been much consistency in my daily routine.  However, there is one thing that has been consistent throughout my time here so far--daily rain showers.  I can always expect an afternoon or evening rain shower each and every day.  It ranges from a short sprinkle to a torrential downpour.  Most of the time I look at the rain as a hindrance because I don't want to have to walk outside and get wet and muddy.  A couple days ago; however, Grace, Ariel, and I decided to make the most out of the afternoon downpour.  We ran through the rain and loaded up with ammo (handfuls of mud), and we waited for Cait to come out from a meeting.  Minutes later war erupted, and it turned into a huge mud fight in the middle of a large soccer field.  All the kids and locals were taking cover from the rain and laughing at us crazy people!  It was such a great afternoon and such a great bonding experience.  We are already planning to have many more mud fights in the future!

A lady we visited during outreach
My daily routine over the past week, like mentioned, has been a bit scattered, but I am slowly finding my fit here and I am loving every minute of it!  My morning are dedicated to the clinic.  I have been doing a variety of things like taking vital signs before the patients see the doctor, giving injections, bandaging wounds, and handing out medications.  Gradually I have started to explain to patients in Arabic how to take their medications.  Sometimes they actually understand what I am saying, but most of the time they just look at me like I am speaking a foreign language!  I spent a couple days this week in Maridi town at the main hospital to look around and see how it is run.  The nurses and doctors invited Grace and me back to work there a few days, so hopefully we will get that opportunity in the coming months.  I also went with one of the sisters to inquire about the hospital's Maternal and Child health (MCH) program.  We are hoping to get a program and maternity ward started in the next month or two so it is up and running for the new year.  I am so excited for this new addition!  So far, the clinic has been a nice way to ease back into the nursing role.  Next week will being a different story, though, because Friday was our doctor's last day.  So for the next couple of weeks to months, Sr. Meryline (a nurse), Grace, and I will be running the show.  Things will definitely pick up, but I am ready for a little bit of a challenge.  Classes have also been going much better than expected.  Somehow I survived my first week of teaching---thank you, Lord!  The students in my science class were supposed to turn in their first homework assignment on Friday, and I only had 4 out of 37 kids turn it in.  Over 10%, so I am taking that as a success!  Yesterday I went for community outreach with some people from the clinic.  We did a short health education talk then had a "mobile clinic" with basic supplies and care.  We are planning on doing this outreach each Saturday.  It is the perfect way to serve those who need it the most--those in the most remote villages who don't have access to any form of healthcare.  

After a downpour!
Life here is busy, but yet so simple.  I am constantly amazed at the sense of community and joy shown by the sweet kids each and every day.  I already have seen how I take so many things for granted--things as simple as a rain shower.  Although somedays I see the dark clouds rolling in and feel cool breezes against my skin and think "not again", I know after the downpour there will always be a bright rainbow shining above.  Such a simple reminder that God always brings beauty and light after a difficult class or busy day at the clinic.  Beauty and light through the kids, through my site partners, and through the community here.

Source--The title of this blog is from a song by Toto called "Africa."

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Road Less Traveled

After almost three full days of traveling, I finally arrived at my new home in Maridi, South Sudan.  The journey to get here was not the easiest, but I am so thankful to be here and be able to make this place my home.  I traveled to South Sudan with my site partner, Ariel, and two other SLMs who are placed in Juba, S. Sudan- Mike and Pat.  Ariel and I stayed the night with the Salesian community in Juba, and started our long trip to Maridi the next morning.  The trip took just about 9 hours, but we only traveled 180 miles.  Yes, it was a slow and bumpy ride.  The "road" was filled with pot-holes and rain had washed out other parts of the path.  We truly were driving on the road less traveled.  We finally turned onto the road where our compound is contained, and I immediately felt at peace and at home.  I was warmly greeted by hundreds of small hands and wide eyes--and I immediately fell in love with those sweet smiles and voices shouting, "Hi Sister, How are you?"  At that moment, I knew this is exactly where I am meant to be.   

The clinic where I will be working
The past week has been an absolute whirl-wind of overwhelming excitement, little sleep, many laughs and smiles, lots of playing, and even more love.  I have hit the ground running here and jumped right into the daily routine.  There are two Salesian Lay Missioners here, Grace and Cait, who volunteered last year and are staying until December.  They have truly been such lifesavers-answering hundreds of questions each day, sharing their experiences, and showing Ariel and me the ropes.  They have helped make this transition so much easier.  This week has been mostly for getting to know the kids and spending time with them.  I have been going to the clinic each day with Grace who is showing me how things run there.  I am excited to be there and to be able to get back into a nursing role.  The clinic is fairly new, and I am excited for all the possibilities and growth that can happen there during my time here.  Patients usually are finished by early afternoon, and so after I am done at the clinic I will be teaching at the school.  Going into mission, I knew of the possibility that I would be teaching, although I was secretly praying that I wouldn't have to!  But sure enough, the first day here, I was assigned to teach science and handwriting to third graders.   It will be a very different experience, but I know the school needs more teachers and I am more than happy to help out as best as I can!  I just wish I would've paid a bit more attention to the "How to Teach" lesson during orientation!  Luckily, the entire student body knows varying degrees of English.  So far, language hasn't been as much of a barrier as I expected.  I'm sure that may change soon.  The tribal language spoken here is Zande.  The kids teach me Zande during lunch and after school.  I have mastered the basic greetings and a few other words.  For the clinic I am also learning Arabic.  Most of the population that we serve there speaks Arabic, so Grace kindly gave me a little Arabic medical dictionary that she made up for me.  Slowly by slowly I am studying and learning those words as well.     

Ariel, Cait, Me, and Grace
Overall, I am so incredibly excited for the next year and all that is in store.  The community here is overflowing with joy and love.  There is so much energy and positivity that the kids emit daily.  It will still take a while to get all settled in, but the transition has been much easier than expected.  As things start to progress with my daily duties, I will report back to you all and keep you updated as best as possible!     
The road to Maridi
Although the road to get here seemed like it is less traveled, I know there have been thousands and thousands of footprints that have made lasting impressions on the ground.  Not just any footprints, but Christ's footprints.  It is so easy to see Christ's presence at work in the people here--in their smiles and words, in their love for each other, in their selflessness.  It is my hope and prayer that I will be able to leave only a small footprint, a small impression on the kids' paths throughout my time in this amazing place. 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Love Does

During much of orientation we were invited to reflect on our purpose for pursuing mission.  What led me to this point in my life?  What is my personal mission? Why this program? Why now?  All very good questions, and all questions that I had trouble answering.  I knew in my heart what my purpose was for mission, but for some reason I was having a hard time writing it out in words.  

My view as I sat working on my mission statement
So there I was sitting outside staring at a blank piece of paper with the words "create a statement of purpose."  At that point I was thinking about everything else BUT my personal mission.  Instead of sitting there in silence, I decided it was necessary to put on a little bit of background music.  I have always felt God's presence through music, and I knew I needed God's guidance more than ever to finish the task at hand.  And plus, if I couldn't come up with the words myself, why not just steal someone else's!  The first song that came on was a Brandon Heath song called "Love Does".  It was the first time I had heard the song, but it was written based on a book called "Love Does" by Bob Goff.  I read this book a couple months ago after a friend recommended it to me, and then I read it a second and third time.  In this book, Bob Goff talks about discovering an incredible life in an ordinary world by doing one simple thing: loving one another.  He talks about really living your life by saying "yes" to opportunities and putting love into action.  My favorite line from the book states, "Love is never stationary.  LOVE DOES."  And there I had it.  My personal mission-Love Does.  God chooses ordinary people like you and me to make a difference by getting to the "do" part of faith.  Love doesn't just keep thinking about it or planning for it.  Love does.  This is exactly what I have been called to do--to live a life in South Sudan where I am a vessel of Christ's love to people around me.  

What seemed like a daunting task turned out to be the easy part.  The hard part will be living out this personal mission.  After hearing the song "Love Does," I jotted down those words on my paper and even had some time to spare.  So I flipped through my Bible and stumbled across a verse that I had previously highlighted.  It was Colossians 3:12-14 "Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another.  And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection."  I knew I highlighted this verse for a reason!  Put on love. I have the decision each day to put on love, just like its an article of clothing.  To drape myself in Christ's love and share that same love with those I encounter.  It is as simple as that.  Every morning when I wake up, I get the invitation to live a life of complete engagement, a life where love does. This is my mission.
Bags are packed and ready to go!

What I had thought would be a page long personal mission statement turned out to be two words: Love does.  It is a call to action, a call to say "yes," a call to serve, a call to be present, a call to love.

Tomorrow is the big day.  Only three flights and a 22 hour layover stand between me and this new, exciting adventure.  South Sudan, here I come--all for the greater glory of God!

Monday, August 19, 2013

And So It Begins...

        Welcome to my blog!  This is my attempt to capture a glimpse of my life as a Salesian Lay Missioner (SLM) in Maridi, South Sudan.  My intent is to update this periodically over the next year to share with everyone with my experiences and various adventures.  I must start with a disclaimer that I did not major in English or Writing for a reason--so please bear with me through grammatical errors, misspelled words, run-on sentences, and scattered thoughts!  Thank you all so much for your support throughout my discernment process to become a missioner and for your continued thoughts and prayers.  This dream and passion of mine would not be possible without your example and encouragement.     
Mama Mary statue at the Marian Shrine
So the time has come.  After applying to the SLM program in January, over eight months ago, the final countdown can officially begin.  For the past three and a half weeks I have been in New York for orientation to the program.  After arriving the first night, I was greeted by 27 other SLMs who were beaming with God's love and joy.  It was such a refreshing experience to be surrounded by people who have the same passions and desires to serve God's children around the world.  The first few days of orientation were a general overview into the SLM program, and it gave missioners a chance to explain their faith journey, talk about people who have helped shape their lives, and simply tell each other why they are felt called to mission.  We all then headed to a retreat house for an introduction into cross-cultural ministry.  We were joined by two other mission groups who are also entering into a year or two of service around the world.  I am so thankful that we had this time to examine different aspects of volunteering abroad--both the good things and looking into possible challenges we may face.  We then headed back to Port Chester, NY where we had been previously staying.  The next week was dedicated to service within the Salesian community and community as a whole.  I spent three days working at Holy Rosary Parish and the connecting soup kitchen.  In addition to serving at the kitchen, much of my time was spent at the clothes closet, sorting and folding donated clothes.  I worked mainly with the Spanish-speaking community who makes up the majority of Port Chester.  It opened my eyes into one of the challenges that comes along with mission--the language barrier.  My seven years of French definitely did not come in handy, and it really was frustrating at times not being able to communicate verbally with the community.  Although I did get really good at charades!  Nonetheless, I realized more than ever that words definitely aren't a necessity to communicate to one another.  Hearts have a way of speaking to hearts through one common language- love (hence the title of my blog).  The other two days of the service week were spent working at a Salesian day camp in a surrounding community.  My assignment was with second graders, about 15-20 in total.  My time at the day camp quickly reaffirmed my love and desire to work with the youth.  There is just something about the pure joy, humor, and love that bursts from each child.  It truly is contagious.  I was able to put into practice Don Bosco's (the founder of the Salesians) way of being present with the youth and showing them that they are loved.  Overall, the service week was extremely beneficial.  It was much different than the type of service that I will be doing in South Sudan, but the same core aspect was present: showing Christ's love to one another.  
My brother and I after he professed his vows
         A week of retreat completed orientation.  The 28 of us joined about 40 Salesian Priests and Brothers on retreat at a Marian Shrine in Stony Point, NY.  Much of the retreat was loosely structured which allowed for personal reflection and really getting to know the religious community members.  The Salesians are truly such an incredible group of people.  Their dedication to Don Bosco's mission was clearly evident, and so I am thankful I had time to get to know them on a deeper level and hear more about their vocation journeys.  A commissioning Mass ended the retreat and orientation.  The SLMs were commissioned out to serve at their various sites.  Unfortunately I had to say my goodbyes to the others early and did not get to attend the service.  Instead, I was in Louisiana witnessing my brother, David, dedicate His life to the Lord and the Jesuit community through his first vows (a pretty good excuse in my book).  His courageous "yes" to the Lord's call greatly influenced my own decision to say "yes" to this year of mission, and so it was a special experience to be able to witness his first profession before I leave to dedicate the next year of my life to the Lord in a different way.  
         This is my shortened version of orientation.  I am incredibly blessed to have gotten to know my fellow SLMs.  Each one has made an impact on my life, and their happiness and desire to serve God is truly inspiring.  I know they will continue to be a part of my mission experience and we will continue to nurture the friendships we created as we part ways for now.  Side note about orientation-- I quickly became the go-to nurse.  After cleaning out and bandaging several wounds from some intense soccer games, assessing people for strep throat, giving a travel vaccination, and handing out plenty of bandaids, it made me realize how much I have missed nursing over the past three months.  I am so excited to get back into the nursing world in South Sudan, to be with the patients and be free to share Christ and His love with them.  I just hope I haven't forgotten too much!
The South Sudan Crew
Now that orientation is over, the countdown to South Sudan can finally begin….eight days.  In about one week I will be on a plane to South Sudan.  The next week will be filled with packing, doctor's appointments, spending time with family and friends, and continuing to prepare my mind and heart for mission.  Orientation left me in the "mission-mode," and I hope that continues until I step on the plane and then enter mission.  The Lord is so good and has blessed me incredibly throughout my discernment process.  I know 100% that this is what I am called to do at this point in my life.  Although the details of where I will be staying and what I will be doing are still a bit hazy, I know God be with me every step of the way.  What a comfort it is to know wherever I go that my best friend, along with the help of Mama Mary, is looking out for me, guiding my words and actions, and  preparing the way!  
Thank you for all again for joining me on this journey.  Like mentioned, I will keep you all updated as much and as best as possible.  Your support, prayers, and kind words are invaluable!  Please keep me and the other Salesain Lay Missioners in your prayers as we start this new, exciting chapter of our lives.  You, my dear family and friends, will also be in my thoughts and prayers throughout this journey!  And so it begins…
The whole SLM family ready to go out and set the world on fire!