Wow, it’s hard to believe that the past ten days have gone by so fast! It feels like just yesterday we started our first clinic in San Juan Bautista, when in actuality I’m on the plane on our way home. I don’t think words can accurately describe the effect this trip has had on me as a person. Coming into this trip, I didn’t really know what to expect, which I truly believe benefited me in the end. I let go of my worries and let God take control, knowing he would lead me in the right path and help me through anything.
Like everyone who went on the trip, I was stretched just about to my limit. I came into this trip thinking that I’d be helping in the pharmacy. Little did I know that it would be the easiest job that I would be performing this week. When I wasn’t busy working in the pharmacy counting out various pills that our doctors needed, I had an opportunity to help by using my Spanish. I knew the Lord would guide me through my most difficult task, and he didn’t lead me astray. He gave me the courage to not only step in, but he provided me with the strength and filled my mouth with the words I needed. Not only did my Spanish improve greatly this week, but so did my relationship with the Lord. I realized that if I laid all my trust and faith in him, he would provide. The last stretch that I felt this week had to deal with the medical field. One part of my job as a pharmacy assistant was to help the doctors (mostly Rich) prepare steroid injections for patients with sore joints. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that by the end of the clinics I would have helped with eight steroid injections. Rich had faith in me, even when I didn’t have any faith in me. It seems redundant, but I laid my trust in the Lord and just like every other time on this trip, he delivered.
Last night at dinner at a restaurant called La Paloma, everyone in the group shared a stretch and also a treasure. This was very hard for me to do, because there are so many treasures that I’ll take away from this trip and never forget for as long as I live. One treasure for me was getting to come on this trip with my Dad. I got to see him care for patients while utilizing his Spanish skills, I got to see him connect with his oldest and best friends, and I got to bond with him for ten days for one of the last times before I head off to college. This was truly and incredible experience and there was no one I’d rather share it with. Another treasure I’m going to take away from this trip is the fact that I made seven amazing people that I can now call my friends. There are special characteristics about all of them that I’ll never forget. My dad is the most caring man I’ve ever met, Rich is a mastermind of medicine and is like the Energizer bunny never running out of energy, Lia was our fearless leader who as my dad said brought us right to the edge but never quite over, Stephanie was a great interpreter and is kind to everyone and always had a smile on her face, Cathy is a fun, witty person and I know why she gets along so well with my dad, Pat is a very funny, easy-going fun person to be around, Dawn is an extremely caring person who finds the best in every situation, and Helen is a very happy, calm, and a fun person to talk to. Lastly, the greatest treasure I received on this trip was the opportunity to serve the Lord in the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to. He showed me patience, courage, kindness, and compassion to all. I only hope that I’ll be able to take these skills back home with me and use them in the United States as well. This was an amazing trip and it’s something I will never forget.
“Above all, our very nature requires us to be interested in others. When there is something beautiful within us we desire to communicate it with others. When we see others who are worse off than we are, we desire to help them with something of ours. This need is so original, so natural, that it is within us before we are conscious of it.” This observation by Monsignor Luigi Giussani on the nature of charitable work makes so much sense to me now, at the end of our time here in Chiapas.
Since it is impossible to neatly summarize my experience of these last ten days, I will share instead a detail of the work that has struck me. Working as an interpreter, there always comes a time during each consult when the patient and the interpreter wait for the doctor to return from the pharmacy with the necessary medicines. I have to admit, this is one of the most challenging parts of the clinic for me. While the rest of the day is often a blur and the actual consult requires a great deal of concentration, these moments with the patient are a time to stand still. First, we exchange shy smiles, then there is an awkward silence, and finally, slowly, the conversation starts. I have come to understand that the tension present right then is definitive. It is the battle between that within us which keeps us selfish and inward-looking and that part of us that “requires us to be interested in others.” There are times when I am painfully overwhelmed by the difference between what is “normal” for me and what is “normal” for the person sitting across from me. Then there are other times—grace-filled times—when I understand that an 80-year-old man sitting across from me, who has cataracts and lives in a remote village in Chiapas has the exact same fundamental needs I do and desires happiness as much as I do. In other words, we are more similar than circumstance and appearance would fool us into believing. It takes a simple and courageous heart to leap across the “us and them” divide, but ultimately, I have learned, taking that leap corresponds to me so much more than standing safely still.
It has been an honor to serve alongside this fine and dedicated group of doctors, pharmacists, one very sweet nurse, and, of course, my mother, whose passion for this mission is so evident. May we all continue to strive to see and serve with the gaze of Christ as we head home.
A special thanks to Dawn Madson who stayed up late with me last night to help with this photo posting. We had more than a few laughs.
We have just returned to our hotel in San Cristobal after another busy clinic day. We are truly an exhausted bunch! Today we again traveled off the regular roads most people use and snaked around up and down the mountain to the town of Pajalton Bajo which was actually farther down the mountain from Pajalton Alto which we served two days ago. Several of you reading this blog have commented on our mountain experience yesterday which Patrick wrote about. I am happy to assure you that although we traveled to an extremely remote indigenous Tzotzil village enduring a steep, bumpy ride - we had no close calls or thrills of that sort today.
We were able to serve 75 patients and worked just outside of their church. People came in their wool clothing; women and girls in their skirts and the men in traditional dress - many wearing hats. The beauty of their smiles and gentle ways melts our hearts every time. Although I will be posting pictures soon from our past few days it is important that we share a little about these people. Many villagers do not look you in the eye. It is their sign of respect as passed down in their tradition. Also, they believe that if you take a photograph of them, it will take their spirit or soul. While many great National Geographic type of photo opportunities happened, we took very few pictures out of respect for them and even then only with their permission. Believe me the images of them will be imprinted on our hearts.
This is the third day in a row in which we worked either inside or outside of a church. It gave our team a sort of sureal feeling to be tucked far from civilization, in the midst of tremendous mountain beauty and face to face with these fellow human beings who barely eek out an existence. As our team has prayed together we have often shared the feeling of knowing that we see Christ in the eyes of those we are serving. In the United States our wait to see a doctor is usually not very long. In the remote regions of Mexico they may wait for months or years to have a doctor examine them. And so they lined up each day we held clinic and waited. Mothers and babies, old women and old men, children of the village. Young girls with babies on their backs. Some were dirty. Many wore tattered clothes and had poor teeth. They were often bare-footed and perhaps had walked for 3 or 4 hours. They came to stand patiently and wait. And they held their heads with a sense of dignity - their shoulders straight and although short by our standards they stood tall. Archbisop Desmond Tutu in his book "God Has A Dream" reflected on this feeling as he wrote - "Our world is better because of the life and witness of a Mahatma Gandi, of a Mother Teresa, of an Oscar Romero, of a Nelson Mandela. They are notable examples of the altruistic spirt that does good things... for the sake of others, for the sake of the world. But behind every Gandi, every Mother Teresa, every Romero, every Mandela, there are millions of people who are living lives of love and heroism. I have had the privilege to meet many of them around the world. The heroes are often poor and disenfranchised people whose nobility always amazes me. When you meet up with people in shacks who,living in such dehumanizing circumstances, you are expecting would have lost their sense of personhood, it's really always such an incredible experience. What you see is the humanity, the humaness, the dignity, the capacity to laugh, the capacity to love, to rear children, in circumstances that by rights out to make all that impossible". It was truly a privilege to serve these beautiful people alongside such marvelous team members. God has blessed us richly. Thanks for your love and prayers!
Ahhh.... it was the last day of clinics today... I'm not sure how I feel. Somewhat relieved - in the sense that we will be going home soon - I miss my people.... somewhat sad - these long days of serving the people have been such a joy and is coming to an end. They, not knowing, have brought such joy to all of us; sad also in the fact that our team will be going our seperate ways for awhile. I know that it is this team that has made this trip so awesome! They truly are the best! We have had many great moments together - laughing so hard we couldn't stand it - our table talk has really had some interesting conversations! Most of us being in the medical profession really have some strange topics to cover!! The non-medical are catching on and joining in!! Our road trips and experiences have produced many a laughs!! Pat, did you blog about yesterday?? Oh my!! Do we have stories on that trip! Emotional because of the work we are doing here and how we have been humbled...
There really is so much to say and I can't wait to share it with you in person!!
Today we travelled to a very remote area near Pajalton Bajo (where we were yesterday), called Ktolte. We went off roading for a fair bit. We got to an area that the road was blocked due to recent weather and we got out of the van. We debated carrying the 5 large luggage bags that contained the medicines the rest of the way down a path instead of the road that was blocked. We were going to do that, but the people who lived there cleared the road and we decided to keep driving down on the dirt/ mud roads (good thing because it would have been about a 20 minute walk).
Later, we were debating whether or not to drive up this narrow muddy road carved into the side of a steep slope. Our driver told us he was going to go up it fast (less likely to get stuck). We all prayed in the van. Just as we were going to start, some of us envisioned the van sliding off the road and tumbling down the steep side, so we voted to not try it. We went another way and ultimately made it to their church where we were going to set up.
We made it to Ktolte and set up clinic just outside the church. It was foggy and cloudy and cold. Others who had been on previous mission trips thought this was the most remote location that they had been to.
Later in the day after lunch, they built a fire for us in a hut immediately adjacent to the clinic that we set up. I was warming up by the fire and there was a man in there who lives in Ktolte that spoke Spanish [in clinic we needed local translators again to translate English to Spanish to Tzotzil again as we did yesterday (Thank You is "colabal")]. I was "using my spanish" as Lia would tell us to do and he told me that the village had 300-400 people. Nobody really had any money there. Nobody had any real access to medical care. Most people worked in the fields. Rarely people would travel outside the community to look for work.
We saw 42 patients today to make it a total of 392 patients that we have served here so far. They are very beautiful people. I think we were a little more tired today than other days (lack of sleep here may be catching up with us).
Mary, Lia told me to tell you that we need more hits on the blog so you and others should go to the site (and leave comments too if you want).
We all miss everybody back home, but we know that we are also needed here and we are doing some good.
First of all, I would like to thank all the people who have been following our blog, the people who so generously have donated time and financial support, those who have been team members on past trips to Guatemala and/or Mexico. It is thanks to all of you that this has been possible, and you keep us going.
Today we visited the most amazing place... to call it heaven on earth is no exaggeration. We were way up high in the mountains, in a very remote village called Pajalton Alto. It was all green fields, small scattered farms, and the most beautiful calla lilies grew wild everywhere, all this enveloped in mist, which gave the whole place an even more surreal beauty. The scenery brought tears to my eyes, especially when you looked at the people there, patiently waiting for us, quietly and trustingly... Even more significantly, they let us hold our clinic in their humble church: a flimsy, little dirt floor wooden shack, with a carpet of fresh, pine needles.
And all the time I kept on thinking, do I deserve all this? To be here with this beautiful people and the wonderful team members making it all possible... I had had so little faith just early this morning when our coordinator in San Cristobal had not showed up on time. Somehow it all worked out. We had our most efficient and smooth clinic yet, this trip, especially considering we had to have Tzotzil interpreters in addition to the Spanish interpreters. It has been a true privilege and a humbling experience to have the blessing to be serving side by side with my pregnant daughter, Stephanie, in my home country, serving my people. And I thank you with all my heart for making it all possible.
Hello from Mexico! We were in a village called Pajalton Alto, serving the Tzotzil group. They are one of the many indigenous groups in Mexico. There are 62 different indigenous languages here. In a short van ride, we radically changed not only landscape, but cultures. We'll do it again for the next 2 days! Most of them did not speak Spanish, so we used interpreters for the interpreters! That was a stretch! That is what we are here for. God wants us to stretch very wide and thin, and then, while our hands and arms are wide open, He sneaks in there and gives us a great big hug! Everybody saw Jesus today. The people saw Him in our arms and hands, and we saw Him in their eyes! We were in clouds and mist all day, but there was plenty of sunshine going on in the tiny church where we set up. Great stories!
This is a wonderful team...very well tuned, every member. Lia is leading very well, walking right up to the edge, just far enough to push hard, but just hard enough. There will be other posts about different members, but let me tell you about Helen. Helen is a wonderful leader behind the scenes. She won't tell you what she does. She runs the cleanest and most efficient pharmacy. She organizes our set up very well. She is our thrifty accountant, keeping us on track. Best of all, though, is her faith and wisdom. She is a calming influence that we all trust. My favorite trait of Helen? She's a smart #@%! thanks Helen!
We are growing. I hope that the gift that we give these people is half the gift that they have given us!
A special thanks to all of our families for letting us come. We will try earnestly to bring this love home to you. Please pray for us and know that we are praying for you. We all miss