Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Saludo de Mexico

Today is day 5 in Mexcio and I am clearly in the honeymoon stage of settling in.  I loooove everything...the weather, the food, my host family, my spanish school, the buses.  While I could do a whole blog on each of these topics, I'll do a really brief synopsis as this week I want to share with you about an experience I had on Saturday.

The weather is beautiful, a balmy 25ish (celsisus) every day, but it gets cold during the night (likely about 10 degrees).  As soon as the sun comes up (around 7am), it gets warm.  I have only seen two bugs, no spiders, no snakes.  My host family (Angeles and Fernando and their 18 year old grandson Brian) are very gracious, hospitable and patient with my lack of understanding Spanish.  I eat home made tortillas at just about every meal including breakfast.  Here the main meal is at 3pm.  I have yet to make it to the final meal at 8 or 9 pm, I am not needing to eat again then.  CETLALIC, my Spanish school is wonderful.  I am learning lots here as well as by being fully immersed in the language.  I have attached some pictures of my beautiful school and outdoor classroom.  Also is a photo of my class, 2 other students and our teacher (Agustine is on the left).

On Saturday, I went with my hosts Angeles and Fernando to celebrate mass at a local Federal Prison.  Angeles and I boarded a bus at about 2:30 and rode for an hour.  We got off, met some other people and waited for another hour.   More people, cars and a cube van arrived and then we drove to prison, about another 15 minutes away.  We all had to sign in 4 times, surrender our ID (in my case my passport), was stamped with invisible ink, and was patted down.  We then walked through some fenced areas into the exercise yard.  Lots of food appeared (I didn't realize we were serving a meal) and the inmates lined up.  I gave each person a mango.  I am not yet clear if the government provides only a bit of food, or no food, but it is clear that the inmates eat when food is brought in or when family members bring it.  Visitors must wear red or pink, the two colours inmates aren't allowed to wear.  After the meal, there was a very quick clean up and mass was celebrated, including a talented worship band of inmates with guitars and a large instrument, I think was a bass cello.  The inmates were very appreciative of this group, who spends almost all day Saturday with them each week.  Like in Canada, the prison culture and hierarchy was visible in many ways.  Inmates can were jewelery such as watches, brackets and rings.  Some people had very expensive jewelery and some people clearly had nothing.   It was an incredibly moving experience and at same time (as I found Canadian jails) to be very sad all at the same time.

This week, I'll continue learning Spanish and adjusting to life in Cuernavaca, the city of eternal spring.  Let me know if you have particular questions and I'll try to address them in future blogs!

Hasta Luego!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Almost Ready!?!

For one of the few times in my life, I am at a loss for words.  In some ways there is so much to say and not nearly enough space and in others ways very little to say.  I am spending my last few days in Canada with my sister and niece Rachel.  Mostly I feel ready to take on this new journey, but of course the feelings of anxiety and fear are also very close.  On a completely practical note, I am sure that my "essential " pile of stuff to take is still way to big!

My time at Mission Orientation in Toronto was very helpful in many ways.  The session ended with a deeply moving candle lit communion service.  Communion was served in a beautiful Catholic chapel by Sonia (an Anglican Priest) and Derek (a Presbyterian USA Minister) with bread made by Josh (an ordained Minister from the Reform Church of America, but who is now doing global service with Presbyterian church USA) and grape juice procured by me (a lay person in the United Church of Canada).  It gives me hope that perhaps one day we of Christian Faith can learn to work together in the world as well as there in a little service in Scarborough, ON.

One part of the service was singing  a short song in Spanish.  I would like to share the English translation with you because it really summarizes my beliefs and prayer:

I am sent by God.  My hands are ready.
To build with Him a world of brotherhood.

The angels are not sent to exchange
A world of pain for a world of peace.

It is up to me to make this a reality.
Help me, Lord, to do your will.

On Friday morning at around 4:30 am, Niagara Airbus will arrive to take me (and my pile of luggage) to the Toronto airport for a 8:50am flight to Mexico City.  Senor Carlos will be there to meet me and to take to meet my host family - Senora Angeles and Senor Fernando.  On Monday morning I will begin language school.

.  I will endeavour to continue blogging on Wednesdays (or sometimes on Thursdays as has already happened!). I am not sure how often I am going to be able to check e-mail or how much time I will have.  Please send me messages, but do not worry or be concerned if it takes a while for me respond!  Thank you to each of you who have helped me on this journey so far.  I look forward to sharing the unfolding experience with you.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Global Overseas Training

Try not to let someone give you a monkey.  If you see a dead giraffe in the middle of the road, don't stop.  These are two very distinct pieces of  advice I have learned from people who have done global service in the past.  Apparently one woman had an African Tribal Chief give her a gift a monkey.  While he was reputedly very cute, he did not  make a good house pet.  Someone else said that one of the first things she learned while in Africa, was that sometimes hunters will pull a dead giraffe onto the roadway in order to cause cars to stop, and then the passengers are robbed.  Fortunately, I am not expecting that either will be an issue in Central America, although there certainly are monkeys there.

There is a lot I could tell you about what we are learning and thinking about in our training.  However, I decided that I wanted to focus on two memorable experiences.  On Sunday a small group of us went to an Anglican Church that is a congregation of people from mostly Central and South America.  The service is held in Spanish, although the priest explained a few things in English for the group of visitors.  This picture is of the artwork that was hung at the front of the sanctuary.  On the green bag is the title of the piece "The Immigrant Christ".  As you will notice, the flag contains symbols of many faiths and Christ is holding a piece of paper that says "The World is for all".  There is a sign behind Christ that says "no one is illegal".  Father Hernan Astudillo is a remarkable man who believes that all Christians are connected through Christ and so we need to stop fighting denominationally and focus on the big picture.  It was deeply moving being a part of Parroquia San Lorenzo (San Lorenzo Parish) for morning worship.

Also this week we had the opportunity to visit the Vedanta Society, a worship space that comes out of the Hindu tradition.  Swami Kripanmayananda explained that everyone carries the divine light of God.  As we serve one another, we are serving God.  Earlier this week we had talked about how culture and theology had shaped our lives.  One thing we were asked to consider is the impact of original sin.  I have to say this is something that I had not really considered.  However, the idea that we are imperfect and sinful, or in the vernacular, not really good enough is something that is very prevalent in our culture.  What would it be like if we believed in original goodness and that person carried the light of God in them?   Could we ever believe that we were good enough?

On a practical note, I am attaching a couple of pictures of the Scarboro Mission Centre, so that you can see where I have been this week.  The place is lovely, and as can see, each room has its own sink! I am here until Monday.  I'll be spending a few days with family and friends until I leave for Mexico on January 21st!


Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Orientation for Global Ministry

So how do our culture and our values impact how we act?  Apparently in many ways, most of which are unconscious.  So for example, I value familiarity and I have culturally learned that being a "helper" is a good thing.  For the past 24 hours, I have acted as a gracious host at the Scarboro Foreign Missions.  As I was here in June, I have some familiarity with the building, the processes and the locale.  I assume that everyone else would like to be settled and comfortable as quickly as possible.  One of our leaders values adventure and on occasion gives out slightly vague information as she values and enjoys exploration.  She assumes that too much information ruins the experience.  This is just one small piece of what we are being asked to consider over the next two weeks of orientation.  During this time I'll be living at the Scarboro Foreign Missions, a monastery, conference and retreat centre at Lakeshore/Brimley in Scarborough.  I have wifi, so feel free to send me an e-mail, as I should be able to check e-mail frequently!

There are 18 of us in training from a mix of demographics - single, couples, 2 families, university students, retirees, and places in between.  The participants are from Edmonton, Winnipeg, Vancouver, Toronto,  Kitchener, St. John's, Washington State, Texas, Colorado, Virginia, Arizona, Michigan,  and Germany.  They are going to the middle east, Africa, South and  Central America and one woman who works in program on the US/Mexican Boarder, for times ranging from 3 months - 5 years.  They are being sponsored by the United Church, the Presbyterian Church (Canada) and the Presbyterian Church (USA).  Today was our first day together, so I am still getting to know people.  Unfortunately, I have run out of time today and will not be adding pictures, but I promise to next week.  The Gold Medal Hockey game (Canada and Russia - Junior Worlds) is starting soon!

Also, thanks to everyone who is sending comments.  I also received information about an error on my last blog...the movie I watched with Karen and Rachel is called "Tangled" not "Twisted" -- don't fear we aren't showing Rachel  movies about tornadoes.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Christmas, Moving and New Year

Just before Christmas, this story was relayed to me.  A friend of mine and her family have befriended some refugee families new to our area.  My friend was approached by one of the children in one of these families and he asked some very direct questions about Santa Claus.   The crux of his concern was this...the boy's school friends explained to him that Santa brings presents to good boys and girls.  He asked my friend, "I think I've been a good boy but Santa has never brought me a present.  Does this mean that I am a bad boy?"  Certainly part of our mythology is that Santa brings presents to children around the word, but in reality he only brings presents to children in certain places and of certain socio-economic status.  I have it on good authority that Santa did visit this family this year and the young boy was thrilled!

I hope that you and your family have had a good Christmas and a nice New Year. My sister, niece and I had a great time in Muskoka.  We went away for a few days.  Rachel, my 3 year old niece was thrilled and delighted about it all.  She was great fun.  Together we watched Shrek the Third, Toy Story 3 and Twisted.  I have to say my favorite is Shrek, while my sister finds Toy Story highly amusing.  Rachel seems to like them all!  

After Christmas, I returned to my apartment and continued packing in earnest.  Yesterday the movers came and made short work of moving all my stuff into storage.  I am spending a couple of quiet days with friends and then will go to Niagara Falls to help my sister celebrate her birthday on Monday.  On Tuesday, I'll be off Toronto to begin my two weeks of Global Service Orientation with 17 others from various denominations and locations  in Canada and the United States.  In my blog next Wednesday (sorry for the delay in posting this week, I had some internet issues), I hope to include a few photos.  I want to make sure that I understand how to do!

I wish you all a great 2011 and hope that you have year of good health, good learning and good times with family and friends.