Expectations & Actualizations:
-to meet many Orthodox Christians and other contacts from around the US and Canada. I did meet many new people and am returning to PA a wiser, and happier person because of these encounters. I have heard many interesting life stories, listened to great sermons by various clergy, and simply witnessed God's love through the missionaries with the children.
-to get sick (you know, the kind that you are too embarrassed to admit) at least once. I honestly didn't. Aside from my deathly allergic reaction to the pork (I am still skeptical as to whether or not that was the actual cause), thank God, the most that happened was a few normal stomache aches.
-that mosquito repellant would you know...repel the pests. Quite the contrary, I think the Guatemalan mosquitoes are attracted to this stuff!
-to learn the nonprofit business from an Orthodox perspective. Not only did I get to work on a lot of the projects first hand, I got to witness the financial miracles all summer. Because HRA is a private organization, they receive no financial aid from the government. Most of the donations are from small Orthodox parishes throughout the world. Most teams come down with several extra suitcases filled with various donations for the hogar.
-to go to church...a lot. We had morning Matins and evening Vespers daily. I was also fortunate enough to spend the Feast of the Transfiguration and the Dormition of the Theotokos amongst other saints' days in Guatemala. I even had the opportunity to spend an entire week at the monastery!
-to have a lot of solitary time. After learning the art of the kombosquini, I filled lots of my time making the knots. I really got to know myself in these times.
-to love and be loved by the children. Mission accomplished.
-to eat beans at every meal. There were actually several meals where we didn't have black beans. You could really notice the lack of protein.
-to continue improving my spanish. I don't think it improved very much, but I definitely added some Guatemalan slang to my vocabulary. The kids would constantly tease me about how my spanish was too ecua. Sometimes, things are phrased differently, or different words are used. Sometimes I had to remind myself, "Dorothy you are not in Quito anymore ."
-to learn more about the Orthodox faith. Because I am "cradle Orthodox," I tend to take a lot of our traditions for granted. I would do things and not question them because that is what I have been doing all my life so it is all I have known. Recently I have been questioning and researching a lot more about the faith and saints. There is still un monton (a pile) that I don't know. There is always more to learn and better understand.
A note about mission work:
I have been trying to do God's work for several years now. It is obvious that my experiences abroad are more of a financial feat, but I hope that others see the value in these endeavors. Before I left for Guatemala, Father Nicholas Solak, my parish priest, spoke about the parallels between charity and mission work. Some of the next few lines are his paraphrased ideas mixed with my personal thoughts; I hope he forgives me for not directly quoting him. Sometimes, people question or criticize that I am helping outside the states when there is so much need here as well. I am very aware of the need in the US. Living in central PA in Huntingdon for the past 3 years, I am exposed to rural poverty. Being involved in Habitat for Humanity and other organizations, I have worked with a lot of people with different hardships in their lives. But here's the thing: You don't have to go to Guatemala or Tanzania to be a missionary. No matter where you are, there is always an opportunity to help others. It can be as simple as helping your elderly neighbor with her garden, or not ignoring the beggar on the street corner. At the same time, I am not saying that missionary work abroad is not beneficial for everyone. If you have the motivation and the means, go. Matthew 28:19 states "Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." Every act of kindness helps, and every act of kindness in God's name is missionary work. If every one of us helped out at the local soup kitchen for a few hours on Saturday morning instead of watching cartoons, or found some other charity to contribute your time to regularly, just think about the difference we could be making! In Matthew 25:32-46, we find God warning us to reach out to those he need it. I am sure anyone who has done any type of charitible deed will agree with me when I say that you truly receive so much more than you could ever give. From the life lessons, to the infinite love, I promise you, you will be changed. And the lives in which you have touched, they will forever remember you as well. You may never be able to talk to them again, but you honestly will feel that they are praying for you or just thinking about you in your darkest hours. Believe me, I know from experience.
I have been humbled by my experiences this summer and that God has chosen me amongst his many vessels to convey a very important message to all of my dear readers. People sometimes ask me how do I or the nuns or anyone just do it. How do we keep loving and working and never burn out? I have learned throughout my missions and talks with people of all paths of life, that the answer is very simple. It is not my/our love, but God's. When you trust in the Lord, and you and your works are of pure intention, God provides this infinite amount of love for us which we in turn can share with those in need. Referring to Father John Schmit's sermon about the eternal light, when you do anything that will draw you nearer to Him, your light shines brighter. The book of Matthew helps us again in 5:19: "You are a light in the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden." We each need to be another one of those lights in such a dark world.
A Final Thank You:
If you followed me all summer, thank you. If you are just looking at the pictures (don't forget to check out all of them on facebook) or reading the posts that seem more interesting, I thank you as well. I hope you enjoyed it. I cannot describe how grateful I am for all the support. But, I have a confession to make. I am not a journalist by any means. I don't particularly like writing down my feelings or experiences, especially for others (nothing personal, I just do not always feel comfortable sharing my thoughts). Nor am I a photographer. I kept this blog and took hundreds of pictures for you. If it were not for my donors, family, and friends, I could not continue my mission work. After all of the support, both financially and spiritually, the least I could do is give you a glimpse of Hogar Rafael Ayau.
I share my experiences to try to illustrate other lifestlyes, other peoples' struggles, other cultures. If you are interested, please contact me and I can tell you more about the hogar. If you saw a picture of one of the children and just fell in love with him/her, let me know; I can tell you more about them. Maybe this blog inspired you to reach out to the hogar or another organization. Please tell me, I would love to hear about your mission work. So, to my donors, my family, my friends, or even strangers who have just stumbled upon this blog, may God bless you and grace you with His love forever. Glory be to God always! Gloria a Ti Senor! Gracias!