Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Food and Education—A Marriage Made in Heaven

Above all, the Gospel must be proclaimed by witness.
                                                      Pope Paul VI, 1975

The Gospel can be preached to empty stomachs, but only
if the stomach of the preacher is as empty as those of his flock.
                    – Archbishop Socrates Villegas, the Philippines, 2012
The poor man is not he who is without a cent,
but he who is without a dream.
                            –  Harry Kemp (1883–1960)

All of the above quotes came to my mind this week as I visited with the Missionaries of the Holy Spirit in the impoverished indigenous parish of Xochitepec. Father Juan, Father Hector, and Brother Gustavo had invited me to accompany them—and to challenge them—as they reflected on their first year of service in the parish and as they reflected on their hopes for their second year there.
The early morning view from the Missionaries' house seems different every single day in Xochitepec

The first year for the three of them (all “city boys”) was especially one of getting to know the people and the me’phaa culture in the twenty-six villages they serve; the latter included learning little by little some of the native me'phaa language—a process that will continue for many years.
Father Juan talking with Claudia and Juan Carlos, his me'phaa teachers every Thursday evening
As Gustavo and Juan and Hector came to know the people better, they were impacted especially by two “themes” that seemed to dominate the thinking of the people in terms of both their needs and their dreams. Those two themes: food and education.
Brother Gustavo with Fabian and Sara, two of his many friends

Food—how do we feed our children? Job opportunities are scarce in the mountains; farming is a precarious exercise; formal schooling is almost non-existent among the adults. All parents want to put something on the table for their children. (That table metaphor is probably not a good one for Xochitepec; very few houses have a table; most people simply hold their food in their hands as they stand or sit on small chairs or sit on the floor.)
Some children in Xalpitzahuac, where Mission Mexico supports several projects

Juan and Hector and Gustavo are already involved in trying to respond to this very real need. In previous blogs I referred to Mexican organizations such as Cooperación Comunitaria and Cosechando Natural, who have been invited by the Missionaries of the Holy Spirit to assist as the local people try to find ways to improve life in the mountains. These organizations and others operate within a holistic approach that is often called in English “permaculture” or “sustainable development.” In this scenario, the people journey together as they struggle to identify the many areas of life that they can transform in order to maintain a culture that offers not only food in the near future but also hope for the distant future—and as the people work together in that work of transformation.
Driving at night in the misty mountains isn't usually recommended. I wonder why...
Of course, anyone who looks at the list of projects that Mission Mexico has supported and presently supports will realize that Mission Mexico has been—and is—an important partner in such efforts with many people in many places.
Father Hector and Father Juan praying for a woman who hears voices telling her not to eat

Education—how do we change life for our children? The big hope is education. This involves both formal schooling and what is known as “popular education.” Together, this educational journey will hopefully empower people to take charge of their own lives and to work together for social change—and to simply be able to provide life with dignity for future generations. I like the way Hector and Gustavo and Juan talk about this effort: moving from “we need” to “we can” to “we will.” Will life be turned around for everyone? Will the impoverishment be changed to opportunities for all through these efforts? Probably not. But the people have a right, I believe—a God-given right, I daresay—to try to turn their dreams into reality. And some change will occur. And even failure can be a learning experience.
Oops! I forgot to tell Sara that a blue sucker involves a certain side effect

Once again, Mission Mexico is a partner in these efforts of the impoverished to have educational opportunities that are both “high quality” and reflective of the best human and Christian values. Just look at the projects mentioned on the Mission Mexico website. When I look, my first thought, I confess, is usually “Wow!”
Father Juan during his night prayer. As I write this, I think of his birthday tomorrow...
Thanks, Juan, for being such a wonderful person, priest, model, mentor, friend.

So thank you to all who support Mission Mexico. Your support does make a difference. You are helping to bring food, education, and—as Harry Kemp phrases it in the quote at the beginning of this blog—“a dream” to many families in the mountains of Mexico. And thanks to people like Juan and Gustavo and Hector, who prove that Archbishop Villegas of the Philippines knew what he was talking about when he talked about “evangelizers” so inserted into the lives of the poor that their witness and their words speak loudly even to those with empty stomachs—and hopefully they speak loudly to us whose stomachs aren’t quite so empty.
Father Hector with Magdalena and Reina

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