For the second time this summer, I write to you today to announce a major trip I will be taking with the friars: in one week’s time, I will be on a plane with five other friars and twelve lay people on the way to Ciudad Dario, a small city in the western part of Nicaragua. There, the group of us from St. Camillus parish will help to make progress on a new school being built for 240 students.
As you can imagine, this trip could not be any more different from the road trip across the country in May. In fact, with the exception of my classmate Edgardo, there may not be anything in common. For the road trip, I planned everything long in advance, knew mostly what I was getting into, traveled willingly, moved almost constantly for a week (although remaining almost entirely sedentary for much of it), and kept in contact with people throughout with updates, pictures, and videos. This trip, I have planned no aspect of it, have very little idea what I am about to do, was assigned to go on this trip by the formation team (I would have went even if it was optional), will remain in basically the same location for a week’s time while working very hard, and will have no way of contacting anyone until I return to the States. But there’s more. This trip is actually different from any trip I have ever been on. While, yes, I have been on a mission trip, this one is the first one amidst “third world” poverty, and actually, my first trip out of the United States at all.
Naturally, the more I’ve thought about it over the past week the more anxious I am about it. This is seriously new territory for me. Although technically closer to home than San Diego, where I am going will be a world away. Language, culture, food, sanitation, customs. All of these things will be foreign to me and no doubt difficult to adjust to at first.
And yet, there is definitely a corresponding excitement to all of my fears. Since I will be traveling with a large group–some of which were on this same trip last year–to a place run by an American company, there is a sure sense of relief that I don’t have to know everything or be prepared for every situation. Sure, there are obviously dangers in what we will be doing and I have so far taken all of the necessary precautions (shots, research, medicine, packing, etc.), but there is something to be said about simply being a follower and active participant for once. It’s in this sort of space that I look forward to experiencing so many things for the first time, good and… “less good.”
Our main task will be, as I said, to build a school, but there is much more to it than a desire to complete a task. We’re Franciscans in the end, aren’t we? We know that people have started the project before us and we know that we will not be the one’s who will finish it, and so, while we want to give a week of honest work, we also recognize that there’s more to be built on the trip than the school: we are going to build relationships. Our desire is to work together, for the poor, with the poor, and as the poor, always focused on the reason for the school, the people, more than on the school building itself. As our leader said, “If you get a little tired or if one of the students comes up to you with a soccer ball… or even if you’re not tired and you just want a break… we encourage everyone to spend time with the kids. Play a game. Read them a book. Put together a puzzle.”
Overall, I think I really am looking forward to the trip. Since I will be going with five other Franciscan friars (four of which are in temporary vows like me), it will definitely serve as a strong bonding experience. There are just some things you can’t know about each other living in Maryland; throwing people together in an intense, uncomfortable situation is just a different experience than living together normally!
As I said, I won’t be able to share anything along the way as I did last time, but my hope is to put together a video of the experience the week after we return. Until then, it’s back to work here at St. Francis parish where I am finishing up my summer assignment this weekend. Peace and good!