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OCMC News - Where Angels Walk - Greetings from Guatemala

by Fr. Nicholas Jonas (Posted 8/27/2009)

OCMC News - Where Angels Walk - Greetings from Guatemala
Team member Chrysa Jonas with "farewell tears"

Jesuchristo esta con nosótros
Christ is in our midst

Si esta y estará siémpre
He is and always shall be

I especially bring you greetings from the children of the Hogar Raphael Ayau Orphanage in Guatemala City, a special place cared for by the pious nuns of the beautiful Holy Trinity Orthodox Monastery, along with their dynamic and dedicated staff.

Together with my daughter Chrysa, I joined an OCMC Mission Team of 10 going to the Hogar this July.  For me it was the first time leading a Mission Team.  On a personal note, I owe this entire experience to my daughter.  She first applied and was accepted.  I then thought that this would be a special experience to share with her.  Thereafter, as I was speaking to Presbytera Ritsi of the Mission Center, she said, “Well Father, we don’t have a Team leader yet…why not join us?”  It didn’t take much convincing; I enthusiastically accepted, and the rest is history.

The team gathered first for two days of Orientation at the brand new facility of the Orthodox Christian Mission Center in St. Augustine, FL.  Our orientation was led by the very capable Presbytera Renee Ritsi and Mr. Andrew Lekos.  Their dedication truly shined in their faces!

From there we flew to Guatemala, a country of extreme contrasts…of beauty and poverty.  The orphanage, which is referred to as the Hogar (or "home"), presently has about 60 children, but it has had as many as 150.  The children’s ages range from infants to older teens.  Children who have been abused - whose lives have been shattered – but whose lives have been and are being put back together by Christ through the loving nuns and their staff.  The Archangel Raphael is the patron of the Orphanage, and truly Angels walk there.

Our main task at the orphanage was to run a one week camp program called “Tren de Chocoláte” (or "The Chocolate Train"), with a regular rotation of activities that one would experience at any camp.  The children were divided into 4 groups led by our Team Members. 

Every day included Orthros and Vespers.  These services were not mandatory for the children, but the majority, if not all, attended.  The children sang the services.  There are two reader or chanter stands, one with boys and the other with girls.  It was angelic hearing the children sing and read the services.  We were especially amazed as the children in the pews all participated without the use of books.  Every morning during Orthros, I had the blessing of anointing the children with Holy Unction.  Every child was anointed; even the infants and babies were brought.  The anointing made so much sense!  It was part of their healing process.  We had an opportunity to see and be part of a holistic Orthodox approach to life.  The children of the Hogar are being healed through practicing the Orthodox Christian way of life in all its fullness!

While there, we also celebrated three Divine Liturgies, and I even learned to do parts of the Liturgy in Spanish – a beautiful liturgical language.  I had the benefit of Spanish-speaking Team Members, like my daughter and a couple of others, who helped me with pronunciation.  I also had the benefit of Madre Ivonne, who translated as I preached to the children.  Madre Ivonne is one of the three nuns presently at the Monastery, and she is the one most responsible for the orphanage.  Madre Ivonne is so multi-talented that we respectfully refer to her as “super nun.”

A cute story I have to share: One day, there I was in “deep meditation” and all of a sudden there was dead silence…I waited. I felt all eyes were on me – and then I looked at the boys standing next to me at the reader stand – it was Miguel and Elmer (about 10-11 years old) who knew the services inside and out.  There they were, staring at me while they pointed to the page giving me the cue to say my part.  This happened a few times before I figured I'd better stand closer to them, where I could see exactly where we were in the Service.  Although I really didn’t have to worry about embarrassment, these children were so loving they couldn’t make anyone feel awkward…and if they did, they knew how to ask forgiveness.

The children of the Hogar have learned by example how to care for one another: taking care of their rooms, caring for the younger children, cooking, cleaning, and much, much more.

Personally, I went there wondering what could I possibly offer. I thought I might be able to make some difference.  I actually left, I think, with the children doing more for me than I did for them.  These two weeks may as well have been a year or even more because of the lessons learned by all of us Team Members.  I learned from the children, who affectionately called me “Padreseto” (which would be similar to saying “Pappouli” for a priest in Greek).  There was five-year-old Alejandro, who wanted me to hold him each time I saw him, who each time after being anointed also wanted a hug.  There were the children who wanted to play thumb wars with me and the ones who wanted to wear my priest’s hat.  There were the children my daughter taught to make lanyard key chains as an arts and crafts project.  In fact, before our trip Chrysa was worried about what craft she could teach them and whether the lanyard project would work.  Actually, it was so successful that the children were doing them all the time.  In fact, as we were all gathered one afternoon watching a movie, I looked around noticing not only the children making them but also the nannies and other staff members making them!

We thought we were sent to bring healing to the children, but they actually healed us. Isn’t that what being human is about? Isn’t that what being Christian is about?  To heal, to love, to care for one another?

I share this with all of you not merely as a “cute” story or to just make you feel good. Not at all. I share this so that all of us might grow to understand how giving from what is in our hearts can change lives and how we can make a difference when we put our trust in God.

You see…
 God is the one who is changing the lives of those children.
 God can change our lives also.
 God works in that Orphanage.
 God also works in our families and parishes.

For all those beautiful people who made our trip possible with prayers and financial support – I want you to know that what you offered benefited the children of the Hogar and will also benefit you, your families and your parishes, because a seed that is sown is a harvest that will one day be reaped by all.

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God of truth and love: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Hear our prayer for those who do not know You. That they may come to a saving knowledge of the truth, and that Your Name may be praised among all peoples of the world. Sustain, inspire, and enlighten Your servants who bring them the Gospel. Bring fresh vigor to wavering faith; sustain our faith when it is still fragile. Continually renew missionary zeal in ourselves and in the Church, and raise up new missionaries who will follow You to the ends of the world. Make us witnesses to Your goodness full of love, full of strength, and full of faith for Your glory and the salvation of the entire world. Through the prayers of all the missionary saints, Have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
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