Expansion

We are now a household of eight. Suddenly there are multiple coffee drinkers. As such, behold:


The Bialetti Moka Express 12-cup stovetop espresso machine. Still made in Italy. The Moka comes in an array of sizes. This largest size borders on absurd. It is massive. 

I have one big cup of coffee each morning. It’s about 4 shots of espresso with an equal volume of milk. With the 12-cup, it’s possible to make at least three of those. 
Usually the daily pot of coffee is gone or nearly gone the same day. But, I won’t deny that I sometimes allow a day to pass and then I drink what’s left the next morning. It’s not bad. 

Admittedly, I am not the sort of connoisseur of coffee as, say, Beer. Day old beer left on the counter isn’t good in Antarctica. 

So I drink the stale coffee from this thing and I don’t really wash it either, with soap or in the dishwasher. The water that passes through the machine is blistering hot and the aluminum takes up the heat from the stove. 

I rinse it really well between each use and I periodically wipe out the upper part of the pot with a damp cloth. I would be especially concerned about running it through the dishwasher, with the possibility of parts getting warped and the detergent anodizing and pitting the metal. 

A Moka is a great prepper item. With a few of these on hand, provided you have beans, water, and heat, you’ll make coffee for a decade or longer. Great for camping too. 

Speaking of stocking up, one can never have too much Juan Ana coffee on hand, particularly when buying in bulk is key to getting a great deal on shipping. 

Extra coffee from San Lucas Atitlan in your pantry supports a Catholic mission in Guatemala that helps families grow coffee on little one or two-acre plots. The mission supplies the plants to the families, buys the beans back at harvest time, roasts the beans and packages them for sale. The farmers receive more than fair trade prices.

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Avarice: Pampering Pets while People Suffer in Poverty

Here is a picture of one of a million dwellings in Guatemala, where people actually live (and entire family, in fact):

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On the day that I visited this family last summer, they were receiving a new stove (a non-electric, wood-burning, made from cinder blocks, cement and dirt kind of stove). The mother had almost nothing to offer us as a welcome, but showed us hospitality by sharing the family’s bananas growing on a small tree in the yard. Here’s a peek at their bathroom, in the corner of their tiny lot:

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People live in such places. Millions and millions of people. I’ve never spent one day of my life in such squalor. I’ve never even camped in a place with reasonably comparable facilities. Almost ANY American campground has better infrastructure than this.

Meanwhile, a manufacturer of gadgets and electronics develops a $31,000 kennel for affluent pets:

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This is avaricious idolatry. It’s another sign of the sickness of our culture.

Will you be around Kansas City this Week?

Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

Imagine your bathroom routine. Do you put a little water from the tap on your toothbrush before brushing your teeth? Do you rinse the toothbrush after using it? Where do you get the water for your drinking cup? In the shower, do you worry about keeping your mouth clamped shut so that no water can possibly get in?

Now think about how you prepare food. If you make a salad with fresh greens, do you rinse them in cold water? Where do you get the water to do it? If you’re going to slice a tomato, or give a child an apple, do you rinse it and dry it off first? If you want a drink of water, do you have to open a bottle (or boil what comes from the tap) to avoid getting sick?

Lake Atitlan is the scenic volcanic lake whose coast is peppered with Guatemalan towns like San Lucas Toliman, San Antonio, and Santiago. If you stand off away from its shore to enjoy the vista, you might just think it is paradise itself. But it is plagued with problems secondary to pollution and contamination. There is very little regulation in Guatemala, and toxic substances wind up in the lake, rendering the fish rather questionable for consumption and the water itself unsafe to drink. Many wash their laundry directly at the shore, using heavy detergents that further contaminate it.

I tested positive for the dreaded “amoebae” during my visit, and just finished the second course of antibiotics prescribed for me. The first course was to kill the living amoebae colonizing my gut, and the second course to kill the cysts in the liver that are deposited by them, which can “resurrect” in the future to re-infect the host. Most locals have been infected by amoebae a dozen times over, because they are unavoidable (believe me, I tried to do everything I could to avoid them). Carrying them chronically will lead to serious health problems.

If you happen to be near Kansas City on July 31, consider attending a presentation sponsored by Unbound and delivered by Maria Sicay Lux entitled, “Clean Water, Healthy Lives.” Maria Sicay Lux was once a sponsored child through Unbound, and through its scholarship program has had the opportunity to attend college and study in the United States. Her dream is to earn a degree in environmental studies and to work toward making the lake clean.

Clean water is a blessing that we often take for granted. Most Americans, along with the rest of the First World, spend little time worrying about tap water making them sick, because we have the resources to provide good filtration and sanitation for our drinking water.

But elsewhere, maintaining access to clean water is nearly an impossible task. In Guatemala, it is the case that soda (made with sugar) is cheaper than agua puro. As a result, children and adults consume an excess of sugar, phosphates, and chemicals, leading to health problems like insulin resistance and severe dental caries. It is not uncommon to see very small children with missing or capped teeth.

If you cannot attend, please consider praying for the success of Maria Sicay Lux’s projects and Unbound’s efforts to get the word out about this serious concern. I note that in addition to the other worthy programs sponsored by Unbound, one can make a special donation to its Healthy Communities Fund.

Our Mission Group’s Visit to Unbound Headquarters

On the seventh day of our mission trip in Guatemala, our leader (Fr. A) needed to return early to the States in order to attend a diocesan program, leaving us with an important task: enroll four children who belong to a family that he has known for many years in Unbound.

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Our group departs the mission and heads to Unbound Headquarters

Within this family, the two older sisters who Father knew as toddlers (nearly 20 years ago) have grown up and are now mothers. One has an 18-month-old baby boy, and the other has a 3-year-old daughter. The other two children — ages 7 and 9 — are sisters to the new mothers, and aunts to the 18-month-old and 3-year-old. Finally, the grandmother to the babies and the mother to the girls, along with her hardworking husband, are the elders of the family, and also have a 13-year-old son (already sponsored in Unbound).

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Arrival at Unbound Headquarters

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Touring the grounds of the headquarters, led by Unbound personnel

We all climbed into the back of a red Ford 4×4 truck that the mission uses to transport people, and we traveled up the hill to the Unbound headquarters, called Hermano Pedro. There, we were welcomed with a tour and information about the various programs offered by Unbound.

Unbound currently operates in 24 countries in Central America, South America, Asia and Africa. Its largest presence is in Guatemala, where it started. The organization recently changed its name from Christian Foundation for Children and the Aging (CFCA).

In Guatemala alone, Unbound helps nearly 80,000 children who are sponsored as well as over 4,000 aging or elderly people. But over 6,000 more people in Guatemala await sponsorship, not to mention the other countries where Unbound has a presence.

For $30 a month, a child’s family receives assistance with nutrition, medical care, education, and other needs the family may have. An aging person receives similar benefits according to their needs. There is also a scholarship program for kids who wish to go on to higher education, which in Guatemala has already graduated a physician and attorney. Finally, there are opportunities to sponsor a seminarian.

A sponsor receives letters from his or her sponsored child, and recently Unbound has begun offering low-cost trips to their locations in order to make it possible for sponsors to get to know and form relationships with their sponsored children.

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The way our mission group went about enrolling these four precious children was, shall we say, unconventional. But Fr. A wanted it to happen, and our group fell in love with the whole family. Four separate families in our group (including mine), each sponsored one of the children. We first visited the Hermano Pedro headquarters and then went down to the offices of this family’s particular project for enrollment.

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At the Atitlan Project to enroll the four children

I think a lot of people dismiss the “sponsor a child” organizations because it isn’t easy to visualize the reality of a situation somewhere on the other side of the world. Guatemalans are joyful people with a beautiful culture, but the way they live is definitely nothing like the First World. In many cases, all they have is Jesus and each other. True material needs are oftentimes never truly met.

When the San Lucas Toliman mission began in the 1960s, only one in two Guatemalan children here lived past five, and while that has improved there are still too many things to count that these people do not have and we take for granted every day.

It is our responsibility to find ways of helping to provide a future for a people who have been plagued by civil war, corruption, poor infrastructure, inadequate medical care and nutrition.

Every person on Unbound’s website is a real person, with basic needs that without assistance go unmet. Over 90% of the $30 you contribute to sponsor someone goes directly to the sponsored individual, delivering extreme value compared to anything else in your monthly budget.

If you subscribe to a television service, you can afford to sponsor an Unbound child. If you can buy a coffee from Starbucks once a week, you can afford to sponsor a child. If you are using a smartphone, you can afford to sponsor a child.

20140709_183539And if you come here and meet the young or aging person you sponsor, apart from changing that person’s life, it will change your life too. A visit will help you understand what your $30 means. In fact, the family will tell you what it means to them.

In Jesus of Nazareth (Doubleday, 2007), Pope Benedict XVI examines the parable of the Good Samaritan and the use of the word “misericordia” (p. 197). He writes that the word in Hebrew “had originally referred to the mother’s womb and maternal care. Seeing this man in such a state is a blow that strikes him [the Samaritan] ‘viscerally,’ touching his soul. ‘He had compassion’ — that is how we translate the text today,” but in fact a more literal translation of the word means that the “heart is wrenched open.”

On a bright sunny Guatemalan day in July, as I held the hand of a lovely little seven-year-old girl in traditional dress and we walked together toward the centuries-old church, my heart was wrenched open. And all I could do was offer a prayer of thanksgiving: Thank you, Lord Jesus, for giving me this opportunity. Thank you, Lord Jesus, for wrenching my heart open.

When she visited with her family to wish us farewell on the last night before we headed home, my heart was once again wrenched open because she recognized me and received me with affection, as though she had made a place in her heart for me, despite the fact that I must have appeared to her to be a most peculiar pale bearded giant, bringing to mind the possibility that she is my Good Samaritan as well.

Sponsoring someone in Unbound is a privilege that costs almost nothing. Do it!

[originally posted 07/07/14 while on mission, and updated 07/25/14]

 

Reflection on the Guatemalan Mission Experience

On Thursday evening, I arrived home safely from our 10-day mission to Guatemala. Thank you for your prayers!

It was an eventful trip, filled with many blessings that I’m sure will “spill over” into my life in yet-unknown ways. At some point, Jesus may ask me to make a sacrifice of some sort, but this trip definitely wasn’t it. This was pure gift.

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I departed wondering what – if anything – could be achieved in 10 days that would constitute a successful mission, which must have been a sentiment shared by others in my group, because Fr. A shared a message with us, “I want to remind you that you don’t know the full reason why God brought you to Guatemala at this time. Permit the suffering and tension you experience within you and around you to draw you deeper into what God is seeking to share with you. You are one of his children and he has brought you here with a specific group of people in order to introduce you to a new encounter with His love. Remain open to listen for the specific word he is sharing with you at this time.”

IMG_2935It was certain that apart from pouring a concrete slab for part of a construction project, or getting to help build part of one stove for one family, or sorting a few pounds of green coffee beans, our group was not going to change the circumstances of life for the people we visited. Our “work” would have next to no impact.

There is a great contrast of circumstances between the First and Third World, and these circumstances do matter, but we can’t pretend that circumstances set forth a type of merit. God gives us everything we have, He places us in our particular circumstances for a particular purpose, but He does not identify value in our circumstances.

Rather, we do that. We conclude that since we have more stuff and live more comfortably, that our ways are somehow better than those of our brothers and sisters.  We grow complacent, associating material wealth with spiritual well-being.

IMG_2765We expect that others would prefer to live the way we do, and we scratch our heads if someone rejects what we have in favor of their “poverty”.

At Sunday Mass with the Hermanas Missionarias de la Eucharistica, we heard Jesus say in the Gospel reading: “I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to little ones.” (Matt. 11:25-30).

With this clear teaching in mind, what can possibly be inherently valuable about being “wise and learned” if it does not gain the kingdom for ourselves? Why do we pretend?

IMG_2206There is a quote attributed to Bl. Mother Theresa of Calcutta that is perfectly true whether she said it or not: essentially, some people are so poor that all they have is…. money.

That’s us! We are the ones who are truly poor! We are the dragon who builds a nest upon a pile of treasure, jealously guarding it, devoting life and limb to it. We assume that without this “treasure” we will be just as miserable and desperate as the multitude. “If only they could have what we have (and it didn’t cost us anything to give it to them),” we say.

This misplaced focus is no benefit, but rather a heavy burden that bores out the soul and leaves emptiness in its place. Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” (Id.). In seeking after the wrong things, we never receive the rest and comfort that Jesus offers.

IMG_2526The thing is, the people of Guatemala are not poor and they are not miserable and they are not desperate. The people of Guatemala are richer than we are, because they have Jesus. They cling to Him and each other. They see His gifts and it brings them great JOY.

Because of circumstances, I went on a mission. But the purpose of the mission was so that my heart could be changed. The true missionaries were the people there, who ministered to me. They sent me home aware of their joy, which was a holy and life-giving example of discipleship. They possessed what I desired for myself.

IMG_2263In this mission, I helped give a family a stove and some kids a better education and some medicine, but they gave me Jesus Christ, the one who saves, sanctifies and loves. And when I return, it will be with that clear purpose in mind: to encounter Him again, to meet Christ in them, and to be nourished by their faithful example.

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Day 8: There was once this sheep…..

There was once this sheep,
a friendly French sheep, was he. 
When he bleated his greeting,
“Amoeba!” was his plea. 
But all was well 
     (apart from the smell)
            (Did you say ewe?)
For joy in the Lord,
and thanks for His Word were key. 

[N.B.: In case you don’t know, the water in Guatemala, and anything the water touches, is not safe. It’s a major problem because many people are chronically infected with dangerous parasites. It’s treatable, but without an alternate water source, recurrence is likely; in fact, recurrence is guaranteed. Clean potable water is a blessing. Give thanks for it! Many in the world lack such fundamental things to healthy living, not to mention access to adequate treatment for the parasites living in the water source.]

Day 6: Sunday Mass with the Hermanas

This morning, our mission group piled into two vans for a 45-minute ride to travel around Lake Atitlan and further up into the mountains. It was a most special privilege to visit the Hermanas Missionarias de la Eucharistica. Having a priest in one’s mission group “opens doors”. Along the way:

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The foundress built this monastery in the 1970s, and died from cancer in 2000.

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This is a most lovely community in a most beautiful place. Following Mass, the sisters would not permit us to leave without offering us their hospitality: coffee, baked goods, fruit. And thousands of smiles.

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There are fifty sisters here. They now have satellite missions to the north and south. They work in this community, serving the people here. They also operate a home for abandoned elderly women. Since the opening of this home, 28 women have left this world in peace under their care.

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Jesus pours out His abundant graces upon this place. Fr. A asked them to pray for a special project that I am involved in along with a couple of other missionaries in this group, relating to China (more on that at some point).

Pray for these sisters. They bring Jesus with them.

Day 4: Independence Day Boat Trip

Today the mission prepared an “American” picnic of fried chicken, potato salad, and apple pie for us to take on a boat which carried us across the lake to two towns, first San Antonio and then Santiago. There, we had an opportunity to purchase local Guatemalan wares and visit the churches. At the church in Santiago, Fr. Stanley Rother was gunned down and martyred in his room adjacent to the church there, which now serves as a shrine for pilgrims who go to pray for his intercession.

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